Confessions of a Global PR Veteran; Just Don’t Tell the Global Team!
Six realities from the management of global PR mandates and your global team probably don’t realise.
Following the insights of Mark Pinsent, published by a former colleague, last week, I was inspired to share a few of my own on multi-market PR. These are based on many years managing European and global mandates; in some instances, as a strategist and planner, in others as a ‘last mile’ country implementer. Both reveal the intricacies of delivering global ‘earned’ coverage – as opposed to ATL.
Contrary to the latter – which, in the final instance, is a financial transaction – PR is dependent on an ability to persuade huge networks of independently minded people (from account executives to journalists) of a particular truth. A truth, which is based on a variety of objective fact and subjective reason; one which can have as many meanings as markets of implementation, and just as many nuances. In short, global PR is the art of convincing thousands of people – client side, agency side, media or members of the public – with a variety of agendas and priorities, across a range of time-zones and cultural realities, of a particular course of action.
Here are a few of the realities of the same; which you may not hear from the global team, but to which everyone is ultimately dependent.
- Your corporate positioning means nothing here
Boilerplates are the definition of corporate consensus. Typically compiled in English, they are in essence the result of hours of negotiation between divergent ‘interested parties’, from investor relations teams anxious to justify a valuation or HR professionals hoping to recruit at a discount, to new CEOs differentiating themselves from their predecessors and sales teams looking to . . . . sell. The nature of boilerplates is one of compromise; securing approval from numerous constituents. The result is often a list of key words and platitudes (invariably ‘optimised’ by the SEO team) which shed little light on the nature or the business or its differentiators. And this is in English, by the time the boilerplate is translated it has become illegible (by anything other than a bot). Post translation, such as text will serve no purpose to your local teams; it will neither clarify your proposition to journalists or other influencers, nor position the brand in the local market. Let them draft their own, local boilerplate from scratch; it will inevitably be briefer and more effective in the local market.
- Your corporate heritage means nothing here
Sorry to be some blunt, but unless your brand positioning is – literally – wrapped up and dependent on your country of origin such as with brands like Hello Kitty (Japan), Guinness (Ireland) or Ikea (Sweden), then your founder’s story is pretty irrelevant. In fact, in certain markets, it may also prove a detriment to your brand’s reputation. Highlighting Huawei’s origins within the Chinese People’s Army, Nintendo’s beginnings as a manufacturer of handmade hanafuda playing cards, or Mitsubishi as a maritime insurer dating back to the 19th century make interesting anecdotes, but they are hardly likely to contribute much to positioning these brands in a global marketplace.
These prestigious accounts should be staffed by the most creative teams at country level. Errr. No. The reality is that, while account servicing teams require many attributes, conventional creativity is unlikely to be required very often. Let me explain. On global accounts, local network teams operate within strict and particular boundaries; they are constrained by corporate positioning (see above), subject to finite resources which, at individual country level, are typically lower than for a ‘home grown’ account, and – most importantly of all – they are measured on their ability to implement other people’s campaigns. The latter will be rarely conceived for anywhere other than the brand’s principle market (it’s origin or the US, for instance); local markets will be simply charged with optimizing the same. My experience is that such environments require a particular type of creativity; one accompanied by large doses of pragmatism. Local teams will have to leverage all their imagination, intellect and contacts to bring centrally-defined campaigns to life locally; but they are unlikely to be developing campaigns from scratch. Teams under the misapprehension that their role will be similar to that on a local account (brainstorming, strategizing, creative planning etc), will be unfulfilled and frustrated. This represents one of the biggest areas of disconnect and inefficiency across global mandates. Network teams who understand their role of ‘last mile’ optimization, and whose creative spirits can be satiated on other accounts, fare the best.
- Keeping the network updated on all developments is the best approach
Err no, again! So called ‘stream of consciousness’ briefings from global teams, updating their counterparts on speculative plans, invariably accompanied by 24MB PowerPoint decks are counterproductive. Local teams require some degree of context and background in order to plan, but expecting them to contribute to the each of the interminable revs of product and launch planning is simply going to burn the budget. The role of the global team should be to consciously decide when and how to involve the network; based on the status of plans and meaningful contributions that local teams can make. There is – of course – a sensible balance between over and under communicating; last minute briefings, with no background or context also reduce the networks capacity to add value.
- Brand consistency is the key to global communications
I know what you mean but . . . . within reason! Bank of America (US), Accenture (US), Atos Origin (France), Danone (France), ABN AMRO (Netherlands) dominate their respective, local markets. In India, however, local players dominate each of their markets; in many cases, these local players enjoy established and preferential relationships with influencers. To be relevant here, such brands have to adopt a more nuanced, pragmatic approach to PR. In some cases, this may mean behaving more like a local start up; inconceivable in their home markets.
- Make sure that the tagline is included in all messaging
Really? Be careful what you wish for; taglines are the most colloquial and contextual of all content. My favourite is from a wonderful Japanese brand of automobile whose legend reads ‘Innovation that Excites’. It’s sounds wonderful in English but – much as I’ve tried – I can’t seem to make sense of this in either French (‘l‘innovation qui c’excite’) or Spanish (‘….la que se estimula’) which are basically sexual innuendoes. I’m not sure they contribute much to the brand’s positioning in either of these markets!
Finally, PR is, by its very nature, an inexact science, full of nuance, innuendo and contradiction. The above may be news to some global practitioners, but they represent a reality for thousands of local professionals positioning international brands in the context of local realities. This is where relationships really matter; between in-house teams and agencies, and across the different degrees of separation (global, regional, local). The most successful global campaigns are dependent not only on process, but also trust.