The days of the the Pony Express are long gone, but today’s
international delivery can be just as fraught.
International carriers’ range of services depend on size, weight,
content, destination and speed, and this, combined with individual
countries’ customs regulations, all add up to a real headache.
The Royal Mail customer guidelines for international mailings offer
advice ranging from contract business services and express handling of
valuable goods to sending articles abroad for the blind.
But while Royal Mail makes no absolute delivery time guarantees for
airmail services, it does set out clear delivery aims. A package mailed
from the UK to a destination inside Western Europe should arrive within
Its express services, Swiftair and Swiftair Plus, aim to arrive one or
two days faster, but similarly offer no guarantees. However Royal Mail
does promise full tracking in the UK, priority handling to meet the
first available flight to a destination country, and the fastest
possible delivery within that country.
Colin Taylor, marketing manager of PR media services specialists PiMS UK
says his company relies less and less on international postal
It conducts the majority of information distribution by multi-fax.
Currently the company is working with three crew sponsors in the
Whitbred Round The World Race. As the yachts complete each leg,
information on their progress and position is faxed by PiMS to the media
in that region. But to send hard copy documents such as press packs or
brochures abroad, PiMS uses an express courier.
To meet clients’ growing demands for reliability, the company has
recently invested in an on-line system with a major carrier. ’This means
that if, say, a package is in transit for three days via India to
Singapore, we can locate its precise whereabouts’, says Taylor.
He adds that an added advantage of using a specialist service is expert
knowledge. ’The most obvious route is not always the easiest’, says
’In the Middle East, where they have strict rules about the
representation of women, Customs will open documents.’ In the past, even
internal documents to PiMS five subsidiaries in America have been held
up and checked by US Customs. But, with daily newsletter shippings for
clients to western Europe and the US and weekly shippings to Hong Kong,
he sees their new system providing long-term benefits.
Nick Elliott, sales manager of PR Newslink says that to overcome postal
delays for hard copy delivery, his company couriers mail overnight for
posting in their destination country. In addition to producing media
directories, such as Mediadisk and PR Planner in various formats
Newslink is able to offer global delivery solutions to clients through
its Australian affiliate and data swaps with media research and
distribution agency Bacons in the US. It also has a full research
department that can provide a tailored list for more tricky areas.
Elliott also reports a growth in split delivery methods to contacts.
This is a trend echoed by Clive Marshall, managing director of the Press
Association’s commercial arm, Two-Ten.
’The vast majority of our international distribution is delivered via
the full text press release distribution services of the national news
agencies in the targeted countries’, he says. ’This is often supported
by fax distribution to the relevant trade press or the financial
community.’ He says that only 15 per cent of the company’s overseas
distribution now takes place by mail, and this is normally for bulkier
items or none time-sensitive material.
Marshall is currently chairman of EuroNet, an alliance of the leading
European news agencies with a full-text news wire. Members include ANSA
Italy, Europa Press Spain and News Actuell in Germany. Asia Net, a
similar network of news agencies, provides transmission to the Far East
In the US and Latin America, Two-Ten works with PR NewsWire, its US
affiliate, and distributes further north through its half ownership in
The advantages of this worldwide system are simultaneous transmission
and speed, but Two-Ten international consultant Paul Herbert highlights
some of the anomalies the company has to contend with around the
’There are a number of African countries which get very upset if you
send information by fax, so we have to communicate by tellex. In
Vietnam, information is sent by wire to a central collection point,
printed off and then delivered by rickshaw,’ he says.
Last September in Hong Kong, PowerGen launched a report called Energy
2020 at the Word Economic Development Congress. Using a combination of
PowerGen’s private contact lists and Two-Ten’s media listings a press
release and picture was sent by wire, fax and mail to relevant parties
around the world. The release was translated into seven languages,
including Hindi and Japanese, and was also dropped into over 250 on-line
services, such as FT Profile and Bloomberg Business News.
Fraser Hardie, PowerGen international communications and media adviser,
says this resulted in widespread coverage from Thailand and Australia to
But the burning issue for all information providers is delivery to
recipients in their preferred format. A recent survey of 100 UK
journalists conducted by research company ACC International for PiMS UK,
shows that e-mail is still not as popular as post or fax. It found that
for reasons of speed, national press journalists prefer fax. But more
interestingly, despite around 90 per cent of IT specialists having
e-mail addresses, over 60 per cent said they still prefer to receive
press releases by post.
