Andy Lark, vice-president of global communications at digital telecom provider Nortel Networks, is a real advocate of global PR. Small wonder.
He has been reaping the rewards of centralising his company's PR function for two years. Cost reductions, less administration and greater consistency of message are just some of the benefits that convince him he's done the right thing. 'It has worked brilliantly,' he says.
In theory, PR should fit easily into a company's globalisation process.
As brands, products and information zip around the world with little concern for borders, it should be one of the earliest and simplest converts to a global view. But Lark's centralised approach to all PR disciplines remains something of a rarity in the industry, and even he concedes there has to be input at the local level. Many multinationals talk about the need for a global PR programme but still rely heavily on feedback from local offices or local agencies. After all, you can't wine and dine a journalist over the internet - not yet.
'A lot of companies are moving toward global PR, but a lot aren't there yet,' says John Graham, chairman and CEO of Fleishman-Hillard, Nortel's global agency. 'More companies are discovering the value of centralising - consistent messaging, economies of scale and so on - but the local aspects are still very important.'
Golin/Harris International chief executive Rich Jernstedt agrees. 'I see two different directions: an increased understanding of the need to be global, combined with the absolute necessity of being local,' he says.
The importance of local media and influential locals is critical to the overall success of a global campaign.'
Many in-house PR directors wrestle with similar issues when asked about their global programmes. Take the top 10 global brands (source: Interbrand).
Not one of these brands has a global agency of record (see sidebar, pVII).
And while some have steadily reduced the number of firms with which they work, the world's leading brand - Coca-Cola - still has at least 50, and many of the brands report that agencies are appointed country by country.
Some widespread audiences, such as the financial community and international media as well as employees, are driving the need for a centralised, global approach to PR.
At the same time, big technology stocks, healthcare, financial services and consumer brands have been running global PR programmes for years, refining and tweaking the design as they go. There is no country that isn't the potential target of a corporate reputation campaign, even if its products or services are not yet available. The next big launch, the next recruiting ground, could be in your back yard.
But it's not just the traditionally global brands that need truly international programmes. The internet allows smaller companies to sell products and services internationally and much more quickly. Once you're on the internet, you're global; and once you're global, you might want to think about some global PR. Jonelle Birney, president and CEO of hi-tech PR specialists Blanc and Otus, says: 'There are no longer just technology companies - every company is looking at itself as a technology company. If you're a shoe manufacturer you've got a technology side. And at the start-up level we're seeing companies that want to go out in Asia and Europe much sooner than before.'
The internet also enables smaller companies to run global communications programmes at an earlier stage. Using the company intranet, employees based 10,000 miles from corporate headquarters can be as well informed about new products or initiatives as central office staff - when it is time for the company to make a major push, everyone from New York to New Delhi is out of the starting blocks at the same time.
This all sounds good, but the reality of creating global communication programmes remains a challenge for most. For some companies, it's more haphazard, with programmes developing over time as business grows. Others, by contrast, are strong proponents of the well-defined central-regional-local approach.
Jemma Moore, British Airways commercial communications manager, is in the second category. The airline has a centralised PR team in London that feeds out to regional offices in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. A parallel team in New York covers the US, Canada and South America.
Moore points out that BA is very much a global brand, so there needs to be some form of centralised direction for consistency of messages. Feeding stories into a local marketplace and allowing them to develop is just as important, she adds.
For Moore and BA the brand messages come from corporate headquarters, but outer regions and individual markets are allowed the freedom to work with local contacts. That means it is difficult to appoint a global agency.
BA works with GCI in Europe, which it views as a more homogenous market than, say, Africa. 'The network approach works well for us in Europe, but using local agencies works better in other regions,' she says. 'It depends on how much proactive PR is needed. There are advantages to networks, but the markets we work in are incredibly diverse, and we need the best PR resources in each market.'
Larry Parnell, director of PR at Ernst and Young, takes a slightly different approach. 'You need to make sure that whatever communication and messages are being put out at a local level are in concert with company-wide messages,' he says. 'You need consistency of message and discipline; you can't have everyone just doing their own thing. You've got to think, 'What is the overall message I'm trying to convey here?'.'
