Going Global: A Q&A with Thomas Katzensteiner, Partner at Charles Barker
In a new series, we’ll be bringing insights from our partner agencies within the Prosek Global Network, a group of leading agencies throughout the world with whom we collaborate to deliver impactful results for our clients across the globe. In this first installment of the series, we speak with Thomas Katzensteiner, Partner at Charles Barker, a Germany-headquartered communications consultancy and member of Prosek’s Global Network.
Tell us a bit about your firm and the types of clients you work with.
Based in Frankfurt am Main, Charles Barker is a highly specialized, boutique-sized consultancy firm with longstanding experience in finance and capital markets. We have been a pioneer in the German market for financial communications for over 50 years: for example, we advised on the first public to private deal in Germany led by a PE firm over 20 years ago. We pride ourselves on understanding the specific demands, ideas and vision of the investors and entrepreneurs we work with and try help them to achieve their goals by “capitalizing on information,” as we call it.
We mainly work with alternative investment firms, such as large hedge funds, private equity firms and their portfolio companies, as well as entrepreneurs and family offices, that are based in Germany and across the globe. We’re less focused on trying to score highly in league tables and far more focused on devoting our time and efforts to achieving the best possible outcomes for our clients.
Above all, working on challenging, mission-critical mandates is part of our DNA at Charles Barker—and it’s a key reason as to why clients continually choose to work with us.
What two themes have dominated the German financial news cycle in the past year?
There are huge corporate governance and regulatory issues arising from the Wirecard scandal which have been widely debated in the media. Also, like everywhere, we are seeing a lot of coverage around high inflation and associated topics like the cost-of-living crisis, rising interest rates, the energy transition and climate change. To address this issue, we have, for instance, accompanied campaigns to help investors advocate for their rights, and we have published op-eds on regulatory affairs related to this and similar topics.
For what type of work have you seen the most appetite from clients in the past year?
We have seen constant demand for market entry advisory. We have also been seeing an increasing number of mandates on crisis communications due to the economic downturn that is gaining momentum in our local market, particularly across energy-intensive companies, retail businesses and start-ups.
Another expanding area that we have been noticing among clients is their growing demand for social media consultancy, and particularly LinkedIn. Shaping a company’s reputation and brand building have become vital for all financial services firms. Owned media channels such as LinkedIn play an indispensable role here in Germany, especially amid the rising shift in the media landscape, with the value of earned media channels increasingly taking a backseat to owned channels.
At the risk of being biased, where do you consider to be the financial hub of Europe?
London is still big, but if you’re looking for stable EU access, it has to be Frankfurt. Ranked seventh in the Economist’s 2022 list of the most livable cities in the world, Frankfurt (the only continental European city with a skyline, by the way!) has everything it takes to be the number one financial hub in the EU. Not only are the European Central Bank and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority located in the city, but also, the German federal state system strives for an equal distribution of the financial and the political power, meaning that Frankfurt has an international outlook and global relationships. This helps us to better understand other jurisdictions, like the US, and further strengthens our German-American friendship – not only in PR!
You’ve been with Charles Barker for a number of years now. Can you share one of your favorite office memories so far?
This one is legendary across our office: in November 2008, we were about to organize our regular client event – which used to take place in a nearby baroque-style, moated castle – when the financial crisis gained momentum. Against the backdrop of the exceptional crisis mode which struck Frankfurt, a piano concert in a castle did not seem appropriate at all. Hence, we quickly shifted the tone and setting: as our managing partner Kornelia’s office hosted a grand piano, we emptied the room and hosted approximately 50 guests in a very intimate atmosphere. Two singers performed music from the time of The Great Depression (from Bert Brecht and Kurt Weill) and we provided a simple, German 1920s style buffet. It was indeed a memorable evening—and a prime example of PR practitioners’ ability to pivot on short notice!
What is one German word every PR practitioner in Germany should know?
“EU-Datenschutzgrundverordnung”. The EU-data-protection and privacy law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR for short), which makes our daily work within the EU needlessly complicated. Despite its importance here, outside of the EU, nobody seems to care about it!