GLOBAL NETWORK: Electronic communications allow companies to produce a
consistent international message
EUROPE: Emerging markets, such as Eastern Europe, have the potential to
overtake current hi-tech leaders
IBM : Fee income leaps as Ogilvy, Adams and Rinehart co-ordinate and
manage IBM’s European PR network
As hi-tech clients conquer the world, the pressure is on for agencies to
think globally. Danny Rogers reports
As the pace of technology development gets faster and product life-
cycles shorter, the pressure is mounting on technology producers to
introduce new products on to an increasingly global market place. Which
should be good news for the hi-tech PR fraternity as clients pull off
more and more quick fire international product launches.
In reality UK agencies rarely manage global programmes, but they are
increasingly required to handle pan-European campaigns. And, with
English as the accepted language of international IT, UK consultancies
are becoming more influential in the European marketing process.
For the well-established US hardware and software companies Europe, or
EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) as the US usually views it, has
become the biggest single revenue region in the world, regularly
representing over 50 per cent of their turnover.
When it comes to the major players a European approach is taken as
written. ‘If it’s not pan-European we would ask ourselves why,’ says
Anne Keogh, IBM corporate communications consultant.
Many consultancies are now looking further afield to the Indian sub-
continent, Asia and South Africa. However, although many UK agencies
talk about international work, it’s only a handful of the bigger ones
that actually have the resources to implement genuinely pan-European or
So ‘shape up or ship out’ is A-Plus managing director Jonathan Simnett’s
summary of the challenge facing hi-tech PRs in today’s market place.
He explains. ‘IT is speeding up inexorably and certain sectors are
particularly dynamic: data-comms, internetworking and anything with the
terms Net or Web attached.’
And it’s not only pan-European product PR that’s growing. ‘In such an
environment,’ says Simnett, ‘IT companies cannot rely on innovation
alone. The larger players have become highly acquisitive, while smaller
firms are looking to float or be acquired. The pressure on companies to
produce financial results means corporate PR skills are now at a
The real issue facing hi-tech PRs is how to manage and implement
campaigns that span the geographic and cultural diversity of Europe and
‘Almost all our clients are American,’ says Mark Adams, Text 100’s
managing director for mainland Europe, ‘They want a simple network with
consistent activities. It is deeply ingrained that you can do things as
easily in Europe as in the US. This is the challenge.’
Firefly managing director Mark Mellor agrees: ‘US companies tend to view
Europe as the addition of a state, when in reality it is much less
advanced than the US and with major cultural barriers.’
Technology itself may provide some answers to the fast, consistent
service that clients demand. Fundamentally this means electronic
As launch cycles accelerate, PR people need to disseminate and update
information equally quickly. It is also important in terms of impact
that the different markets receive the information simultaneously.
E-Mail is valuable in ironing out the difficulties created by
international time zones. Simnett believes e-mail links are a
prerequisite for effective campaigns: ‘More than 80 per cent of
journalists can receive information electronically and an increasing
amount prefer no paper at all.’
A Plus has just produced the world’s first Web-based press pack for its
client CDT. Journalists or analysts can access the site and pull off
what they need without drowning in paper claims Simnett.
As well as the standard press releases and photography, this includes
white papers, patent details and ‘hot links’ to the client or relevant
But of course a communications medium only works if one’s targets have
access to it, and Mellor sounds a little more sceptical: ‘A technical
infrastructure gives you a competitive edge and the Internet is a must
for every PR company. However the level of sophistication varies
enormously from country to country and good pan-European campaigns
depend on managing this.’
‘For example Silicon Valley believes everyone should have Web access but
unlike the US, where local calls are free, BT is relatively expensive as
are Internet subscriptions. As a result many UK freelancers do not have
ISDN lines,’ he says.
There appears to be differing opinions on the degree of electronic
sophistication of the media. Adams says: ‘40 per cent of UK journalists
are now on the Internet, the figure is 10 per cent in Germany.’
He stresses the importance of face-to-face contact: ‘While a launch
should be backed by the Internet, it can be a passive medium. It’s
usually still necessary to physically take your client around to the
If the visible element remains so important, is another form of digital
communication the answer? For many years there has been talk of video
conferencing - two-way active video delivered via digital telephone
lines - being used to remove the travel element in international press
Large generalist consultancies such as Burson-Marsteller and Hill and
Knowlton have made a considerable investment in video conferencing
facilities. On the hi-tech side, Firefly expects to have video
conferencing capability within the next few months, although it is
likely to use the technology for inter-agency meetings rather than press
Video conferencing requires a substantial capital investment and
expensive bandwidth, just two of the reasons for its slow penetration.
