As an American, the first thing I noticed when I set foot into the
Charles Barker BSMG office nearly three months ago was that there were
I sat down at my new desk, face to face with three other people who
shared my desk conglomerate, and allowed myself a brief wistful thought
of my office in Chicago with four walls, a door, two windows, shelves
and a desk big enough to sleep on. At that point, all my expectations of
what it would be like to work at Bozell Sawyer Miller Group’s sister
company 4,000 miles from home were dropped.
I’m here for six months as part of an exchange between the Chicago
office of BSMG and Charles Barker. Sanjay Samani, normally based in
London, is halfway through a year long stint in Chicago and, in August,
an American colleague of mine will arrive here for six months. The goal
of the exchange is to help bridge the Atlantic gap and support the
globalisation of BSMG.
Once I cleared away the most important difference - yes, two weeks a
year is standard holiday in the US - I was able to determine that one of
the most elementary premisses of PR is the same on both sides of the
pond: make your client look good in the media. But cultural and
governmental differences in the industry make the tactics of achieving
that goal vastly different.
The most obvious difference that directly influences the entire PR
industry is the lack of government-controlled and strictly regulated
television and radio in the US. All TV and radio stations are
commercial, with the exception of a few privately funded public
As a result, a mainstay of the American PR programme involves TV. A
video news release, satellite media tour (battery of successive radio
and TV interviews with different stations in one studio), or b-roll
package (blank footage designed to be edited), is standard for all but
the tiniest budgets.
With more than a thousand commercial TV stations, omitting a TV
component would be negligent. Also, with the typically lower standards
of commercial TV, it’s infinitely easier to obtain TV coverage for a
client in the US than in the UK.
The tactical differences in generating media coverage are compounded by
the sheer number of media outlets in the US - nearly 20,000 all
With at least three TV stations, five radio stations, a daily newspaper
and a couple of weeklies in nearly every major city, there is less worry
about putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Washington Post
won’t take the story? No problem, hundreds of others just like it are
right there, ready to bite.
Here, national newspapers are a critical gauge of a programme’s
In the US, there are only two or three newspapers than can truly be
called national, and most PR programmes do not rely on them to gauge
To get a client in a national newspaper in the US is a feat on a par
with winning the lottery - it would be phenomenal if it happened.
The third most notable difference is the overall objective of PR
In the US, there is greater understanding of the need for long-term
Clients expect PR to boost sales, but more generally in the long term,
there’s a lesser sense of immediacy. In London, it seems there is more
pressure for quick-fix promotions to give sales a quick boost.
Six months is not nearly long enough for me to learn the nuances of PR
in Britain, but it is enough time to develop an understanding that will
enable me to counsel clients seeking an international perspective. The
walls are slowly coming down - on both sides of the ocean.
Ilene Siemer is account supervisor with BSMG Chicago.