Whether you are a US tech company making a foray into Europe, or a UK company looking to expand beyond the white cliffs of Dover, there comes a point where you need to start thinking about replicating the success of your domestic PR across unfamiliar lands. And it’s at this point you realise that life isn’t so simple.
Breaking news: not everyone speaks English. What’s more, some of the issues that are a big deal in the States or the UK aren’t such hot topics in other countries. In this blog, we look at some of the options facing firms as they go international with their PR.
Wired for ‘sounds easy’
An obvious place to start is to… stay at home and use a professional wire service like PR Newswire or Businesswire, and this has some benefits. First you don’t have to fret too much about researching media lists. Wires go global and the aforementioned are paid for, so they are more likely to be taken seriously by journalists. They have a better chance of being picked up by Google News, so you can enjoy the instant endorphin rush of coming up a News search. Professional wire services also offer reasonable translation services, and they can be essential in terms of compliance with financial regulator rules in that you can demonstrate that the story has been sent to everyone at the same time.
But there are some major drawbacks in relying on newswires exclusively. First, they are not cheap and you could be spending upwards of £1,000 per press release. £1000, I hear you say? Just to send an email? Clearly if your international PR budget is at the lower end this is going to be a tough sell to your CFO. What’s more, wires cannot replace the targeted, customised media pitch that is so essential in building media relationships and impactful coverage.
Go with the big guys
Smart companies will realise that if you want to make a significant, enduring impact with your international PR campaigns, you will need local knowledge on the ground in France, Germany, Poland or Ruritania and this is where it might be tempting to hire one of the big global agencies. They will be able to co-ordinate campaigns centrally and will have native teams on the ground that understand the culture, the media, the issues and speak the language. This approach is attractive for its simplicity and can be highly effective, but it is no guarantee of success. The way most global agencies are formed is a process of buying out local specialists; so the global network is only as good as the smaller in-country agencies they happen to have bought. What’s more, years down the line, the people that formed that agency will have moved on, so you could be simply buying into the name over the door rather than any guarantee of excellence.
The ‘in-Haus’ approach
While you might have an agency in your main markets such as the US or the UK, it might be wise to recruit an internal PR expert in different countries, once you have established an office. This is attractive in that they will be closely attuned to the in-house team and will know your products and markets inside out. The main drawback here is longevity. If they leave, you have to start all over again and there might be a six month time lag getting the new recruit on board and up to speed. Also it will be tempting to involve the internal PR expert in all sorts of useful, albeit not media-facing activities, which would dilute their impact. Finally a PR person that focuses on one company and one product line is not going to get the same richness of ideas and alternative approaches as someone working on a number of different clients in a variety of technology sectors.
The DIY network
An alternative to the in-house, in-country approach is to hire local agencies on the ground co-ordinated by the head office PR manager. This makes sense if your overseas offices are just getting started or your team is small. This works fine for a limited number of territories but above five countries your in house PR manager is going to be run ragged trying to keep tabs, especially if you are based on the US west coast where time zones can make life complicated. It also involves quite a labour intensive start-up phase, finding and evaluating several different agencies. Once in place however the advantage of appointing several agencies is that you can swap out any non performing partners without having to change the whole network. The other main advantage of the do-it-yourself network is that each agency will have a different way of working and will bring different ideas that can be shared with the other members of the network, to your advantage.
The ready-made network
Imagine you are delighted with the work of your agency in the UK or Germany, but they don’t have branches in other European countries. It would be a shame to lose that relationship and all the intellectual property built up over the years for the sake of the “neater” solution of a one-stop-shop international agency. Often you will find that your established agency has a set of formal or informal partner agencies across Europe and beyond that could be brought on board as you enter different markets. Again, not all partners will be equally competent in all areas of technology, and the service you get still depends on the individual account managers looking after you in each agency, so it requires some due diligence. (Top tip: get on a plane and meet them in their native environment!)
However, the advantages are significant. There is a bond of trust between the agencies, based on mutual interest, and the partner agencies will have proven their competence to each other over a number of years, which should give you some level of confidence in their ability. And, as with the global agency, one partner will typically take the lead so you can still gain the benefits of central co-ordination without losing the bespoke localisation benefits of the different international partners.
Power to the people
The choice you make depends to a large extent on the level of maturity of your international business and, of course budgets. There is nothing wrong with a mix and match approach on the basis that, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. What matters is that you chose the right partner or internal head of PR for each region and that boils down to a proven ability to deliver results in your sector. Whichever approach you take, remember: it’s all about who is doing the actual work upon which your success depends. Probe hard to find out who will be on your account, what their experience is in your sector and to what level you will continue to have their attention once you have awarded the contract.