Platform: It’s life in PR, but not as we know it - Despite the trend towards globalisation there are still very distinct differences between the UK and US styles of PR, says Ilene Siemer

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 no walls.

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

no walls.

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

broadcasting stations.

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.

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