Simnett has other reservations: ‘From a cultural perspective the video
press conference can prove chaotic as the spokesman may have to deal
with an artificial leap from culture to culture, exacerbating the
So for the foreseeable future, effective PR delivery will require IT
chief executives to jump on aeroplanes. And a priority for agencies is
to ensure a physical network of offices that can cope with a genuinely
Text 100’s Adams believes there is no substitute for the tailored
‘roadshow’. This, he says, is the antithesis to the ‘come and see my
lovely satellite dish’ approach.
Through an expanding network, Text 100 has held on to its position as
the largest hi-tech PR agency in Europe. It has remained a wholly-owned
group and expanded into EMEA boundaries with offices in South Africa,
Dubai and India.
‘We’ve grown organically,’ says Adams, ‘and at great cost and pain.
We’ve been through all that partnership rubbish. My aim is for a client
to step off the plane anywhere in the world, experience the same culture
and receive the same level of service.’
Whether through necessity or choice, others have taken a different
route. A-Plus has founded and developed the Euro Plus network based on
exclusive partnerships. In terms of EMEA, it has recently added partners
in South Africa, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Similarly the Argyll Group, previously the founder of the Globalink
group, has now joined Worldcom Europe, Europe’s largest network of
agencies, giving it greater European and global presence.
Argyll MD Crispin Manners says: ‘This form of network provides hi-tech
capability in every territory around the world. It can deliver a
consistent message, pull in feedback from the field and enhance brand
Firefly’s approach is different again, relying on non-exclusive
partnerships under the Fireworks brand. ‘We choose two or three partners
in each country and the best agency for each particular client,’ says
Mellor. ‘Where one will be best for consumer-tech, another will suit
hard-core hi-tech PR.’
He says the company tends to link up with ‘budding Fireflies’. It has
established a code of conduct and is developing an intranet, which he
claims is an inexpensive way of linking up with partners and clients
‘It is crucial that overall objectives, messages and success criteria
are set and subsequently maximum information is provided to the agencies
involved,’ he says.
Adams is critical of this strategy, concerned that in such a loose
network it is difficult to ensure consistent and quality service for a
Ironically, on one account - networker Cisco - Text 100 manages the
European programme and Firefly implements PR in the UK.
Adams makes no secret of Text 100’s desire to ultimately take over and
become Cisco’s single agency in Europe. A tense situation and an
illustration of the fierce battleground unfolding in international hi-
European hi-tech: Ready to leap into hyperdrive
While the US will continue to set the pace in IT marketing, the UK does
not lag far behind in its approach to hi-tech PR and is out in front of
‘We’re about a year behind the US in terms of sophistication,’ says Mark
Mellor managing director of Firefly.
Mark Adams, European managing director of Text 100, is quick to defend
our native skills. ‘Where the US is very systematic in its PR
strategies, the UK is fast-moving and creative.’
Of the two other major European markets, Germany remains ahead of
France. Adams, half-German himself, says this is because the former has
proven better at forming international partnerships. He adds: ‘The
Germans are very procedural - they like their plans and stick to them,
but they are also changing to be more pro-active.’
The hi-tech PR business seems to be one area of the German economy that
is flourishing. It may nevertheless be held back on the international
arena because of its relatively high costs.
France, on the other hand, continues to be characterised by smaller,
personality-led agencies. A-Plus’s managing director Jonathan Simnett
describes the French as ‘more different than most’. He says: ‘English is
usually not acceptable and the sell is less direct. There is a term
‘cocktail mini-jupe’ [quite literally cocktail mini dress] PR referring
to press conferences conducted in the style of a cocktail party.’
The Italian market, also traditionally boutiquey in structure, has seen
significant growth in hi-tech PR. Although still relatively small,
Edelman is expanding its IT division and Text 100 is striving to open an
‘The Italian market is very mature and increasingly like the UK’s,’ says
Adams. ‘However it is dominated by four main hi-tech agencies, which
makes starting up there difficult.’
In the Netherlands’ high growth economy, the discipline continues to
flourish with the big international PR brands, European networks and
young indigenous agencies like Bikker all benefiting.
Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, is adopting hi-tech PR fast. Simnett
says: ‘Because firms like Nokia and Ericsson have been influential and
successful in electronic communications, the media there tend to take
Eastern Europe is another potential growth area, which many believe
could progress from nowhere to state-of-the-art ‘The Czech, Polish and
Russian markets are becoming increasingly important,’ says Firefly’s
But Simnett warns: ‘There’s a big difference in Eastern European work
and success will depend on the company’s resources on the ground. For
example don’t presume you can find a photocopier that works in Russia.
