Magazine article Marketing

Transatlantic PR in the New Economy

Magazine article Marketing

Transatlantic PR in the New Economy

Article excerpt

Can a single PR strategy serve you in both US and UK markets?

We like to think of each other as cousins, we even speak the same language -- well almost -- but sometimes the UK and the US can seem more than an ocean apart. True, many of the differences between us are exaggerated, but as an increasing number of firms build up business on both sides of the Atlantic, a successful PR strategy is key.

And for those companies that choose to outsource their communications remit, there are tough choices. On the one hand it is tempting to transport a proven relationship from one market to the other and use a single global PR agency, but on the other, there are advantages to cherry-picking advice from each region. But no matter what is chosen, one thing is clear, it is impossible to conduct PR in either territory without a physical presence.

"You would have to be a nutcase to believe someone trying to sell you local implementation when they aren't even in the country," says Stuart Handley, EMEA director at August. One. "Any savings you think you are making in management time and budget will seem insignificant within six months, when the promises the agency is making aren't fulfilled and you're back to square one."

PR specific to each culture

The problems involved in running PR from a distance are not only a matter of time differences and logistics, but also one of clashing cultures. Last March, UK agency Band & Brown Communications and its global network Bandwidth helped online currency Beenz.com launch simultaneously in the UK and US.

"Here in the UK we were able to use guerrilla tactics with journalists, such as sending out teaser bank statements and a Beenz-branded bullion van," says Band & Brown's board director, David Vindel." But that was unsuitable activity for our US partner Middleberg and Associates, because the US press simply aren't used to those sorts of tactics."

With impressive letterheads boasting offices in New York, London, Sydney and every major metropolis in between, it is always tempting to choose the global PR players when expanding into new markets. And there are distinct advantages, not least ease of managing budgets and reporting structures. In addition, a global agency can promise consistency of messages, brand synergy and the allure of transatlantic momentum. Yet there can also be drawbacks to the one-stop-shop approach to the US and UK markets.

"Often there is a failure to designate a central co-ordinating role -- someone who is tasked with implementing global co-ordination as their primary responsibility," says David Gallagher, managing director of European healthcare at international full-service agency Ketchum.

He highlights that this can apply to either an agency or its client, and usually leads to failure as one market takes precedence over -- or directs -- another. "In addition, a global approach sometimes fails because people don't listen to local advice," says Gallagher.

It seems the important factor is to think global, but act local. "You cannot create a successful global or transatlantic programme and then send it out saying 'do it in your market'," says Jackie Elliot, executive vice-president of global accounts at Manning Selvage & Lee. "You need to build in a great deal of time for local research and feedback, because business practices and cultures are different."

This is demonstrated by global brands such as Nike. In simple terms the sports retailer talks to its US audiences about basketball, whereas in the UK and most of Europe it focuses on football.

Maintaining a single message

One of the most commonly cited reasons for deciding against a single agency to service both sides of the Atlantic is the uncertainty of exactly what is being offered. This is especially true at a time when the global PR market itself is going through a frantic period of consolidation, with many PR big boys expanding through acquisition. …

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