Building an international framework

You're the PR director, and your company's business strategy calls for a dramatic realignment with a major focus on international markets.

You're the PR director, and your company's business strategy calls for a dramatic realignment with a major focus on international markets.

You are tasked with turning a patchwork of local executives and agencies into a seamless, efficient machine delivering media coverage, political influence, sales leads, and much more in multiple countries around the globe.

Expectations are soaring: There's the prospect of some overseas trips and the opportunity to extend your carbon footprint dramatically. The temptation - and the pressure - to jump straight in is strong. But the fallout from getting it wrong internationally is far greater than from purely local mishaps.

It will take time to get it right, but there are some initial steps you can take at the outset that will set you up for success.

Challenge any proposal to extend across borders. Don't accept what you are told about the readiness of the international operations or their local markets. Challenge the objectives and priorities. Ask a few questions of your local people. Find out what the real available resources are. Sometimes it isn't easy, but failing through lack of preparation or unrealistic expectations is even harder.

Get the structure right. Check out how the structure works. Is there matrix management (usual in international businesses)? Make sure there are clear terms of reference and reporting lines that your management (especially local) has agreed to. Take steps as soon as possible to build the personal contacts between the team members.

Think about the cultural stuff. It takes (more than) a lifetime to understand all the cultural nuances around the world; the key is to realize they exist. Read some of the texts on the subject. Invite an expert to one of your team meetings. Encourage everyone in your international team to share their local perspectives on the program.

Communicate with the communicators. Never assume that someone on the other side of the world, or even in the next country, has understood a message or a plan in the way you intended. Take the time to give people the full context. Set out clear rules for who communicates with whom, and communicate more than you think is needed. Put in place a regular communications forum with a clear agenda, and stick to it.

Control the money. Set up an effective and efficient budget control process from the start.

Involve the financial team. Get its input in terms of what it expects and what will work best. Check assumptions about local expenditure before giving go-aheads. Be sure there are clear rules about key aspects of the finances, such as control of local budgets, where and how you will pay vendors overseas, currency and local value added tax, and other tax issues, approvals, and reporting.

Build teams. If you decide you need an agency, be clear about its role and how you will build a single team from your internal and external resources. If they are simply the people at the end of the line, they won't be able to deliver.

Successful global campaigns acknowledge the realities of local conditions and needs. But they must have a solid strategic core. Allow your local teams the freedom to make the campaign work in the best way locally, but never allow them to hijack it and destroy its central purpose.

Mike Copland is chairman of Pleon UK and director of international partner relations for Pleon.

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