Parnell believes that most aspects of PR should fall under some form of centralised authority. Crisis communications may have a local impact, but the fate of the business at an international level could also be hanging in the balance. Employee communications should stress the company's overarching philosophy. Major media relations should be coordinated nationally and internationally but, he adds, 'respect local beats.'
No secret formula
There seems to be no accepted right or wrong method to structuring a global PR programme. 'The model varies significantly from client to client,' notes Jernstedt.
Nortel, for example, favours a global view for all its PR activities.
It drives its programmes from the centre rather than allowing local teams to be 'driven by local journalists' agendas,' says Lark.
'We have PR teams in every major market, but, rather than have them focus on what they think is important, I want them focused on setting the agenda,' he says. 'You don't get any real momentum if you're answering the calls, chasing the tail of local journalists. I can say to them, 'Here's a global programme, now go and tailor it locally'.' He believes his system allows him to allocate resources most efficiently where they are needed. His Hong Kong team, for example, recently required experienced staff to help them with a launch. Lark dispatched people from New York and Paris who had run similar events for that product.
Telecom manufacturer Ericsson takes a slightly different tack, says communications marketing director Bo Albertson. The brand and corporate reputation are initially driven from corporate headquarters, but product launches are usually orchestrated at the regional level, then fed down to each market.
Regional and country teams are permitted to get creative with product launches, such as by helping invite comparisons of Ericsson products with local competition.
'Brand communications is over and above direct product communications,' says Albertson, 'although we may use the products as carriers of the brand.'
It's clear that there is no widely accepted definition of globalisation as it relates to PR activities. 'You'd need a week or more to discuss the issues,' says Michael Ogrizek, a veteran campaigner for global PR who recently left the PR helm at Unilever to become UBS Warburg's global head of communications and marketing.
Globalisation, Ogrizek says, is often suspiciously regarded as a euphemism for Americanisation, which in turn means trouble if a company wants its products or services to appeal worldwide. 'Global must mean everybody, everywhere, from all different cultures,' Ogrizek says. 'To be truly global is to be able to talk to each of us individually and to appear responsive to each of our needs. You have to be able to customise your message to succeed.'
In his view, the best way to achieve that goal is to create a multi-cultural global team, managed from the corporate headquarters with the help of a global agency. 'That way you can really design a global programme,' he says, 'with messages that include an understanding of what those messages will mean in each market. Think both globally and locally. A strong global corporate brand can be a guarantee of quality or innovation, but it should appeal to local taste, local flavour and local culture.'
A global agency, adds Ogrizek, can be a source of expertise about local markets. 'The alternative is to work with a lot of local agencies, in which case you might get the local feeling but lose the global perspective,' he says. 'The ideal is to find a global agency that has invested a lot of money in local markets but also has international people who bring an international view.'
Lark is another global agency convert. 'When we first looked at making the change, we had more than 30 agencies working for us,' he says. 'Even the simplest thing was a nightmare.'
Being everywhere at once
But what happens if your agency doesn't have a presence in all markets? Lark is a strong believer in leveraging global buying power to push an agency in the direction you want. 'You say, 'Here's the deadline by which you need to get an agency up and running in that market',' Lark says.
''If not, I'll be using this agency' - then make your global agency manage that relationship.'
Global players stress that the results from going global will not appear overnight. Bill Margaritis, FedEx corporate vice-president of worldwide communications and investor relations, notes that his company requires ongoing issues and crisis management programmes across all regions, so Margaritis is looking for specific support from its agency, Ketchum.
'The FedEx brand is one of the most recognized in the world,' he says.
'We are trying to co-ordinate both brand and reputation management programmes in an integrated manner across all channels, audiences, programmes and cultures.'
This sort of talk should sound like great news for agencies in a position to capitalise on global account management. Most, however, remain realistic about the situation. Yes, global accounts are on the increase. Yes, the internet and other factors mean audiences are increasingly international.
No, it doesn't mean that all companies want a global agency.
'I would describe it as the pre-global phase of development,' observes Michael Morley, Edelman Worldwide president of international operations.
