Globalization has become a mantra repeated regularly by heavy hitters in the PR game. These days, even mid-sized and smaller firms are reaching across national boundaries, joining various groups that can give them the global reach they think major business clients want. Or they form their own loose alliances with firms in various markets where their clients want them to be.
Globalization has become a mantra repeated regularly by heavy
hitters in the PR game. These days, even mid-sized and smaller firms are
reaching across national boundaries, joining various groups that can
give them the global reach they think major business clients want. Or
they form their own loose alliances with firms in various markets where
their clients want them to be.
Few think that the need for global PR will diminish anytime soon. The
nature of capitalist enterprises dictates the search for new
The arrival of free markets in the former communist world has American
and Western European companies looking to expand into those areas to
capture consumers whose buying habits are only now being formed.
Brave new PR world
Still, while most PR pros agree in theory that globalization is the
future, few are brave enough to say they know what that will ultimately
mean for the shape and functionality of PR firms. Several big names in
the business addressed the globalization issue at the recent ICO Summit
’99 in Switzerland.
While none claimed to have all the answers, each discussed what he, and
his clients, see ahead. The picture is far from clear, but that’s
because it’s only begun to be painted.
Nothing all that radical was said in Lucerne, perhaps a reminder that
when it comes to global visions, the devil is very much in the
Anyone can posit a general plan; the trick remains getting it to
The overarching message, though, was the ability to change as new
knowledge, and new technology, add to a firm’s capacity to provide truly
global PR counsel.
’PR professionals, myself included, tend to be control freaks,’ noted
Bob Seltzer, president and CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. But
when operating on a global canvas, control freaks need to adjust. ’The
lead office and account directors need to be in control but not
controlling,’ he cautioned. Micro-managing hurts morale, for one thing,
and it also can’t work when every market still has its individual needs,
customs and local clientele that respond in unique ways.
But how do you build a global network in the first place? Harris
Diamond, chairman and CEO of BSMG Worldwide, tells PRWeek that his firm
has opted for a hub approach, acquiring firms in major cities and then
serving broad areas from there. ’You don’t need an office in each city,’
he says. International reach isn’t a topic clients bring up in looking
for agencies, because ’they expect us to have offices around the
Speaking at ICO, both Porter Novelli CEO Bob Druckenmiller and Michael
Morley, deputy chairman and president of Edelman’s international
operations, advised looking at how clients organize their global
communications. Porter Novelli queried 24 global corporations and found
no consistent responses, proving that PR firms are not alone in
wrestling with this question. For example, Edelman polled 25 companies
and found that 40% have centralized PR controls, 32% were decentralized
and 28% use a combination - no clear pattern there.
But in that corporate chaos lies opportunity for PR firms. Companies are
looking to PR firms in local markets for market intelligence, Morley
said. ’Globalization poses an opportunity for clients and agencies to
establish a new kind of partnership,’ Druckenmiller says. Corporations
are strapped for staff and constantly trying to do more with less. That
means PR firms can become their eyes and ears in global markets they
But before they can talk intelligently to clients about global markets,
PR firms need to make sure their people and offices around the globe are
talking to, and trusting in the capabilities of, each other. Global or
local, ’what this business is about is trust,’ says Diamond. ’Even trust
in your own firm.’
Ogilvy polled 58 of its mid- and senior-level people on global
One of the biggest concerns expressed was the fear that a client
relationship could be injured by another Ogilvy office that wasn’t up to
snuff. ’PR professionals are always concerned that colleagues in other
offices will damage ’their’ client relationship,’ Seltzer said.
The response to such concerns is that ’service firms, just like
manufacturing concerns, need to develop and implement quality assurance
programs that guarantee a consistent level of client service from every
employee, in every office in every country.’
Getting employees around the world to talk to each other also can help
build trust. The Internet is the obvious tool for that, but it’s not a
substitute for face-to-face contact. Ogilvy this year brought more than
200 managers to a meeting in Barcelona to brainstorm about global
BSMG routinely sends people for six-month or yearlong stints at foreign
Sending people to other offices also helps them realize that despite the
globalization of business, the effectiveness of communications is still
a very localized affair. Seltzer, for example, related how surprised US
managers were when Ogilvy’s Chinese agency suggested a series of bridge
matches be set up for local reporters. It turns out card playing in
press clubs is a key method of reaching the media, something Ogilvy
would have never known without on-the-spot input. So, rather than
top-down or bottom-up, PR planning needs to be multi-way, with input
from all involved parties.
But too much talk can also turn into a Tower of Babel, so companies need
to keep track of who is doing what for which client. Again, technology
can help - setting up an Intranet for global clients can provide
touchstones for finding out what’s happening.
Facing the future
Final answers to the global question? Not any time soon. But the good
news is there’s time to work on it. Even Diamond admits that for major
agencies, probably only 5% to 10% of their business today is coming from
’global’ work, i.e., work being done internationally for a given
Edelman’s study found only 12% of corporate respondents use a global PR
firm to the exclusion of local firms. Interestingly, 56% said they use
only local firms, which likely means they’re still cobbling together
their own global networks.
Diamond expects to see global PR grow rapidly in the next three to four
years, but that still leaves PR firms time to ponder and, hopefully,
answer the question of how best to provide worldwide coverage for an
increasingly worldwide customer base. There’s little clamor for global
work now, but that quiet should be seen as a planning opportunity, not
as a sign that the issue can wait another day.