MTV Networks relies on a global team of communicators to help extend the brand's message and mission.
The brand-name events of MTV Networks are known for their spontaneity and ability to create water-cooler moments for viewers. Yet the global communications process used by the company's PR staff to promote the events is anything but unplanned, requiring constant inter-country communications.
At the parent company of a diverse portfolio of networks, including Spike, Nickelodeon, VH1, Comedy Central, and, of course, MTV, communications pros are charged with customizing branded events – such as the MTV Video Music Awards and the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards – to distinct countries while maintaining the characteristics they are best known for, says AnneMarie Kane, VP of communications at MTV Networks International.
Often, managing international events is a balancing act of applying a brand such as Nickelodeon –where “there is going to be slime and... a lot of messiness” – to local sensibilities, she adds.
“When we do the Kids' Choice Awards, we are able to leverage the scale and the assets of the larger Viacom company, but execute it in a local fashion that is culturally and locally relevant,” she says. “There are so many markets and different types of consumers, you really [need] to have the local angle with the global outlook to it.”
Global event, local focus
Conducting PR on a global scale often requires that communications professionals go beyond marketing their events or services nationally. Often, companies coordinate efforts to specifically target the residents of a municipality or region, even if an event is broadcast globally.
For example, MTV's Europe Music Awards (EMAs), which aired November 11, had a flavor familiar to residents of Liverpool, located in the northwestern UK and best known as the hometown of The Beatles. During the event, Liverpudlian and local hero Sir Paul McCartney was honored with an Ultimate Legend Award, which was presented to him by Bono, the Irish lead singer of U2. However, before the first award was broadcast, MTV targeted regional press with a locally specialized media outreach effort, says Sao Bui-Van, VP of communications at MTV Networks UK & Ireland.
“You want to let people know [about the event] within those regions,” he says. “For example, for the EMAs, we wanted to reach people who live in northwest England. There was no problem breaking that story in a national outlet, but we [worked] with the local press be-cause we wanted to reach that main audience. It's about identifying stories in that local and regional way.”
An event such as the EMAs also requires a complex media relations effort throughout the night of the show, including managing outreach to the 100-plus media outlets covering the event's red carpet in numerous languages. The effort requires near-constant communications among MTV's country-specific communications staffs, says Bui-Van.
“It is a massive project. It is one of the biggest live music events in Europe. We broadcast in more than 40 countries,” he says, adding that MTV Networks also manages event-day press conferences and the arrival of celebrities. “It's all done collaboratively... I work very closely with all my partners in Europe, who are working very closely with their teams.”
Part of the reason for the perpetual communications process is the increasingly global nature of information. In an era when news can be published around the globe – and commented on by readers – within minutes, a company's international PR management must be both knowledgeable about specific regions and flexible to respond to events quickly, explains Kane.
“There are no borders in the media landscape today. It's a 24-hour information and news environment, and [information] is received within minutes from one end of the world to the other,” she says. “There's a diversity in the global operation, and that makes us very stackable because information travels so fast... Our groups are very adept at being flexible and having an understanding of their markets, and also the world outside of their markets.”
Knowing what's important
In the case of a company with multiple media brands, global communications pros also must familiarize themselves with social issues that are important to their country's viewership. In the UK and Ireland, MTV conducts multiple social responsibility campaigns promoting safe sex, including the 10th anniversary of “Staying Alive,” the network's HIV and AIDS awareness campaign.
Bui-Van adds that MTV's Web site also promotes awareness of other nationally prominent social issues.
“With local markets, there are very particular interests,” he says. “For example, on our site, you have pages about emotional health, a big issue in the UK, and anti-violence.”
Multifaceted PR efforts conducted on an international level tend to complicate a company's communications strategies. Thus, dialogue among high-level communications staffers is key to maintaining a cohesive working relationship and crafting priorities, Kane adds.
“We are communications professionals, and that is what we do: communicate,” she says. “The communications are key, but so is having the understanding and the relationships with colleagues that they know their markets best and know what the press wants. They are the ones who really have their feet on the ground.”
Other cause campaigns from MTV
In the US, MTV again conducted its familiar “Choose or Lose” campaign, urging young people to vote in the November 4 presidential election. In conjunction, the network launched a petition promoting the Bill of Rights for American Veterans and staged a concert in New York for the effort in October
The network and Radiohead teamed up for a partnership called “MTV EXIT” (End Exploitation and Trafficking), a cause campaign designed to end the sale of humans across borders. The band and network partnered with youth activists and produced a campaign in the Asia-Pacific region with USAID
MTV has launched cause campaigns in Europe to promote sexual health and anti-drug and anti-violence efforts in previous years. In 2007, the network also launched MTV Switch, the first climate-change campaign focused on youth