Paul Thompson, managing director of Harvard PR says: ’We are in daily
contact with journalists to find out their preferred method of
delivery.’ The agency has an in-house international handling operation,
which typically distributes around 60 press releases a week. Since 1996,
this operation has been ISO 9002 accredited, which means that Harvard is
able to keep a tight rein on quality control and costs.
Translation services are usually sourced from outside the company. But
to provide cultural proficiency, Harvard has a policy of recruiting
language specialists. According to Thompson, current clients such as
Toshiba, Motorola and Nintendo are mostly sending out information to the
US, and western Europe. But he thinks attention is now turning to
He points to the increasing switch over to electronic information
But to find the most effective means of distribution, he says: ’You have
to look at a combination of the infrastructure available to the
journalist and more importantly, establish exactly when the information
SPECIAL DELIVERIES: FOOD FOR THOUGHT
When it comes to sending out product samples for a launch or review,
some items are easier to handle than others. ’It really doesn’t matter
what the item is, the end object is to get it there on time and in one
piece,’ says PiMS marketing manager, Colin Taylor. ’If we were asked to
deliver a pint of water in a plastic bag, we would find a way to do
London based PR support agency, Mail Box handles gifts and samples for
many agencies and in-house departments. According to marketing manager,
Sarah Whitaker, the company has distributed items ranging from custard
tarts and apples in wooden caskets to bottles of liquor with helium
balloons attached. Such goods are generally delivered by courier.
PR Newslink sales manager, Nick Elliott says his company has distributed
items including ice-cream cakes, Coca-Cola branded footballs and tequila
’I am for ever looking for the ideal solution to keep products chilled,’
says New Covent Garden Soup Company PR manager, Katie Kime.
She currently uses Hull based Q Food Services, which specialise in
chilled and frozen courier services, but she thinks there is a real gap
in the market for fast, cold delivery. In the past I’ve toyed with the
idea of using dry ice, but decided not to risk it. I couldn’t bear the
thought of someone burning themselves,’ she says.
Louise Johnson, media relations manager for Iceland Frozen Foods says:
’Our items are best cooked from frozen, so I have to be really
In the past, Iceland couriered items to journalists around the country
from local stores. But this meant ensuring the journalist was there to
receive the item and that the courier went straight to the
Now, Johnson takes full advantage of Iceland’s new home delivery
Last summer, Iceland came up with the ideal delivery solution to
showcase its frozen Christmas Party Fayre range. A team of professionals
toured the main consumer and women’s magazines in London and simply
cooked the items there and then.
EUROPEAN CUSTOMS: DHL CUTS THROUGH THE RED TAPE
In 1997, international carrier DHL, wanted to raise awareness of the
problem of customs difficulties in Central and Eastern Europe.
Peter Davies, DHL’s regional director for Central and Eastern Europe
asked The Red Consultancy to devise a campaign to put customs reforms on
the agenda. Red brought in the Industrial Research Bureau (IRB) to do a
survey on the extent customs difficulties deterred Western companies
from doing more business in this region.
DHL wanted to reach companies with business links in the area, relevant
policy makers in the West and the various government bodies in Central
and Eastern Europe.
In August, IRB interviewed export managers from over one hundred
multinationals in 13 European countries. It was revealed that almost 90
per cent of Western multinationals had experienced problems with customs
in the region. So, the reports highlighted individual difficulties that
companies had suffered.
One French multinational said it had encountered problems because rubber
stamps on documents were in the wrong places or not pressed on hard
A British business said customs had held back shipments of cider,
because they didn’t have a product code, and refused to classify it as
an apple drink.
The most favourable reports were of the five countries that are first in
line for EU membership. Respondents said the most straightforward
customs procedures were in the Czech Republic, followed by Hungary,
Poland, Slovenia and Estonia.
’Very often it isn’t even the customs rules themselves. The problem
comes down to the fact that the rules and regulations are applied
without any room for flexibility,’ says Davies. He sees the solution
lying with educating customs authorities about business needs and
providing officials with greater resources.
Currently, The International Monetary Fund is in discussions with DHL
about organising a fact finding trip to the Ukraine.