You need to forget all you ever learned about Western European PR.’
Case study: SSA counts on consistency
Chicago-based System Software Associates (SSA) began its relationship
with Firefly four years ago when it appointed the technology specialist
as its UK agency.
Then, in January 1996, SSA’s European marketing director David Priscott
chose Firefly to manage its PR programme across eight European
Under this agreement, Firefly continues to carry out media relations in
the UK but now also works with the locally-based agencies retained by
SSA’s individual country operations. The agencies are a mix of Fireworks
partners - Firefly’s loose-knit European network - and non-Fireworks
Priscott says: ‘The alternative was to change to an existing pan
European group, but my view was ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. I
could maintain the agency relationships already built up.’
At European management level, Firefly is responsible for direction, co-
ordination and evaluation of the programme. It also provides a link
between the European market place and SSA’s corporate PR team in
Chicago, disseminating corporate announcements.
Headed by account director Jill Wardropper, the Firefly team develops
Europe-wide PR objectives, strategies and messages that are reflected in
each country’s PR campaign.
The European agencies produce standardised press coverage evaluations
that are forwarded to Firefly monthly. These are accompanied by progress
reports which enable Firefly to identify initiatives that can be
exploited in other parts of Europe, or the US.
But how does Firefly control these disparate agencies? Wardopper says:
‘Each country operation has to believe there’s something in it for them.
We provide them with valuable information. We have to add value.’
On the implementation side Firefly generates case studies and other
press materials that are subsequently translated by each of the member
Priscott says from SSA’s point of view there are a number of
efficiencies: ‘I have only one person to talk to about European PR. In
this way Firefly becomes an extension of the marketing team.
‘More importantly, it ensures a consistency of messages and common
measurement and evaluation. I find I can now measure quality of message
delivery rather than just quantity of coverage,’ he adds.
The extras focus enables both SSA and Firefly to look at the whole Euro-
picture and transpose the strong points of the programme to weaker
Priscott says he has learned that PR performance varies quite
considerably across Europe. ‘Over the next six months I’ll be reviewing
messages and massaging some areas of the network, but on the whole it’s
working and there won’t be wholesale changes.’
Case study: Shandwick takes Digital worldwide
The relationship between the US hardware giant Digital and the world’s
biggest independent PR group Shandwick is a prime illustration of the
trend for US technology companies to think globally but act locally.
Digital has been a client of Shandwick in the UK since 1991, but in
December 1995 appointed the group as its world-wide agency.
By 1997 all Digital’s individual agencies will be replaced by
Shandwick’s resources which span 44 countries.
Mark Herford development director for Shandwick Communications and
European co-ordinator for the global Digital accounts says: ‘In a truly
global programme such as the Digital campaign, approximately 75 per cent
of the announcements are global and 25per cent are specific to the local
The priority of the partnership is at the corporate level, where
Shandwick is involved in developing the worldwide Digital brand
alongside its advertising agency DDB Needham.
The strategy includes the development of a worldwide, on-line,
operational manual. Standardisation of Shandwick’s service on a global
scale extends to agreed billing rates and evaluation techniques.
On a product level, Shandwick co-ordinates product announcements across
Digital’s nine business units.
A recent example was the world-wide launch in May of Digital’s Internet
software business unit Alta Vista.
UK agency Shandwick Communications held its launch event at Cafe
Cyberia in London. Presentations and launch information focused on
Digital’s intranet/ Internet strategy and the company’s new product
plans for the corporate market. Similar events were held simultaneously
in New York, San Francisco and Stockholm.
The launch achieved impressive coverage world-wide. In the UK alone this
included the Financial Times, Sunday Business, Computer and Computer
Weekly. Digital praises the UK for providing the highlight of the
Shandwick’s tie-in with Digital will get closer yet. It is trialing an
Intranet, planned to be fully operational by October, that will link all
Digital personnel world-wide with all Shandwick staff working on the
The rationale is to keep Shandwick personnel informed of all its
client’s initiatives and announcements, while encouraging best practice
in PR across both companies. Herford says the connection will also allow
media ‘contact management’ by featuring a sophisticated world-wide
database of media relationships.
He adds: ‘Eventually the Intranet will enable world-wide desk-top
conferencing - another element of a seamless PR resource that breaks
down the barriers between client and agency.’