The challenge of international PR

Todd Defren is right when he says ‘international PR is broken’. The models of global conglomerate stitched together from a series of acquisitions or best of breed local agencies both have significant drawbacks.

According to our survey, fully 2/3rds of the clients who now engage in international PR programs reported that their international colleagues and global agencies “don’t properly adhere to a single strategy.” A lack of effective two-way communication raised these marketers’ concerns about “inconsistent messaging and branding.”

Part of the solution is indeed the better use of technology as Todd suggests, but most of it is to do with the business model. Building an international network of agencies organically means each one will be integrated from a P&L perspective, have the same methodology, the same reporting structures, the same standards, training, systems etc. There’s aren’t many firms which have adopted this model.

Why? Because most independent PR firms don’t have international aspirations or the resources to expand into new geographies. By the time they do, the conglomerates are circling trying to mop them up and put them into their collections so they never get the chance. Look at the industry by revenue – there are a few large global conglomerates at the top, lots of domestic small freelancers and boutiques, but not many mid-size international firms. Most of the mid-sized firms are focused only on one market – they’ve found a seam and are mining it to great success. Most are in the US since that’s the largest PR market.

That’s not great for clients since they only have a few shops in town to go to for international PR. Some of those will be conflicted. They’ll have had previous relationships with a couple of others, so the choice is pretty slim.

Others decide to go the best of breed approach in each country but those domestic boutiques aren’t used to working on international campaigns, at least not with this particular set of partners. That can burn management cycles and introduce layers of confusion.

It’s a challenge both agencies and clients will need to address. News is increasingly global, speed to market times are condensing, addressable markets are international, all of which means clients and agencies cannot afford to to restrict themselves to domestic programs alone. I see this as one of the biggest opportunities in the industry, a place where there is a real need for expertise and capabilities, both of which are currently lacking.