ANALYSIS: Global PR - How will globalization affect the industry? - Globalization: it sounds great in theory, but what about making it work? John Frank discusses what PR’s heavy hitters had to say on the issue at the recent ICO conference in Switz

Globalization has become a mantra repeated regularly by heavy hitters in the PR game. These days, even mid-sized and smaller firms are reaching across national boundaries, joining various groups that can give them the global reach they think major business clients want. Or they form their own loose alliances with firms in various markets where their clients want them to be.

Globalization has become a mantra repeated regularly by heavy hitters in the PR game. These days, even mid-sized and smaller firms are reaching across national boundaries, joining various groups that can give them the global reach they think major business clients want. Or they form their own loose alliances with firms in various markets where their clients want them to be.

Globalization has become a mantra repeated regularly by heavy

hitters in the PR game. These days, even mid-sized and smaller firms are

reaching across national boundaries, joining various groups that can

give them the global reach they think major business clients want. Or

they form their own loose alliances with firms in various markets where

their clients want them to be.



Few think that the need for global PR will diminish anytime soon. The

nature of capitalist enterprises dictates the search for new

markets.



The arrival of free markets in the former communist world has American

and Western European companies looking to expand into those areas to

capture consumers whose buying habits are only now being formed.



Brave new PR world



Still, while most PR pros agree in theory that globalization is the

future, few are brave enough to say they know what that will ultimately

mean for the shape and functionality of PR firms. Several big names in

the business addressed the globalization issue at the recent ICO Summit

’99 in Switzerland.



While none claimed to have all the answers, each discussed what he, and

his clients, see ahead. The picture is far from clear, but that’s

because it’s only begun to be painted.



Nothing all that radical was said in Lucerne, perhaps a reminder that

when it comes to global visions, the devil is very much in the

details.



Anyone can posit a general plan; the trick remains getting it to

work.



The overarching message, though, was the ability to change as new

knowledge, and new technology, add to a firm’s capacity to provide truly

global PR counsel.



’PR professionals, myself included, tend to be control freaks,’ noted

Bob Seltzer, president and CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. But

when operating on a global canvas, control freaks need to adjust. ’The

lead office and account directors need to be in control but not

controlling,’ he cautioned. Micro-managing hurts morale, for one thing,

and it also can’t work when every market still has its individual needs,

customs and local clientele that respond in unique ways.



But how do you build a global network in the first place? Harris

Diamond, chairman and CEO of BSMG Worldwide, tells PRWeek that his firm

has opted for a hub approach, acquiring firms in major cities and then

serving broad areas from there. ’You don’t need an office in each city,’

he says. International reach isn’t a topic clients bring up in looking

for agencies, because ’they expect us to have offices around the

world.’



Speaking at ICO, both Porter Novelli CEO Bob Druckenmiller and Michael

Morley, deputy chairman and president of Edelman’s international

operations, advised looking at how clients organize their global

communications. Porter Novelli queried 24 global corporations and found

no consistent responses, proving that PR firms are not alone in

wrestling with this question. For example, Edelman polled 25 companies

and found that 40% have centralized PR controls, 32% were decentralized

and 28% use a combination - no clear pattern there.



But in that corporate chaos lies opportunity for PR firms. Companies are

looking to PR firms in local markets for market intelligence, Morley

said. ’Globalization poses an opportunity for clients and agencies to

establish a new kind of partnership,’ Druckenmiller says. Corporations

are strapped for staff and constantly trying to do more with less. That

means PR firms can become their eyes and ears in global markets they

enter.



But before they can talk intelligently to clients about global markets,

PR firms need to make sure their people and offices around the globe are

talking to, and trusting in the capabilities of, each other. Global or

local, ’what this business is about is trust,’ says Diamond. ’Even trust

in your own firm.’



Ogilvy polled 58 of its mid- and senior-level people on global

questions.



One of the biggest concerns expressed was the fear that a client

relationship could be injured by another Ogilvy office that wasn’t up to

snuff. ’PR professionals are always concerned that colleagues in other

offices will damage ’their’ client relationship,’ Seltzer said.



The response to such concerns is that ’service firms, just like

manufacturing concerns, need to develop and implement quality assurance

programs that guarantee a consistent level of client service from every

employee, in every office in every country.’



Close contact



Getting employees around the world to talk to each other also can help

build trust. The Internet is the obvious tool for that, but it’s not a

substitute for face-to-face contact. Ogilvy this year brought more than

200 managers to a meeting in Barcelona to brainstorm about global

operations.



BSMG routinely sends people for six-month or yearlong stints at foreign

offices.



Sending people to other offices also helps them realize that despite the

globalization of business, the effectiveness of communications is still

a very localized affair. Seltzer, for example, related how surprised US

managers were when Ogilvy’s Chinese agency suggested a series of bridge

matches be set up for local reporters. It turns out card playing in

press clubs is a key method of reaching the media, something Ogilvy

would have never known without on-the-spot input. So, rather than

top-down or bottom-up, PR planning needs to be multi-way, with input

from all involved parties.



But too much talk can also turn into a Tower of Babel, so companies need

to keep track of who is doing what for which client. Again, technology

can help - setting up an Intranet for global clients can provide

touchstones for finding out what’s happening.



Facing the future



Final answers to the global question? Not any time soon. But the good

news is there’s time to work on it. Even Diamond admits that for major

agencies, probably only 5% to 10% of their business today is coming from

’global’ work, i.e., work being done internationally for a given

client.



Edelman’s study found only 12% of corporate respondents use a global PR

firm to the exclusion of local firms. Interestingly, 56% said they use

only local firms, which likely means they’re still cobbling together

their own global networks.



Diamond expects to see global PR grow rapidly in the next three to four

years, but that still leaves PR firms time to ponder and, hopefully,

answer the question of how best to provide worldwide coverage for an

increasingly worldwide customer base. There’s little clamor for global

work now, but that quiet should be seen as a planning opportunity, not

as a sign that the issue can wait another day.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.