FOCUS: HI-TECH PR; Breaking down the network frontiers

GLOBAL NETWORK: Electronic communications allow companies to produce a consistent international message EUROPE: Emerging markets, such as Eastern Europe, have the potential to overtake current hi-tech leaders IBM : Fee income leaps as Ogilvy, Adams and Rinehart co-ordinate and manage IBM’s European PR network

GLOBAL NETWORK: Electronic communications allow companies to produce a

consistent international message

EUROPE: Emerging markets, such as Eastern Europe, have the potential to

overtake current hi-tech leaders

IBM : Fee income leaps as Ogilvy, Adams and Rinehart co-ordinate and

manage IBM’s European PR network

As hi-tech clients conquer the world, the pressure is on for agencies to

think globally. Danny Rogers reports

As the pace of technology development gets faster and product life-

cycles shorter, the pressure is mounting on technology producers to

introduce new products on to an increasingly global market place. Which

should be good news for the hi-tech PR fraternity as clients pull off

more and more quick fire international product launches.

In reality UK agencies rarely manage global programmes, but they are

increasingly required to handle pan-European campaigns. And, with

English as the accepted language of international IT, UK consultancies

are becoming more influential in the European marketing process.

For the well-established US hardware and software companies Europe, or

EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) as the US usually views it, has

become the biggest single revenue region in the world, regularly

representing over 50 per cent of their turnover.

When it comes to the major players a European approach is taken as

written. ‘If it’s not pan-European we would ask ourselves why,’ says

Anne Keogh, IBM corporate communications consultant.

Many consultancies are now looking further afield to the Indian sub-

continent, Asia and South Africa. However, although many UK agencies

talk about international work, it’s only a handful of the bigger ones

that actually have the resources to implement genuinely pan-European or

global campaigns.

So ‘shape up or ship out’ is A-Plus managing director Jonathan Simnett’s

summary of the challenge facing hi-tech PRs in today’s market place.

He explains. ‘IT is speeding up inexorably and certain sectors are

particularly dynamic: data-comms, internetworking and anything with the

terms Net or Web attached.’

And it’s not only pan-European product PR that’s growing. ‘In such an

environment,’ says Simnett, ‘IT companies cannot rely on innovation

alone. The larger players have become highly acquisitive, while smaller

firms are looking to float or be acquired. The pressure on companies to

produce financial results means corporate PR skills are now at a


The real issue facing hi-tech PRs is how to manage and implement

campaigns that span the geographic and cultural diversity of Europe and


‘Almost all our clients are American,’ says Mark Adams, Text 100’s

managing director for mainland Europe, ‘They want a simple network with

consistent activities. It is deeply ingrained that you can do things as

easily in Europe as in the US. This is the challenge.’

Firefly managing director Mark Mellor agrees: ‘US companies tend to view

Europe as the addition of a state, when in reality it is much less

advanced than the US and with major cultural barriers.’

Technology itself may provide some answers to the fast, consistent

service that clients demand. Fundamentally this means electronic


As launch cycles accelerate, PR people need to disseminate and update

information equally quickly. It is also important in terms of impact

that the different markets receive the information simultaneously.

E-Mail is valuable in ironing out the difficulties created by

international time zones. Simnett believes e-mail links are a

prerequisite for effective campaigns: ‘More than 80 per cent of

journalists can receive information electronically and an increasing

amount prefer no paper at all.’

A Plus has just produced the world’s first Web-based press pack for its

client CDT. Journalists or analysts can access the site and pull off

what they need without drowning in paper claims Simnett.

As well as the standard press releases and photography, this includes

white papers, patent details and ‘hot links’ to the client or relevant


But of course a communications medium only works if one’s targets have

access to it, and Mellor sounds a little more sceptical: ‘A technical

infrastructure gives you a competitive edge and the Internet is a must

for every PR company. However the level of sophistication varies

enormously from country to country and good pan-European campaigns

depend on managing this.’

‘For example Silicon Valley believes everyone should have Web access but

unlike the US, where local calls are free, BT is relatively expensive as

are Internet subscriptions. As a result many UK freelancers do not have

ISDN lines,’ he says.

There appears to be differing opinions on the degree of electronic

sophistication of the media. Adams says: ‘40 per cent of UK journalists

are now on the Internet, the figure is 10 per cent in Germany.’

He stresses the importance of face-to-face contact: ‘While a launch

should be backed by the Internet, it can be a passive medium. It’s

usually still necessary to physically take your client around to the

different markets.’

