Overseas assignments offer a world of benefits

When Jennifer Kuhl got to London, the media there surprised her.

When Jennifer Kuhl got to London, the media there surprised her.

While on international assignment, the Peppercom account supervisor from New York said one unexpected difference between here and there was how friendly and personable members of the UK media were.

"It seems more lax there," she said of the PR pro-media relationship. "It's not as traditional and formal as in the US. They relate more on a personal level. It would help if it were like that here, too, but we are more business-like."

Sending a staffer on an overseas assignment can benefit a firm in different ways. Aside from aiding in employee retention, it can bolster agency-client relationships and make employees more marketable on a global level.

Greg Waldron, Porter Novelli's New York-based chief talent officer, says international assignments offer key development opportunities for agency employees. Living and working abroad challenges the individual to be sensitive to cultural and business-practice differences, he says. For example, understanding office culture in Japan or certain religious ceremonies in the Middle East.

"It takes a relatively brief period of time for an employee with a reasonably high IQ to become highly effective," Waldron notes.

Other benefits of international office-hopping include strengthening ties between agency branches, development of stronger staff relationships, and better working conditions once globetrotting staffers return home.

Beyond the traveling individual, the office participating in the exchange benefits as well, agrees Will Ludlam, a partner at PN.

"The connection between offices is strengthened," he says, "providing a greater ease in working across markets and in tackling client challenges with a broader perspective."

At Text 100, about 40% of the staff has worked in another country. David McCullough, VP in the San Francisco office, is a Brit who came to Palo Alto, CA, on a one-year work sabbatical - and decided to stay. (He did return home for a bit to train and mentor a Text 100 GM.) McCullough is very enthusiastic about staff exchange programs because they help build agency business around the world.

"Reputations are global now, and our business is global," he explains. "We have, around the world, one in three clients working with Text in at least one other country."

For example, McCullough says, a Text 100 staffer based in Hong Kong works on the firm's new Bay Area-based Cisco Systems account. And worldwide exchange opportunities help draw good talent, too. "It goes without saying one of the reasons people come to work at Text is to travel," he adds.

Having worked all over the world - from the US to Europe, South America to Africa - Barnett Marketing Communications principal Ned Barnett believes that foreign PR pros should come here to learn about communications, not the other way around.

"America is the class of the world in PR," says the Las Vegas-based executive, adding that New York media is the toughest in the world - and therefore, the best training ground for any aspiring PR pro. "It was invented here. If you can place a story in The New York Times, that's saying something."

Key points:

For PR firms, sending a staffer on an overseas assignment can aid in long-term employee retention

Executives who work in foreign offices can solidify the firm's global reputation

The exchange process can help global teams work better together

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