Thursday, December 4, 2008

PR Shops Fall Down Globally

I once had a new business meeting in which the corporate marketing lead asked me about our Asian presence. “I know it’s a continent,” I responded. “And I can point to it on a map.” Not surprising, we were not the right PR partner for that company.

I’ve never believed a public relations consultancy like Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) needs to establish global capabilities – either organically or through participation in an agency network, such as IPREX, Eurocom Worldwide or the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN).

For starters, it is not consistent with our focus on representing a certain type of client at a specific time in its corporate maturation. This does limit the size of our addressable market and can potentially impact our overall growth potential.

However, we have made “great work for great clients” and an unwavering commitment to work/life balance for our employees our primary business goals. To achieve these benchmarks we are willing to sacrifice growth.

I also do not believe either agency model for the provision of global PR services actually delivers on the promise of consistent messaging and exceptional tactical results. The large firms with offices in major cities across the globe typically manage each as its own distinct profit/loss center. An office’s managing director is financially motivated to horde as much of the work as possible, regardless of what is in the client’s best interests.

The global value proposition for the networks of independent PR agencies also breaks down. On its Web site PRGN claims it provides access to the “resources, knowledge and diverse capabilities of all members around the world.” Yet, dig deeper and PRGN also plays up the fact that clients can “choose to work with one agency or several…to instruct agencies individually or through a single lead agency.”

OK…I understand the flexibility. But, this also devalues the importance PRGN places on global representation which is the very reason the network exists.

The most effective approach for the execution of a global campaign is for the client to define priorities, interview and select regional agencies, and then manage the implementation of the program to ensure collaboration. That takes a lot of time and work though, as well as creating an administrative requirement with purchase orders, invoices, etc. This is why a global resource is compelling.

So, let’s drop the nonsense about global agencies or networks working in lock-step to provide a consistent voice for a client regardless of the time zone. The value proposition is one of administrative convenience and time savings. It’s not about great work on a global scale.


Anonymous said...

Blasphemer! No, terrific comments, Marc. Having worked in multi-office and global communications networks, I concur. A lot.

Distinct conflicts arise when the client must, as you point out, clarify and define obkjectives and priorities, and then manage the implementation of the program(s) to ensure collaboration. In my experience, the executive-function and coherence levels of most marketing people is weak at best. Mention a 'systems approach', a 'military-strategy approach' or an 'integrated planning approach', and eyes often glaze. Determining communications policies, defining language, setting parameters, mapping flows and processes, and aligning business units across the universe is just too complex for most people. (Which is the perfect business case for your firm's skills!).

Additionally, the weakness of individual decision-making within corporate groups, due to an array of issues, prevents many/most managers from asserting authority or being able to defend their choices and actions. Fear -- of job loss, making mistakes, competition, being dressed down, failure -- reigns and stifles, It's a reality and it's a shame.

And you're right -- in an effort to cloak and sell their own over-blown Koolaid, global PR and communications groups use spin to glom more revenue, often to their detriment. Better (IMHO) in this new age of post-expansion-collapse sobriety to position one's self more conservatively, with greater clarity, quality and focus -- and a little less largesse.

I hope 2009 is a great year for your group. It seems like it will be. I like your blog, you've inspired me!

all the best,

Paul van Winkle

Anonymous said...

Marc -- Having read your blog post, and having opened the Beijing and Shanghai, China offices for one of the large, global PR agencies, I agree with your overall assessment. Sadly, the major PR firms, despite their lofty claims about "practices" and "specialties," are largely driven by geographic profit centers. While that shouldn't get in the way of ensuring a consistent message for clients, it often does -- as does the tendency for whichever office "owns" the client relationship to use a heavy hand in directing the efforts, strategies and tactics of other offices around the world.

Perhaps it's stating the obvious, then, but the consistency in approach, message, strategy and tactics must come from the client, not the agency -- and to the extent that the agency can influence the client in this regard, an effective global communications program is, indeed possible. Yes, it does take more work and involvement by the client. But if an agency helps a client achieve that kind of involvement and focus, it'll have a far more effective and profitable program on its hands.

Steve Drake
Steven Drake Associates, LLC
Silver Spring, MD