'Some clients are planning and thinking globally; not all, but more of them. That doesn't necessarily translate into agencies being engaged on a global basis.'
Regardless of whether a particular programme is really global in nature or not, there seems little doubt that more companies are seeking to manage aspects of their PR more consistently in international markets.
Porter Novelli CEO Bob Druckenmiller says that his agency has seen many more 'agency of record' invitations by clients and prospects in recent years. However, he believes that much of this relates to the desire to have all external PR operations coordinated under one roof rather than to take on an agency to run a programme in all markets. Clients' internal structures and their existing relationships with agencies can hamper the growth of global agency appointments. Lead agency approaches - where an agency is called upon to set down strategies and basic ideas but could still be asked to work with other agencies in implementation - remain common.
Growth in key client relationships and international accounts over the last few years may offer the best indication of the direction in which things are moving. Chris Komisarjevsky, Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, president and CEO, says that five years ago around 35 per cent of global revenue came from clients operating in more than one market. Today, that figure is closer to 45 per cent and he expects it to keep on growing.
Indeed, about 40 per cent of clients use Burson in a significant number of markets nowadays, versus 25 per cent five years ago.
'There are many more client presentations for these sorts of international accounts,' he says. 'Five years ago we didn't have the same sort of requests. Nowadays, the internet means that the positioning of a product is often global from the start.'
'We certainly have global accounts, but global clients usually buy a range of services, depending on specific circumstances,' says Howard Paster,Hill and Knowlton CEO. 'In most cases, global clients reserve the right to use other agencies in certain geographies, depending on the preferences of their own people. But there is no question that more and more clients are looking at substantial transnational relationships, some of which are global.'
International does not mean global
H&K president Paul Taaffe says his firm has more than 200 clients in two or more markets, double the number in that many markets three years ago. He says 50 per cent of H&K's revenues come from clients using services in at least two markets.
'International assignments are going through the roof,' he says, but then adds, 'but that doesn't mean they're global.' He believes that many companies are consolidating the way they manage their PR programmes, but the result will not necessarily be single-agency appointments. 'And for every company centralizing, there's another decentralising,' says Taaffe.
'For every global brand there's someone playing a local brand. Localisation is the counterbalancing force here.'
Despite that counterbalancing force, there is little doubt which way the big agency players see things going: expansion is key. 'Look at what Incepta has been doing with the purchase of Dewe Rogerson and Sard Verbinnen,' says Komisarjevsky. 'I think the globalisation of our industry is a foregone conclusion, given how small the world is.'
Some of this is driven by companies' desire for exclusive relationships with agencies, too. Edelman's Morley reports that some clients ask agencies not to represent a client's competition. 'If they want exclusivity in four or five key markets,' he says, 'the quid pro quo is a global agreement.'
Most insiders say brand management, corporate reputation and crisis management top the list of PR activities most likely to be handled internationally.
Media relations is important both globally and locally, perhaps reflecting the need for a combined approach in dealing with journalists. Some international and online media want ready access to corporate headquarters and a centralised overview. Others need - and will demand - hand-holding in their local market and stories of local interest. Local needs predominate in public affairs.
Strangely, one discipline where few of the larger agencies have built dominance is investor relations. Yet most larger client companies who manage IR internally do so on a global basis. Good IR agencies still tend to be regionally, or at best nationally, focused, with no larger parent companies to fall back on.
Morley sees this as an area of great potential for future expansion.
'The IR power players tend to be local heroes,' he says. 'But it should be one of the areas that travels most easily: you can't change the figures, and the financial community is truly international.'
There has undoubtedly been an increase in the level and implementation of international public relations programmes in recent years, and everyone surveyed for this article expects it to continue. Whether those activities can be seen as truly global in nature is less evident. The overall conclusion would have to be that very little of the industry's work, in-house or agency, is conducted on a completely global basis.
Jernstedt concludes: 'There is definitely a better understanding of what has to happen locally to support a global programme. In some fields, such as consumer products, there is also an understanding that you might need to adapt a message to a local market. In such cases, the global message might not be as important as the local need. But that need should not be inconsistent with the global programme.'