As stories break on one corner of the globe one minute and travel to the other side the next, being well-informed of your client's or your company's international reach is becoming increasingly important.
'We need to know what's being said anywhere in the world, whether it's good news or bad as that will set the agenda for what we've got to do that day,' says Hill & Knowlton associate director Tom Allison, whose global clients include petrochemical company SABIC. 'If it's bad news, we have to prepare for that spreading; if it's good news, we'll look to sell it across the world.'
Media monitoring companies are beginning to make moves to satisfy demand for international press cuttings - one of the UK's largest services, Durrants, acquired a company known for its international capability, Xtreme Information Services, in June. Durrants chief executive Stephen White says that one reason for the purchase was the growth in clients demanding to know what the world's press says about them by 8am each day.
Speed is of the essence
White predicts that demands like this will become more frequent. NewsNow Publishing sales manager Jonathan Spink concurs. He says it too is adding new cutting sources to keep up with demand for international coverage.
'In the last 18 months, we've added 10,000 sources,' he says.
Similarly, Tim Houghton, director at New Media Intelligence, whose clients include global blue-chip companies such as Coca-Cola and Ford, says half of the company's turnover is from international briefs, the majority from European searches. 'Getting content quickly is what clients value,' he says. 'They want to see the news that is shaping opinions globally, not every tiny mention.'
Typically, multi-national clients ask for the cuttings from the leading national newspapers and the top five business titles in each country to be translated and summarised by 8am at the latest. More in-depth cuttings coverage is being demanded by companies in the technology sector that are tracking competitor activity, and from businesses launching new products that want to get a feel for how the products are being received from country to country.
However, some commentators question how much value a cursory glance first thing in the morning at the global headlines help to create PR strategy.
They argue that if companies were serious about adapting their global approach on a daily basis, they would also consider what the world's trade and wider consumer press is saying.
Nevertheless, the fact that clients are prepared to pay the premiums associated with gathering this information - one supplier estimates costs are typically about 15 per cent more than national monitoring - suggests they're serious.
As the media monitoring industry becomes more sophisticated, it's likely that global companies will begin to track media in more detail.
As the head of PR at an American investment bank says: 'Certainly, the more exposure you have to a wider selection of publications, the clearer the picture you get. Most of us internally, however, don't think it's absolutely crucial that we move too far beyond tracking the major and mid-level publications just now.' But he does concede that from a crisis management point of view, it's the smaller publications you have to keep track of.
For many companies, the PRO's priority is to avoid surprise and be able to adequately brief the chief executive on likely areas of media interest each day. Apart from anything else, being caught off guard about a story just because it broke outside of the UK can potentially be both embarrassing and unprofessional.
Certain global companies such as Visa Europe (see box, p29) are already using international media monitoring to evaluate from a central hub how effectively key messages are being sent out from country to country.
According to Houghton, this is something that global companies such as Coca-Cola have being doing for years. This way, senior PR executives can quickly identify issues in subsidiaries, measure the consistency of the brand's message and know enough about what's going on not to be shortchanged locally.
If you're heading up the communications strategy in London, for example, it makes sense to use international clippings to track coverage. However, actually influencing the PR on the ground from a central and remote location elsewhere is trickier. This is because it's unrealistic to expect to be able to respond to the every whim of journalists on the other side of the world working in different cultures and time zones. But if a crisis took hold, the central comms department - up to speed with the situation via international media monitoring - could support the local office more efficiently.
Hand in hand with PROs demanding international cuttings is the need for meaningful analysis of the media coverage. International media monitoring company Reputation Intelligence believes the traditional clippings services that collate press articles without providing clients with any form of analysis need to reinvent themselves.
But while there is growing demand for international media monitoring and for sophisticated analysis, there are still significant gaps in what many suppliers can deliver, because of the increased complexities that tracking coverage on an international scale brings.
Clients may complain that they can't get their hands on information as quickly as they would like, that suppliers aren't tracking enough publications, especially specialist titles, or that there are inaccuracies in translation.
However, there is no doubt that as demand continues to soar, services will only get more sophisticated and international media monitoring will become more integral to running global accounts effectively.
DAILY UK MEDIA MONITORING: HELP THE AGED
For some organisations, such as Help The Aged, national coverage is the most important media to track, with international cuttings having very little influence over setting PR strategy.
'There are 11 million older people in the UK, and social policy is changing rapidly from Northern Ireland to Scotland to Wales, so it's important we know what policy is being done, how we are being quoted and what services are being highlighted,' says media manager Hilary Carter.
Keeping a close eye on the press is also crucial in managing the charity's reputation because, as Carter explains, 'the days when charities and the media had a very cosy relationship without their work questioned are long gone, and there can be times when a journalist decides they don't like something a charity is doing and media monitoring has a role to play in terms of risk management'.
The charity is quoted around three times a week in the British national press. Clippings services are important, because often the press office will not expect a mention if a journalist has picked up on a Press Association news wire, for example.
DAILY GLOBAL MEDIA MONITORING: VISA EUROPE
Head of media and external communications David Masters oversees PR activity in 34 countries for Visa Europe from central London. His team uses a number of resources to track the company's media coverage, including Durrants' Xtreme service.
'International media monitoring is essential to our business,' he says.
'We've got to have an idea about what is happening both to influence PR centrally, and to monitor how each subsidiary is getting the key messages out.' Some countries that Visa operates in do not have an internal communications arm, and it's here that international monitoring is paramount. Being on top of international coverage has allowed the London team to identify issues early and try to influence PR directly.
'We've seen issues travel quickly from region to region - going from Australia to Singapore and then on to London,' says Masters.
International media monitoring is most useful to Visa Europe for tracking the growth and movement of its competitors. 'You can't operate a serious press office without a clippings service, but at the same time you've got to understand that their resources are limited and you can't operate solely on these clippings. They've got to be a part of a programme using local agencies and partners,' he adds.