Procter & Gamble has about five billion global customers, British
Airways flies 40 million people around the world annually, and ISP World
Online has close to one million customers. All face different challenges
in terms of managing their global PR strategy, but the one thing that
unites the three is their commitment to communicating their brand
consistently across different markets.
This emerged as the common factor at a round table discussion organised
by Edelman PR Worldwide and chaired by Marketing. The aim of the debate
was to examine how three companies operating in different markets
managed their international communications (see boxes).
Co-ordinating a global PR campaign has always thrown up problems for
companies with an international offering. Cultural differences between
countries, division of budgets, and variations in the way media is
consumed are just some of the obstacles companies face. But the
globalisation of business means companies have had to come up with a
solution to access international markets.
For BA, which has traditionally used a variety of small, independent
agencies, the answer has been to consolidate its agency
In May, GCI Europe picked up its corporate and marketing PR account for
North America and Europe and was briefed to provide a consistent PR
programme across these markets.
Similarly, P&G co-ordinates its global PR strategy through a network of
lead agencies, having previously viewed PR as a local
Suzanne Peters, P&G’s director of public affairs for beauty care for
Eastern and Western Europe and for hair care globally, describes this
process as a major step forward.
But however companies structure their PR network, communication remains
key to running any successful international programme. According to a
survey of 70 senior Edelman PR Worldwide consultants carried out by
IPSOS RSL in August, poor communication is the biggest source of
problems for effective international campaign management.
When asked what three changes would improve the running of international
PR programmes, efficient and ongoing communication topped the list at
50%, followed by an appreciation of budgetary constraints (29%), and the
issuing of standard procedures/strategy (24%).
P&G’s Peters, BA’s international head of communications, Louise
Tingstrom, and World Online’s sales and marketing director, Lawrence
Alexander, all agreed that regular contact was fundamental to
co-ordinating any campaign on a global scale.
And they also championed the integration of PR into the marketing
Alexander brings together the company’s advertising, DM and PR agencies
on a weekly basis and Tingstrom and Peters ensure PR is involved at an
earlier stage in the cycle of a campaign than it used to be.
Companies looking to extend their brands internationally would do well
to take note of the ways in which these three companies have tackled
their global communications strategy.
World Online, a European ISP which launched in 1996, is currently
expanding into Europe at a rate of one country a month. For sales and
marketing director Lawrence Alexander, this means keeping a close eye on
all PR activity to ensure a consistent message is delivered across all
markets. ’If you work in an environment which changes second by second,
and have to meet our expansion programme, you need to keep a tight rein
or the whole thing could disintegrate,’ he warns.
Although World Online works with a different roster of local agencies in
each of the 13 countries in which it operates, its marketing strategy is
driven from the UK. The company has three agencies in the UK - Joshua
(branding and advertising) Finex (DM and sales promotion) and Edelman
(PR). From the outset, these agencies worked closely alongside each
’I put them all in a room together, told them what I was trying to
achieve, the time frame and the budget. Then I left them to it,’ says
’They meet once a week and I try to be there as well.’
An extranet site has been set up between the agencies, which carries
press releases, the weekly meeting report and all creative work. And
Alexander is clear about what he expects. ’I want my agencies to come to
me and ask me awkward questions - to make me squirm and to force me to
But he admits that while he maintains good, regular contact with the
company’s UK agencies, it can be harder to keep track of activity across
all the company’s European markets. ’We are very anxious not to break
away from our core branding - ’Freedom of Movement’ - which can be
difficult,’ he says.
The company’s main PR initiative was ideally suited to covering all the
European markets. By co-sponsoring Cher’s three-month European music
tour, which finishes next month, World Online found a platform to raise
awareness across a broad audience. There were 50 tickets available for
each of the 35 concerts for PR purposes. These were distributed to
press, business partners and consumers through promotional activity and
The company is also the sole sponsor of the Eurythmics world tour.
But Alexander emphasises that pan-European centrally-controlled activity
should be complemented by local activity. If a local initiative proves
successful, it can be rolled out as a template to other markets.
’Ultimately, you have to be flexible and respond to what’s happening
across the group.’
