Six tips for better global communications

I recently did some research for the Public Relations Consultants Association to determine best practice models for international comms teams. There were a number of insights:

Team design should vary by market, argues Steven Shepperson-Smith
Team design should vary by market, argues Steven Shepperson-Smith

1) International comms teams need greater co-ordination
Comms teams used to worry about news stories breaking 24 hours a day. Now stories in any language, from any market, can go viral in about 24 seconds. Recently, for example, Domenico Dolce offered a personal opinion in an Italian magazine, leading to international protests against his company (I’m not arguing the rights or wrongs of what he said).

There are many other examples.

It is vital that both comms teams and corporate spokespeople are constantly on message. The frequency of international travel also means that consumers want consistent campaign messages across every market. Increasingly that means a single global brand idea that is given little local adaptation e.g. the Omo/Skip/Persil Dirt is Good campaign.

2) Team design should vary by market
There is no single ‘best fit’ design for a global comms team. Team design should vary by market or business unit, based upon the complexity of different operating environments, availability of skilled and experienced people (in-house or in agency) and the sensitivity of different tasks.

3) When contingent factors change, so should team design
Operating environments change, people join and leave, but often organisations respond slowly. The complexity of an operating environment can be changed by factors ranging from a new government to the involvement of activist investors. Comms leaders should constantly be reviewing the structure of teams to see if their core tasks are the same as when that structure was established.

4) Issues should be managed based on task, not role
There is a constant debate in international organisations about whether management responsibility should be more centralised or devolved. In flexible, efficient organisations, issues or campaigns should be managed by whoever has experience of a particular situation, or key markets, regardless of where they sit in an organisational hierarchy.

5) Global agencies + individual practitioners often make the ideal marriage
When comms teams outsource they want to work with the best people regardless of what agency they work for. Not even the best global agency can be number one in every market or sector. A mix of the deep resources and co-ordination ability of a global agency with skilled individual practitioners/ smaller agencies is often the ideal combination for a global organisation.

6) Global organisations should employ a chief comms officer
Creating and maintaining a flexible team structure requires a single individual with a mandate to cut through organisational politics and put the right team in place to manage any reputational issue or comms campaign. It is vital for global organisations to have the right organisational design in place for their comms to properly manage reputation in a connected, complex world.

Steven Shepperson-Smith is the author of ‘The Globalisation of Public Relations – How Companies are Managing Communications Across Continents’

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