In just two years, former socialist minister Pepe Blanco has turned his consulting firm, Acento Public Affairs, into the largest lobby in Spain. The firm reached revenues of 4.47 million euros last year, which is not only more than double that of 2020, but also implies that it has surpassed LLYC (former Llorente and Cuenca), a company that until now was the market leader.
Last year, the company founded and headed by José Antonio Llorente achieved a turnover in the Public Affairs sector of 4.43 million in Spain (the global figure rose to 7.73 million). The distance could also have been significantly widened this year because LLYC has entered only 1.61 million euros at the end of the first semester between Spain and Portugal in the area of public affairs, while, pending the publication of the results, Acento would have continued to grow strongly. Although there is no ranking as such, the third position would be for Kreab, according to industry sources, despite the fact that in this case there are no disaggregated figures.
In addition to strong revenue growth, Acento Public Affairs has doubled its profit in the last fiscal year. Thus, The lobby has gone from having a net result of 612,193 euros in 2020 to earning almost one million euros, specifically 981,831 euros, this year. This new figure represents an increase of 60% in the interannual rate. This figure is very similar to the variation between 2020 and 2021 of the consulting company’s operating profit, since in the first year it obtained a figure of 818,098 euros and in the latest data they reflect a profit of 1.3 million euros.
One of the most surprising things about this growth is that occurred in the year that European aid began to arrive, especially from the Next Generation funds. However, Pepe Blanco himself, the consultant’s CEO, has confirmed to this newspaper that “we have no relationship with European funds and we are not carrying out any work with their management, contrary to what is has said”.
Between the rows of Accent
The growth of Blanco’s company has not only been financial, but also personal. Currently, the consultancy has a staff of 29 workers. Of the total of these employees, 27.5% have had some connection with political parties.
For example, within its advisory council it has Elena Valenciano, who was deputy general secretary of the PSOE with Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba and head of the list in the 2014 European elections, and Valeriano Gómez, former Minister of Labor in the last government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. . Other less famous cases are that of Miquel Gamisans, from ERC, who was Secretary of Communication of the Generalitat of Catalonia between 2016 and 2018; o Marco Candela, former deputy of Podemos, deputy spokesperson and president of the Parliamentary Group in the Madrid Assembly between 2015 and 2019.
Despite the fact that the founding partners -Pepe Blanco and Antonio Hernando, who left at the end of last year for the Presidency’s Cabinet- are linked to the PSOE, only 13.8% of the employees have been part of the structure of this party in the past.
Currently, Among the Acento Public Affairs team, 20.7% come from the ranks of the Popular Party. Pepe Blanco has recruited former high-ranking popular officials such as Alfonso Alonso, former Minister of Health during the Government of Mariano Rajoy or Elena Pisonero, former Secretary of State for the Economy under José María Aznar, not only to influence the regional administrations governed by the PP, but also to also be prepared for a possible change in government.
White: “Regulation is needed”
All lobbies have former politicians in their templates and it is totally logical. We are not the only ones, the problem is that there is a lack of regulation, but we are the first interested in it being done and, in fact, we asked the Government to do so”. Pepe Blanco, former Minister of Public Works with the Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and former Secretary of Organization and Deputy Secretary General of the PSOE, defends that “it is totally legitimate” to try to influence political decisions as a lobby. “I am not going to work to try to remove the tax on banking or energy companies because the Government considers that they are strategic and it would be suicide as a consultant, in addition to the fact that on a personal basis, I am in favor, but as a lobbyist yes. we have all the legitimacy to try to influence fiscal matters and seek a regulation that adjusts to the interests of our clients,” says Blanco.
The founder of Acento Public Affairs defends that “in the sector there must be total transparency, which is what we do, and the laws, moreover, must be very clear in this regard.” Proof that there is currently no specific regulation on the activity of this type of firm is that even Apri, the Association of Institutional Relations Professionals, the reference organization in the sector, denied Acento entry into it alleging that he breached his code of ethics.
Specifically, in everything related to the so-called revolving doors. Apri establishes in its code of conduct, specifically, a Principle of Incompatibility and Disconnection, in which it is made clear that “parliamentaries and public officials may not associate with APRI in the three years following their last mandate in European and State institutions, both at national and regional level, except in the case of reincorporation into the profession of public affairs exercised previously”.
Pepe Blanco left his post in the Zapatero government in 2011, but was a deputy in the European Parliament until 2019, so when he asked to join as CEO of Acento, he did not comply with this point. As did the then director general of it, Antonio Hernando, who was also a deputy in Congress until that exercise and who ended up leaving in October to enter the Government as deputy director of the Cabinet of the Presidency.
In Spain, the opposite happens in the US, where there is regulation for lobbyists. In the last year almost 3,000 companies were registered. According to the annual reports presented to the Senate and the Bloomberg ranking – which takes into account only the 306 firms that had revenues of more than one million dollars -, In 2020, American consultants invoiced a total of 1,740 million dollars (1.76 million euros), 6% more than during the pandemic.
In the case of Spanish lobbies, these figures are lower than those of the United States. Only taking into account the two great Spanish consultancies of the moment, Acento Public Affairs and LLYC, both add a turnover of almost nine million euros in the last year. Among the Americans there are two that are close to 50 million dollars in their turnover and there are ten above 20 million dollars.