PLATFORM: Sub-standard service spells end of an era - European networks must stop trying to fob clients off with second rate talent in local markets, says Mark Jackson

European PR, like much else today, is subject to trends and fashions.

European PR, like much else today, is subject to trends and

fashions.



The latest fashion on the wane is the international network. The PR

network is rapidly approaching the uncool stage of fashionability.



Networks, whether they are single-brand or loose affiliations, are a

mutation of a long-finished PR era when companies wanted an easy way to

do European PR. Working through a single-brand European agency or a

network of affiliated agencies, companies could construct a pan-European

PR campaign with minimal effort.



The ’one agency does it all’ approach has been a dominant feature of

European PR for the last dozen years or more. But as we approach the

millennium, clients must be given more choice about which agencies to

use locally.



Why? Well, put simply , companies are neither generating first class

local coverage nor the control and consistency they originally set out

to achieve.



Why don’t networks deliver what people really want? After all, many

clients still use networks for international PR campaigns. The reasons

are slightly different depending on whether you are dealing with a

single-brand agency or a loose affiliation of agencies.



Ostensibly, single-brand international agencies should be the easiest

way to operate internationally. Companies should expect similar

expertise, market knowledge and, on a more tactical level, smoother

communications, increased consistency and so on. However, when companies

need brilliance in each country, single-networks often fail to deliver

for the simple reason that no one company can have a monopoly on the

best PR people in every country. The result is that companies choosing a

single-network must accept at least some imperfections in the level of

service.



Loosely affiliated networks are borne out of the need to compete more

effectively against the single-brand networks. The net result is that

each individual agency is too focused on demonstrating its worth to the

client to worry about the greater good of the whole network.



Companies should not be shoehorned into a solution they neither want nor

suits them. They should be able to set up international campaigns based

on a pic’n’mix model where they can choose the agency that best matches

their needs in each country. This will ensure companies can really

achieve their international objectives of increasing the volume and

quality of coverage while improving control and consistency. Moreover,

it will ensure local PR managers are not disenfranchised by having a

network forced on them.



The pic’n’mix agency model can be tied together with a central,

strategic consultancy that really does add value to the whole network.

This consultancy can bring a real sense of objectivity to the network,

helping clients assess the performance of each agency in the network.

And objectivity is one thing neither single-brand nor loosely affiliated

networks seem able to give their international clients.



The point is that the international network as we currently understand

it does not give companies what they really want. They need more freedom

to pick and choose the best agency in each market rather than be forced

into accepting second best by their agency. The network of the future

must be based on choice, pragmatism and objectivity.



It is time we all realised that networks as we know them are dead. Long

live the network!



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