When Louise Tingstrom joined British Airways one year ago as
international head of communications, she inherited a PR network of 74
agencies around the world. Tingstrom - who joined BA from Visa
International where she was senior vice-president, communications -
began the task of streamlining the agencies and has since appointed GCI
to co-ordinate all activity in Europe and North America. A similar
process has taken place in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America
Much like other global corporations, BA hopes that by consolidating its
PR agency relationships, it will increase the consistency of its brand
communications across key markets. ’I believe that with a network of
wholly owned or specially picked agencies you can achieve greater
communication benefits,’ says Tingstrom. ’I came in to sort out the
company’s international PR and to make it more commercially
However, she - like Procter & Gamble’s Suzanne Peters - questions
whether any one agency can deliver a truly global service. ’It is very
difficult to get a consistent global service from any one agency,’ she
Instead, this year has seen BA appoint a lead agency across each market
to co-ordinate activity. Tingstrom stresses that this arrangement can
only be successful when there is complete trust between client and
agency and the two work in close partnership.
’You have to talk regularly and be honest. I want an agency which will
stand up to me and say when it doesn’t think something we have suggested
is going to work,’ she says.
Tingstrom singles out BA’s sponsorship of the London Eye wheel and the
launch of its ’lounge in the sky’ initiative for the airline’s Club
World passengers, as two recent events which generated good PR
’London Eye worked extremely well around the world in terms of positive
PR,’ she says.
Despite Virgin’s attempt to debunk BA’s London Eye sponsorship by
floating a balloon above it carrying the words ’BA can’t get it up’ when
it was running behind schedule, research last month by CIA Media Lab
revealed that at least 3.8 million Britons - almost double the
operator’s target - plan to take the ride next year.
For major initiatives such as this, Tingstrom stresses the importance of
including the PR function in the strategy as early as possible. ’It is
important that advertising and PR agencies work closely and as part of
the same team. Having a PR expert up front works because PR agencies
think in terms of the headline.’
PROCTER & GAMBLE
Procter & Gamble products are sold in 140 countries around the world,
reaching about five billion customers, so it’s little wonder that its
global PR strategy is well developed.
One year ago, P&G reorganised its business into Global Business Units,
covering areas such as beauty and hair care, paper products and laundry
and cleaning. Each unit is responsible for brand equity and profit,
which includes marketing and PR strategy.
Suzanne Peters is director of public affairs for beauty care for eastern
and western Europe, and for hair care globally. That puts her in charge
of the public relations strategy for about 12 different brands. ’It
sounds complicated, but it’s actually very simple,’ says Peters, who has
worked for P&G for 15 years. Before taking on the role of director of
public affairs, she was marketing director in the UK and then in
’Our approach is ’strategy is central, but execution is local’. The
templates for PR campaigns are developed centrally and then rolled out
to local markets, which execute the campaign in their own time, with
their own tools,’ she says.
In order to do this in the UK, P&G works with a roster of PR
Scope Ketchum, for example, is the agency of record for Vidal Sassoon,
and is responsible for all global messaging for the brand.
’Our global PR agencies need to understand the global issues relating to
each brand. This means a great deal of international co-operation.
However, in each market, relationships with the local media are key,’
’Getting the balance right is the challenge in working campaigns
But wouldn’t it be simpler to employ one agency with a global network
which covers all P&G’s markets? Peters believes that although ideally
the company would like to work with just one agency, the main obstacle
is capacity. Unlike the main advertising networks, PR agencies are less
likely to have the resources to provide uniform service quality across
Other issues cited by Peters against using a sole agency are the sheer
volume of P&G’s brands and the fact that - unlike British Airways - P&G
is not selling the same product in each country, either in terms of
packaging, branding or positioning.
Nor does P&G impose a single rigid PR template on all markets,
regardless of cultural and economic differences. ’The PR template can be
seen as a buffet table. You can have any combination of dishes, but
you’ve got to have something from this table,’ says Peters.
And for PR agencies who berate the fact that PR is too often considered
at the last minute, Peters maintains that the PR function at P&G is
integrated into the marketing mix from the outset of every campaign.
’It is key that PR is an integrated part of the marketing and planning
execution,’ she says. ’To do this well, PR strategy needs to reflect
global brand equities. As a working principle, we expect our PR agencies
to be key partners in the business, alongside the advertising
P&G’s biggest public relations coup this year was signing Madonna to
promote its new Max Factor Gold line in Europe and the Far East. The TV
ad campaign kicked off in the UK and, according to Peters, generated
massive coverage in both the UK press and overseas.
’The catalyst for the Max Factor Gold campaign was having such fantastic
pictures of Madonna,’ she says. ’Once we had these images, we could help
local markets garner exclusives from different media. The key challenge
was ensuring we choreographed the release of the visuals to maximise
And - as a good example of crisis management - press releases and
statements were prepared in advance to guard against the story being
leaked before the official launch.
This article was first published on Marketing