Reaping the benefits from international teamwork

Ever since Schoolhouse Rock taught many of us the preamble to the Constitution, we have come to celebrate the US' freedom of the press.

Ever since Schoolhouse Rock taught many of us the preamble to the Constitution, we have come to celebrate the US' freedom of the press.

As PR pros, we are acutely aware of the power and freedom of the American media. It is true that there is no other place on earth with a press that is as free, robust, rich, diverse, and independent as America's Fourth Estate. Unfortunately, this view of the press often puts the US PR pro at a marked disadvantage in the global arena.

We naturally assume that all press is a free press - particularly English-language media. Even if that press is "free," it seldom has the freedoms of the US media. In effect, the filter with which Americans have been trained to view the world creates a gap between the expectations that we - and our clients and/or executives - have of the global media stage, and reality.

The best bridge over that global gap is a partner agency, office, or team in a foreign market. But working with a global team presents many challenges. I hear repeatedly that foreign agencies are not as strong as those in the US. While PR as a trade is not as mature in many markets as it is here, learning to recognize the value that our foreign counterparts bring to any global effort is a crucial element in fielding the global PR campaigns that so many of our clients/companies are now dependent upon.

How can US PR pros become better international partners?

  • Listen to foreign market counsel. PR pros in international markets are every bit as professional as those in the US. While standards of excellence may vary (and the US does not necessarily adhere to the highest standards, despite our presumptions to the contrary), PR pros in foreign markets play the same role with their media that we play here.

  • Working with an American client is often difficult or awkward for an international partner. Being an American is not often the "plus" that it once was. Depend on international counsel to help overcome this.

  • We often cite the irony that poor communication riddles the communications industry. When crossing cultures and boundaries, weak communication can doom any PR effort. The importance of clearly written messages cannot be overstated - do not rely on conference calls or e-mail, which many cultures consider to be informal and "unofficial" in establishing communication parameters for an international PR effort. Get on a plane and meet face-to-face.

  • Take advantage of experienced and knowledgeable resources. Seek outside counsel to identify strong international partners; utilize global management expertise to maximize worldwide investment.

  • The US agency or office need not always take the lead. If your audience is Eastern Europe, a German partner might be more effective. If Southeast Asia is your goal, Sydney, Australia-based PR counsel might be key.

  • Understand that international partners are often keen to work with and learn from their US counterparts - in many cases, their markets are in their infancy. The PR sector in the Arab Middle East, for example, yields only $25 million a year, but this amount multiplies year over year.

    Just as Americans do not understand much of the rest of the world, the world fails to understand the US. The famous cover of the November 4 UK Daily Mirror asking, "How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?" illustrated the dissonance between this country and much of the world's perception of it.

    Before the presidential election, John Kerry polled 72% in France, according to Le Monde, and a Guardian poll showed British voters supporting Kerry over Bush by a 2-to-1 margin. In many markets, consumers - particularly those under 30 - actively reject US brands. The worsening situation in Iraq only increases this gap.

    It is against this backdrop that corporate America now does business in the global marketplace. And it is because of this that the US PR industry must increasingly rely on our counterparts in international markets.

    For many US companies, international markets are the strongest - and sometimes the only - avenues of revenue growth. At a time when penetrating international markets is crucial, many companies lack the in-house talent and know-how to drive programs that will reach global consumers. Successful PR pros will learn how to partner with their international counterparts, step back from presumptive leadership, and work hand- in-hand across borders and cultures to drive multinational PR programs ... or, as they'd say outside the US, "programmes."

  • Josef Blumenfeld is a consultant on global PR management and founder of Tradewind Strategies.

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