German efficiency spearheads different approach to global PR

A franchise system and a cosmopolitan and multilingual workforce is helping German firm Media Consulta demonstrate a fresh approach to global client service.

One of the conundrums all global clients and agencies face is providing a consistency of service in every territory in which they operate.

Business is truly global now. And marketing, communications, and reputation have to reflect that in a consistent way across the globe.

There’s no point having all your ducks in a row in New York City and London if the whole narrative and support structure goes off the rails in Brazil, Poland, and Indonesia.

And clearly the world is a volatile place where the character of different markets can change fundamentally and quickly. You only have to look at recent events in Russia, Ukraine, Libya, Iran, Myanmar, Kenya, and Nigeria for a few incidences of this.

Further examples were provided in PRWeek’s June issue, which profiled four very different markets, all with great opportunities but diverse challenges – Cuba, Ireland, Japan, and Saudia Arabia.

PR agencies approach this service coverage challenge in different ways. Some of them build global networks of offices to provide nodes in every conceivable market. Others concentrate on a few key markets they feel are crucial to their major clients and work with partners or affiliates to service accounts in smaller territories.

Then there are the independent agency networks such as Iprex, PROI Worldwide, Worldcom, and Public Relations Global Network, which allow smaller firms to have a global reach working with partners within their respective networks.

I spoke recently to one agency with which I hadn’t previously been too familiar, which operates another system.

Media Consulta International CEO Harald Zulauf outlined the franchise model his Berlin HQ-ed agency operates to position itself as the only German-led global agency network.

According to PRWeek’s recent Global Agency Business Report, Media Consulta is the 12th-largest PR firm in the world, with revenues in 2014 of almost $190 million, up 14% year on year.

Founded in 1993, Media Consulta tends to work with the one of the top three independent agencies in each country. The firm’s franchise agencies have tough conditions to meet if they want to continue the arrangement. In return, they benefit from regular training, exchange programs, strong reporting on quality and communications skills.

They pay a franchise fee and also receive branding and advertising – in return for which Media Consulta guarantees to give them new business. Zulauf considers this structure much stronger than the Iprex-style informal networks of indie agencies.

He believes clients don’t particularly care who the service is coming from, as long as their projects are conducted in a professional, consistent, and effective manner. And it removes the financial liability of Media Consulta as the "parent" network and keeps the entrepreneurial spirit of the franchise firm, which can’t rest on its laurels because management is still responsible for its own finances.

It has a more informal partnership arrangement in the US with RF Binder and is in the process of setting up a New York office of its own, but just to service one specific client that insisted on this.

Part of the reason the franchise arrangement works well for Media Consulta is that one of its biggest clients is the European Union. It works on projects such as informational road shows in 28 countries across 23 languages – that is how it can guarantee new business to its franchise partners.

The European Union client is largely responsible for another very different cultural aspect of Media Consulta. Its HQ in Berlin employs 300 people from 25 nations under one roof – up to 70% of them are not German.

The official language of the office is English. Staffers only speak German with their German clients. And even with international German clients such as Bayer, the default language is English.

The agency is also part of a wider integrated group of businesses, with digital, advertising, event, and production firms under the same roof – overall revenues across all disciplines in 2014 topped $530 million.

It’s difficult to imagine an American or British agency having this sort of setup. Zulauf claims Media Consulta is a genuine European agency with a federal nature in a way US and UK firms can’t comprehend, because of their cultural starting points.

And this is one of the reasons he feels Media Consulta is also best-placed to handle the burgeoning markets in the Gulf States of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates.

With an ambition to be among the top five global PR agencies within eight years, Zulauf is not lacking in the traditional German attribute of confidence. It will be interesting to see how Media Consulta’s model matches up with the modus operandi of the big global PR holding company agency networks.

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