A lot of the news reports on Publicis' acquisition of Bcom3 obsessed over size, as if size were an end in itself. They focused on the size of the group created by the acquisition; the size of the three communications groups that are larger than the new group; and the size of the groups who are not as large - while still being huge by most businesses' standards.But it is not size, per se, that really excites the PR chiefs involved in the deal. Both MS&L CEO Lou Capozzi and Publicis Dialog president Andy Hopson were more enthused by the chance to create a genuinely international PR firm. Capozzi stressed the potential for a PR agency with a "multi-cultural identity
while Hopson extolled the virtues of "more geographic reach.
Both were essentially saying the same thing: global is good.
They aren't the first large agency chiefs to get excited about the prospect of creating a truly global operation: one of the key drivers behind the last decade of acquisitive and organic growth among the top firms has been their desire to operate globally. Smaller shops have tried to go global too, with more than 300 mid-size and boutique agencies having signed up to independent agency networks (see p. 14). Many are now investing much time and effort in being part of such collaborative organizations.
And yet this race to build global PR capacity still hasn't been matched by a shift to genuinely global PR accounts. While the agencies will point to some large international accounts, there are few, if any, exclusive global arrangements. For instance Weber Shandwick Worldwide's Mastercard account is often cited as an example of a global account, and yet in the US Mastercard also uses Waggener Edstrom.
IBM's review of its agency arrangements last year was said to be the start of a move towards a global account - and certainly it was a shift in that direction - but IBM still, effectively, uses different firms in different parts of the world. It is currently reviewing its arrangements in Asia, with no guarantee that the agencies used in the US, Omnicom's One Blue and Text 100, will win the business.
There are too many obstacles to global PR accounts to expect dramatic change in the near future. In global corporations big enough to have a significant PR presence in many international markets there are huge structural and political problems with going global. Each region's communications staff is used to controlling its budgets, and will, quite rightly, feel they know best the strategies and tactics for their audiences. Telling them which firm to work with and how to work with it will more likely alienate staff than align regions, especially while PR budgets are accounted for region by region.
And if PR budgets were ripped out of the local P&L account, who'd control them? Does a US PR manager want responsibility for budgets in Poland?
Perhaps even more fundamentally, questions remain over how to globally coordinate a discipline that relies on dialogue with and deep understanding of very diverse audiences. This is not advertising where one simple message can sometimes be rolled out the world over. PR is more subtle than that.
It may be possible to hold a single planning meeting and devise a single strategy, but it's hard to homogenize tactics, while measurement varies from company to company, let alone country to country.
The potential benefits of global PR to a corporation are huge, but major obstacles still stand between the goal and the reality.