International Expansion: Why clients want familiar PR agencies in unfamiliar markets

There is a trend for clients wanting their existing agencies to expand abroad rather than having to hire a new agency in an unfamiliar market.

Clients want familiar PR agencies in unfamiliar markets, writes Laura O'Connell
Clients want familiar PR agencies in unfamiliar markets, writes Laura O'Connell

In recent months we have seen an exciting new trend whereby client demand has driven international expansion. For example, in late 2015 we opened a San Francisco office and enlarged our presence in New York in response to requests from several international clients to replicate in the US the service they were already receiving from our London teams.

This recent expansion reflects a distinctive shift in clients’ needs, and we have seen several aspects to this trend. It is particularly driven by corporate comms briefs from fast-growth tech-driven businesses that are expanding rapidly internationally. But we have also seen demand from clients with global internal comms briefs. However in all cases the common thread is client preference for us to expand to deliver for them in these locations, rather than for them to hire a new agency locally.

We think there are several explanations. Firstly, it is driven by clients wanting global comms strategies that will deliver their messages consistently in today’s digital environment. By its very nature, digital is an immediate and global channel that allows no scope for error or delay. International clients want a master framework to deliver consistency of messaging around the world.

Secondly, digital comms is leading to PR becoming an increasingly important element of the global marcoms mix. With social and digital media centred on engagement and authentic brand experience, clients see PR as a key discipline to deliver the content and execution that supports this, masterminding global brand reputation campaigns that support sales and marketing.

Thirdly, London is clearly a centre of excellence for comms talent. Clients are recognising this and choosing to hire best in class consultants regardless of location. Our recent West Coast US office opening followed a 12-month period of the London team frequently crossing the Atlantic to deliver to a major client headquartered there. Even after a pitch against other consultancies with existing presence in the US, this client’s preference was to build on its existing work with the London-based team to set and lead its global strategy. Its priority was expertise, strategic insight and proven creativity rather than agency location or knowledge of the local market.

This is not to say that local nuances in comms strategies are no longer required, but clients want an excellent framework to deliver messages consistently around the world – and that can be tailored to support the individual needs of local geographies.

And finally, London consultancies are well placed to deliver global master frameworks; London’s many advantages to international businesses include its convenient time zone and a universal language, clear reasons for its pre-eminence and attraction as a global city and financial hub. This is true for global comms too.

Laura O’Connell is managing partner at Instinctif

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