'Americanitis' impeding global PR

Global PR now falls into the same category as motherhood, apple pie, and Seinfeld reruns: It's all good.

Global PR now falls into the same category as motherhood, apple pie, and Seinfeld reruns: It's all good.

Intellectually, it's easy to connect the dots between the globalization of business and global PR programming. Thanks to the Internet, virtually any business can snare customers who live halfway across the globe with workable economics. By changing such an underlying fundamental of business, we've witnessed a flood of companies pursuing the global dream.

And it's not just the Fortune 1,000. Dairy farmers in Pennsylvania can now form a consortium, build a Web site, and voilà - all of a sudden, they're selling their milk in places like Penang, Malaysia, not just Granville, Ohio.

But whether you're part of the Fortune 1,000, a dairy farmer, or a company in between, there remains the big-time challenge of creating awareness and, ultimately, brand identity to attract customers. Enter PR stage left.

Not so fast. While today's PR pro talks the talk, there are still few companies executing PR programs that are truly global.

After opening our first overseas office in Asia in 1997, I met with a Hewlett-Packard executive in Singapore to pitch our services. One of his office walls was covered by a huge map of the world identifying all of HP's offices. I remember making a seemingly innocuous comment about the map and HP as a global company.

He rebuked me, pointing out that having numerous offices around the world didn't automatically anoint one with the global mantle. Instead, it was the collaboration and leverage among geographically dispersed resources, where the collective whole was greater than the individual parts, that ignited a truly global company.

Our profession has a long way to go to meet this definition of global.

Too often a company's global PR effort consists of each country's program being its own individual fiefdom. Forget collaboration. It's a major undertaking to merely capture a global PR calendar.

I'm convinced that the root of the issue lies at what I call "Americanitis." Looking at the world through an American prism inevitably makes the US headquarters the center of gravity for PR.

Yes, I understand the CEO and most of the senior executives reside in the headquarters, but this shouldn't mean that the PR strategy and creativity come only from the mother ship.

At best, this US-centric mentality prevents companies from taking full advantage of their PR assets. At worst, it prompts otherwise smart practitioners to do things like tossing US content into other countries with absolutely no relevance to the local market.

Here's a simple litmus test. Does anyone in your PR organization based outside of the US have a responsibility that plays across the globe?

I appreciate that there are obstacles blocking a truly global PR utopia, not the least of which being lack of funding and funky reporting structures that can make a country PR person beholden to a senior sales guy.

What it boils down to is that we as a profession need to start making the moves - and perhaps a bit of noise - to bring down the silos.

It's not enough to talk about a global mentality. We need to harness the collective brainpower of our PR people and apply it to the global stage.

Lou Hoffman is CEO of The Hoffman Agency.

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