Closing the Gap: New Approaches to International Media Relations

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Closing The Gap

New Approaches to International Media Relations

With foreign editors clamoring for international news, U.S. corporate practitioners no longer have to--or should--rely on overseas reps for media contact development

In February, a group of media leaders from around the world met informally, under the auspices of the World Economic Forum, for a weekend in the Swiss Alps.

ABC's International Editor, Pierre Salinger, was there, as were Fortune Managing Editor Marshall Loeb, David Gergen, editor at large of U.S. News & World Report, Nicholas Colchester, deputy editor of The Economist, Theo Sommer, editor of Germany's Die Zeit, Ian Hargreaves, editor-in-chief of the BBC, and similarly distinguished media executives from Japan, Mexico, Canada, Greece, Italy, Finland and Denmark.

They all shared an acute sense that it is no longer possible to fully distinguish between national and international news. While they agreed that a single, pan-European general newspaper such as Robert Maxwell's The European (launched in May) could not succeed, they also agreed that these days, national papers can absorb as much foreign news as domestic news. (This was not always the case. In 1970, when I was appointed the first European business correspondent for The Times of London, based in Frankfurt, West Germany, my editors considered me a somewhat exotic ornament. Even Reuters did not have someone in Frankfurt.)

Business media: already there

Meanwhile, the concept of a global newspaper for the businessperson is virtually a reality. The Wall Street Journal publishes in Asia and Europe; editorials written for those editions frequently appear in the parent U.S. edition without any changes. If you want to influence WSJ's editorials today, you might well find that it pays to get to know some people in Hong Kong and Brussels, as well as New York.

The Financial Times, already printing in continental Europe and in the United States, will start printing in Tokyo soon. Its financial interests in the Financial Post of Canada and in Les Echos in France, for example, also ensure that its copy is widely seen in those publications. The International Herald Tribune is as crisp and identical each day on the breakfast table in Zurich as it is in Tokyo.

Reuters, as Mark Woods, its editor-in-chief, noted, has extended its influence even further, by connecting private businesses to all of the financial markets. Its information services now move markets. As traders react to the price quotes that flash on their screens, the volume of worldwide exchange market trading continues to escalate.

The Economist, too, knows no national boundaries. Its circulation is now up to 400,000 and rising, and its elite readership can be found in the capitals of every developing country, not to mention the industrialized nations.

In television, international choices are broadening dramatically. In Greece, you can now watch more than 20 different channels from a dozen different countries. Televisia of Mexico is boosting its programming for Spain, not to mention all of Latin America. The multilingual Japanese watch an array of foreign-produced news shows, broadcast in their original languages.

Dearth of U.S.-based contacts

In light of all these changes, it was surprising that the non-American editors at the Swiss meeting unanimously reported that they had no contacts with U.S. corporate public relations chiefs, although together these publications have a massive influence on world markets.

As the global perspective of editors grows stronger every day, corporations who want to secure effective global images need to reorient their public relations approaches.

Until recently, a U.S. multinational corporation could leave it to the public relations staff or counselors in Asia or Europe to secure all the media contacts and coverage in those areas. …

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