The PR Business: Deficit as advantage

Posted by Kathy Van Looy

Making Belgium a service centre for Europe is the only way to make all our businesses grow.

In Porter Novelli’s reception area every employee has her or his picture hanging on the wall. On the extreme left a few hooks are empty. Here, too, the crisis has struck. ‘Since the summer we are growing again,’ says managing director Luc Missinne, ‘but with the right mindset we could grow a lot more quickly. It’s time Belgium became the access point to Europe. After all, no one is better suited than us.’

Porter Novelli felt the dip caused by the crisis quite early on. Luc Missinne: ‘Last year, when everyone was still enthusiastic about their turnover, we were already up against it. It’s because of the type of work we do and the type of customers we have.’ Porter Novelli is mainly focussed on international work or on multinationals that have a branch in Belgium. ‘These multinationals are more market-sensitive than your average SME. They keep their budgets tight and take quick action after developing a business prognosis. The marketing communications budget is therefore the first to be cut. At the same time we also do a lot of work at corporate level. An advertising agency concentrating on product launch would only become aware much later that something was wrong with our economy. After all, a product that has to be launched can’t wait, but a future acquisition can be better planned. I therefore had no option but to cut our staff down to eighty per cent. There is nothing worse than letting talent go, especially if talent is the only thing your organisation has to offer. Fortunately I quickly understood what was going to happen at the economic level and took prompt action. Since then we’ve been able to work in a stable way. I haven’t had to reduce my work force any further and since this summer we are growing again, though I want to wait as long as possible before starting to recruit.’

The Belgian entrepreneur

Sensing when things get tight, taking action, making adjustments: only a real entrepreneur knows how to handle this. Missinne: ‘We need more entrepreneurial blood in the consulting world. The normal career path takes a senior consultant to a manager’s position, but even if you have special expertise as a consultant it doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. Porter Novelli has become as big as it is today because of the acquisitions it made. After a takeover the original entrepreneur and founder will remain in charge of the office. After all, you must – once you are in that position – have a pretty good feel for managing the business.’ Missinne calls himself an entrepreneur first and foremost and only then a consultant. ‘I represent a relatively small country within Porter Novelli International, but still I’m the only European on the Executive Board. That has to do with Belgium’s position in Europe, of course, but even more with the fact that I behave like an entrepreneur.’ Belgium is actually a country of entrepreneurs, at least according to Missinne. ‘Belgium is teeming with self-employed people. There are so many who want to achieve this, but they all come up against the same limitation. Our domestic marked is limited.’

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