FOCUS: HANDLING AND DISTRIBUTION - Proving you can deliver the goods/As any good actor knows, successful delivery is all in the timing and the same principle applies when you’re a PR agency trying to reach a global audience. Mary Cowlett looks at

The days of the the Pony Express are long gone, but today’s international delivery can be just as fraught.

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

three days.

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

and Australia.

In the US and Latin America, Two-Ten works with PR NewsWire, its US

affiliate, and distributes further north through its half ownership in

Canada NewsWire.

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

the UK.

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

central Europe.

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

is required.’


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.


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.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in