So here I am in Rome. A modern villa overlooks a medieval-style Italian family tower house basking in warm May sunshine. In this idyllic setting our entire international PR team is gathered for an intensive two-day workshop.
I am here to meet, connect and socialize with tech PR colleagues assembled from twelve different nationalities. We are launching a new service model based around a team of experienced, owner-manager PR professionals in different countries. The aim is to work together to form a cohesive international service for the Internet age that is a competitive alternative to the two main conventional options.
Traditionally an international campaign may be entrusted either to a large PR company or to a loose network of affiliates.
The former has the attraction of a common business culture that transcends national borders and a stable set of permanently staffed local offices. On the downside, clients often balk at having to pay inflated fees to compensate for the high overheads.
At the other end of the scale a loosely affiliated network is also problematic. While this is doubtless a more cost-effective option, clients are often concerned that networks lack central cohesion or common purpose and are therefore less well-equipped to communicate a consistent, unified message in different countries.
Major brands like HSBC, Coca Cola and McDonalds have long understood the principles of “think global, act local” and the importance of putting this into practice for long term success and growth in different markets.
This approach works equally well when delivering international PR services.
In many cases the client’s solution to this is to hand-pick a series of in-country PR firms and appoint a communications director to manage everything centrally in-house. This enables the client to visit every office individually, meet team members face-to-face and interview them about their clients, their experiences and key achievements drawn from other campaigns.
How much of the fee will be spent proactively promoting the client?
European campaign fees are generally broken down into an agreed number of days for each country plus a nominal administration rate covering day-to-day internal communications, reporting and client liaison. The administration charge can vary greatly according to the size of the campaign.
Is translation work on top or included?
Clients often underestimate how much time and effort can go into translation. It is generally accepted that versions of key materials such as press releases, datasheets, by-line articles and whitepapers need to be available in the local language. If the translation work is included in the fee this will invariably be carried out by the local operators, potentially eating into the time they can spend actively promoting stories on the client’s behalf. It’s best to know if translation services will be required in advance to best delegate that work to someone who is capable of fulfilling it as early as possible.
How long have your staff worked here?
Find out who in your international PR team will be responsible for working on your account. They will most likely be introduced during your visit and, if they impress you, it may be a deciding selection factor. Make sure they are settled and are not likely to be tempted to leave any time soon. Losing a trusted executive is a common reason for a drop off in campaign results. Having consistent, long-term communication with trusted contacts at your partner agencies will ensure greater message continuity as you co-develop campaigns over time.
How do you handle client conflicts?
It is obviously an advantage if your agency can demonstrate a high degree of competence and success in handling campaigns for others in your market. If they were a competitor, ask the reasons why the relationship came to an end. Remember also that their expertise in your sector could be attractive to competitors. Find out how they would handle an approach from one of your rivals.
Can you name three industry influencers you can introduce us to?
Do your research. Know three top industry influencers you want to reach in each market. How many of these top influencers can they demonstrate a relationship with? Ask them to name one top influencer whose following is mostly confined to the local market.
The concept of an alternative international PR service also has legs but requires a healthy cash-flow to sustain it.
In summary, managing an international PR effort has many elements including consistent messaging, well-organized central administration, strong local representation, creativity, influential contacts and financial vigilance. The biggest brands may outsource everything to a global agency or network. However, the majority of clients prefer to manage campaigns using an in-house manager who selects their local agencies themselves. If you are thinking of engaging with international PR agencies for the first time hopefully the above five “secrets” or insider tips may help.