EDITORIAL: From measurement to local involvement, PR firms are committed to international growth

Everyone seemed to be talking global some 18 months ago, but the rhetoric has diminished somewhat as economic turmoil and international unrest continues to confound a rebound. Tellingly, as we polled many of the firms with worldwide accounts and asked them to identify a few of their biggest clients, a significant number were engaged between one and three years ago. Examples include Golin/Harris working with the Cotton Council International (one year), The Hoffman Agency with Philips Semiconductors (two years), and Burson-Marsteller with SAP (18 months).

Everyone seemed to be talking global some 18 months ago, but the rhetoric has diminished somewhat as economic turmoil and international unrest continues to confound a rebound. Tellingly, as we polled many of the firms with worldwide accounts and asked them to identify a few of their biggest clients, a significant number were engaged between one and three years ago. Examples include Golin/Harris working with the Cotton Council International (one year), The Hoffman Agency with Philips Semiconductors (two years), and Burson-Marsteller with SAP (18 months).

However, impossible though it is for us to truly assess the health of the global PR industry (given that interpretation of Sarbanes-Oxley leaves us with woefully few data points to compare with last year), there doesn't appear to be a decline in determination to push forward internationally. Instead, there is a sense that US-based PR agencies are accepting (if not exactly loving) a reality that includes pricing pressure and management logistics that clients don't necessarily want to fund. One positive by-product of that reality is that the focus now is on identifying precisely what the clients' expectations are, and figuring out how to execute them without wasting time or resources. The more PR people talk about what they actually do for clients, and how they prove the value of its contribution, the better it is for the entire industry. Metrics are increasingly important in markets that previously paid little attention to them. Again, the pressure is on agencies to create measurable programs and then, often, provide either programs or funding to measure them. This can only encourage the industry's sometimes frustratingly slow progress towards consistent and meaningful metrics across the board. Another encouraging element is that many firms are heeding their own advice, and getting involved in the local communities in which they operate. The PR industry has no equivalent to the Ad Council, and doesn't always find time to advocate the need for agencies and in-house PR departments to donate time and expertise to their communities. In a global environment that has seen a rise in anti-American feeling aimed at US corporations, PR firms cannot exempt themselves from giving back to the regions where they do business. Those that do deserve recognition: Ruder Finn was involved in launching the Women's Partnership for Peace in the Middle East, introduced at the Nobel Peace Institute this year. Fleishman-Hillard has done pro bono work for five years with the Special Olympics, managed out of Dublin. Burson-Marsteller also works with Special Olympics, undertaking a five-year program to increase participation in the event in China. Weber Shandwick has donated PR services to Heep Hong, one of Hong Kong's largest providers of intervention and education for children with special needs and disabilities. Golin/Harris in Mexico City does pro bono work for the Mexican Center for Philanthropy and the Franz Mayer Museum. Porter Novelli works internationally with such groups as the Humane Society and Ronald McDonald House. And in Buenos Aires, Ketchum developed "Fashion Against Breast Cancer" during the city's fashion week.

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