Monday, April 10, 2006

A "Third Way" for International PR

As noted earlier, the majority of clients who engage in International PR programs think that their programs are ineffective. Communications between regions is sporadic, riven by inter- and intra-agency politics, etc.

As noted in that earlier post, there are currently 2 ways to skin the cat when it comes to global PR programming:

"Seamless integrated network" - the approach favored by conglomerate agencies conveniently forgets the fact that regional offices acquired via acquisitions and managed via competitive P&L will rarely cooperate seamlessly.

"Independent network" - this best-of-breed model still implies vendor lock-in on a regional basis, and does not always offer simplified administration (e.g., a single invoice).

As a mid-sized firm that typically handled start-up companies, we did not often have to worry about these broken models. But, as our business grew we took on ever-larger clients, and meanwhile the Internet facilitated global selling for clients of all sizes. The "Global Question" loomed large. The more we explored, the more troubled we became; we grew determined to find a "third way."

We came up with this:

"Centralized Coordination of a Freeform Network" - this approach required us to hire a senior-level PR pro whose only job is to help clients manage a best-of-breed network of worldwide agencies. Credo: "Performance Through Simplification"

First, we vetted out and created our own independent network, making sure to have several agency options in each major geography to better ensure a good client/agency fit. We offer these agencies' services to clients (simplified agency reviews), and take on the responsibility of managing each agency relationship (simplified communications, simplified & centralized billing).

While we view our partners as "preferred," there is no exclusivity mandate. If one of our partners doesn't work out (or if the client already has preferred vendors overseas), we simply assimilate a new regional partner into the fold. Our dedicated Global Coordinator manages it all - including working bizzaro hours, so that the client need not set up 5am conference calls to get on the same page with PR firms in Tokyo, London, Beijing, etc. (simplified life)!

In essence this model offers the centralized coordination and administration of a global conglomerate, while gaining access to any-and-all varieties of best-of-breed regional partners.

The PR Goliaths can point to a map, flip a switch, and all the push-pins representing all their many offices will light up in the same color. I'd rather point to a map that lights up with all the colors of the United Nations ... As long as you can get a handle on the tough aspects of inter-agency coordination, diversity is a strength when it comes to global PR.


Blogger Stuart Bruce, PR Consultant said...

Interesting. This is a very similar approach to the one we took at an old agency back in the early 90s. We handled several international accounts, using different partners in each market each time. The hard bit back then before teh internet was making the initial contact. If awards and winning biz are anything to go by it must have worked. For our biggest account we pitched against Burson Marsteller and Hill & Knowlton. The campaign later won PR Week's Best International Campaign award. Not bad for three people in a small town in the north of England!

Stuart Bruce,

April 11, 2006  
Anonymous Gillian said...

I think it's tough for small to midsize firms to compete with the big internationals even if the product is better. Is this a new way to package what all the small ones (including my old firm) do? Or are there new players in the network?

April 12, 2006  
Blogger PR-Guy said...

Hi Gillian -

The difference here is the hiring of a dedicated, senior-level, global coordinator PLUS a highly flexible network of best-of-breed firms (which, by the way, CAN include regional offices of the multinationals!)

Thus you have the seamless coordination and message consistency of the multinational firms AND the ability to change-out underperforming regional agencies without fear of losing much ground.

Try hiring a multinational firm and then complaining about the performance of the 4-person office in Dubai. The multinational firm can't swap out a new team in Dubai (it's a small office with just the one team, in many cases); you're stuck with 'em and do not have the flexibility to re-negotiate the Dubai office's fees out of the contract until it ends.

By contrast, we'd say, "Hey, there are 10 good firms in Dubai. We like Agency X, but will happily work with anyone - and, we'll continue to make it work seamlessly via our global coordinator."

Make sense?

April 12, 2006  
Anonymous Gillian said...

The global coordinator is a very good idea. I think perhaps that's part of the missing link. We'll be starting a search sometime after the summer, and international is a capability that we'd like to have in the mix. Thanks for the perspective.


April 18, 2006  

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