If the visible element remains so important, is another form of digital

communication the answer? For many years there has been talk of video

conferencing - two-way active video delivered via digital telephone

lines - being used to remove the travel element in international press


Large generalist consultancies such as Burson-Marsteller and Hill and

Knowlton have made a considerable investment in video conferencing

facilities. On the hi-tech side, Firefly expects to have video

conferencing capability within the next few months, although it is

likely to use the technology for inter-agency meetings rather than press


Video conferencing requires a substantial capital investment and

expensive bandwidth, just two of the reasons for its slow penetration.

Simnett has other reservations: ‘From a cultural perspective the video

press conference can prove chaotic as the spokesman may have to deal

with an artificial leap from culture to culture, exacerbating the


So for the foreseeable future, effective PR delivery will require IT

chief executives to jump on aeroplanes. And a priority for agencies is

to ensure a physical network of offices that can cope with a genuinely

multi-cultural campaigns.

Text 100’s Adams believes there is no substitute for the tailored

‘roadshow’. This, he says, is the antithesis to the ‘come and see my

lovely satellite dish’ approach.

Through an expanding network, Text 100 has held on to its position as

the largest hi-tech PR agency in Europe. It has remained a wholly-owned

group and expanded into EMEA boundaries with offices in South Africa,

Dubai and India.

‘We’ve grown organically,’ says Adams, ‘and at great cost and pain.

We’ve been through all that partnership rubbish. My aim is for a client

to step off the plane anywhere in the world, experience the same culture

and receive the same level of service.’

Whether through necessity or choice, others have taken a different

route. A-Plus has founded and developed the Euro Plus network based on

exclusive partnerships. In terms of EMEA, it has recently added partners

in South Africa, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Similarly the Argyll Group, previously the founder of the Globalink

group, has now joined Worldcom Europe, Europe’s largest network of

agencies, giving it greater European and global presence.

Argyll MD Crispin Manners says: ‘This form of network provides hi-tech

capability in every territory around the world. It can deliver a

consistent message, pull in feedback from the field and enhance brand


Firefly’s approach is different again, relying on non-exclusive

partnerships under the Fireworks brand. ‘We choose two or three partners

in each country and the best agency for each particular client,’ says

Mellor. ‘Where one will be best for consumer-tech, another will suit

hard-core hi-tech PR.’

He says the company tends to link up with ‘budding Fireflies’. It has

established a code of conduct and is developing an intranet, which he

claims is an inexpensive way of linking up with partners and clients


‘It is crucial that overall objectives, messages and success criteria

are set and subsequently maximum information is provided to the agencies

involved,’ he says.

Adams is critical of this strategy, concerned that in such a loose

network it is difficult to ensure consistent and quality service for a

single client.

Ironically, on one account - networker Cisco - Text 100 manages the

European programme and Firefly implements PR in the UK.

Adams makes no secret of Text 100’s desire to ultimately take over and

become Cisco’s single agency in Europe. A tense situation and an

illustration of the fierce battleground unfolding in international hi-

tech PR.

European hi-tech: Ready to leap into hyperdrive

While the US will continue to set the pace in IT marketing, the UK does

not lag far behind in its approach to hi-tech PR and is out in front of

continental Europe.

‘We’re about a year behind the US in terms of sophistication,’ says Mark

Mellor managing director of Firefly.

Mark Adams, European managing director of Text 100, is quick to defend

our native skills. ‘Where the US is very systematic in its PR

strategies, the UK is fast-moving and creative.’

Of the two other major European markets, Germany remains ahead of

France. Adams, half-German himself, says this is because the former has

proven better at forming international partnerships. He adds: ‘The

Germans are very procedural - they like their plans and stick to them,

but they are also changing to be more pro-active.’

The hi-tech PR business seems to be one area of the German economy that

is flourishing. It may nevertheless be held back on the international

arena because of its relatively high costs.

France, on the other hand, continues to be characterised by smaller,

personality-led agencies. A-Plus’s managing director Jonathan Simnett

describes the French as ‘more different than most’. He says: ‘English is

usually not acceptable and the sell is less direct. There is a term

‘cocktail mini-jupe’ [quite literally cocktail mini dress] PR referring

to press conferences conducted in the style of a cocktail party.’

The Italian market, also traditionally boutiquey in structure, has seen

significant growth in hi-tech PR. Although still relatively small,

Edelman is expanding its IT division and Text 100 is striving to open an

Italian office.

‘The Italian market is very mature and increasingly like the UK’s,’ says

Adams. ‘However it is dominated by four main hi-tech agencies, which

makes starting up there difficult.’

In the Netherlands’ high growth economy, the discipline continues to

flourish with the big international PR brands, European networks and

young indigenous agencies like Bikker all benefiting.

Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, is adopting hi-tech PR fast. Simnett

says: ‘Because firms like Nokia and Ericsson have been influential and

successful in electronic communications, the media there tend to take


Eastern Europe is another potential growth area, which many believe

could progress from nowhere to state-of-the-art ‘The Czech, Polish and

Russian markets are becoming increasingly important,’ says Firefly’s


But Simnett warns: ‘There’s a big difference in Eastern European work

and success will depend on the company’s resources on the ground. For

example don’t presume you can find a photocopier that works in Russia.

You need to forget all you ever learned about Western European PR.’

Case study: SSA counts on consistency

Chicago-based System Software Associates (SSA) began its relationship

with Firefly four years ago when it appointed the technology specialist

as its UK agency.

Then, in January 1996, SSA’s European marketing director David Priscott

chose Firefly to manage its PR programme across eight European


Under this agreement, Firefly continues to carry out media relations in

the UK but now also works with the locally-based agencies retained by

SSA’s individual country operations. The agencies are a mix of Fireworks

partners - Firefly’s loose-knit European network - and non-Fireworks


Priscott says: ‘The alternative was to change to an existing pan

European group, but my view was ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. I

could maintain the agency relationships already built up.’

At European management level, Firefly is responsible for direction, co-

ordination and evaluation of the programme. It also provides a link

between the European market place and SSA’s corporate PR team in

Chicago, disseminating corporate announcements.

Headed by account director Jill Wardropper, the Firefly team develops

Europe-wide PR objectives, strategies and messages that are reflected in

each country’s PR campaign.

The European agencies produce standardised press coverage evaluations

that are forwarded to Firefly monthly. These are accompanied by progress

reports which enable Firefly to identify initiatives that can be

exploited in other parts of Europe, or the US.

But how does Firefly control these disparate agencies? Wardopper says:

‘Each country operation has to believe there’s something in it for them.

We provide them with valuable information. We have to add value.’

On the implementation side Firefly generates case studies and other

press materials that are subsequently translated by each of the member


Priscott says from SSA’s point of view there are a number of

efficiencies: ‘I have only one person to talk to about European PR. In

this way Firefly becomes an extension of the marketing team.

‘More importantly, it ensures a consistency of messages and common

measurement and evaluation. I find I can now measure quality of message

delivery rather than just quantity of coverage,’ he adds.

The extras focus enables both SSA and Firefly to look at the whole Euro-

picture and transpose the strong points of the programme to weaker


Priscott says he has learned that PR performance varies quite

considerably across Europe. ‘Over the next six months I’ll be reviewing

messages and massaging some areas of the network, but on the whole it’s

working and there won’t be wholesale changes.’

Case study: Shandwick takes Digital worldwide

The relationship between the US hardware giant Digital and the world’s

biggest independent PR group Shandwick is a prime illustration of the

trend for US technology companies to think globally but act locally.

Digital has been a client of Shandwick in the UK since 1991, but in

December 1995 appointed the group as its world-wide agency.

By 1997 all Digital’s individual agencies will be replaced by

Shandwick’s resources which span 44 countries.

Mark Herford development director for Shandwick Communications and

European co-ordinator for the global Digital accounts says: ‘In a truly

global programme such as the Digital campaign, approximately 75 per cent

of the announcements are global and 25per cent are specific to the local


The priority of the partnership is at the corporate level, where

Shandwick is involved in developing the worldwide Digital brand

alongside its advertising agency DDB Needham.

The strategy includes the development of a worldwide, on-line,

operational manual. Standardisation of Shandwick’s service on a global

scale extends to agreed billing rates and evaluation techniques.

On a product level, Shandwick co-ordinates product announcements across

Digital’s nine business units.

A recent example was the world-wide launch in May of Digital’s Internet

software business unit Alta Vista.

UK agency Shandwick Communications held its launch event at Cafe

Cyberia in London. Presentations and launch information focused on

Digital’s intranet/ Internet strategy and the company’s new product

plans for the corporate market. Similar events were held simultaneously

in New York, San Francisco and Stockholm.

The launch achieved impressive coverage world-wide. In the UK alone this

included the Financial Times, Sunday Business, Computer and Computer

Weekly. Digital praises the UK for providing the highlight of the


Shandwick’s tie-in with Digital will get closer yet. It is trialing an

Intranet, planned to be fully operational by October, that will link all

Digital personnel world-wide with all Shandwick staff working on the


The rationale is to keep Shandwick personnel informed of all its

client’s initiatives and announcements, while encouraging best practice

in PR across both companies. Herford says the connection will also allow

media ‘contact management’ by featuring a sophisticated world-wide

database of media relationships.

He adds: ‘Eventually the Intranet will enable world-wide desk-top

conferencing - another element of a seamless PR resource that breaks

down the barriers between client and agency.’

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