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Mastering international PR: what tech titans need to know about expanding their PR programmes globally

Last month, Wildfire joint-MD Chris King and I had the pleasure of hosting an international PR webinar with some of our independent agency partners from around the globe to discuss the ins and outs — and dos and don’ts — of scaling PR programmes internationally.

Ian Saldanha from Procre8, Peter Drent from Wisse Kommunikate, Agata Zeman from 24/7 Communication, Gema Román Zurron from Atrevia and myself dug into the common pitfalls that tech brands fall into when taking their PR/comms outside of their home markets — as well as the different in-house and agency approaches to cross-market communications.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the session.

Crawl, walk, run

Timing is everything when it comes to scaling PR cross-borders. Brands shouldn’t try to scale too quickly or recklessly and create issues that are hard to undo. At the same time, they shouldn’t be too slow off the mark otherwise they might miss out on key opportunities.

That’s why following a crawl, walk, run approach is crucial.

This means spending time getting a feel for the local market, understanding what messages resonate and scaling up from there. For example, traditional market research can help brands understand the behaviours and attitudes of their audiences in the new markets.

This is better than burning through the budget in the first three months only then to realise a campaign isn’t delivering on the initial objectives or goals.

Get local

Another common mistake that we’ve seen global brands — typically those based in the US ­— make time and time again is thinking that Europe or EMEA is one market. They try to replicate the same PR or comms approach across the whole region. And that simply isn’t going to work.

EMEA is such a diverse region, with more than 100 different countries in the region alone — and all with different media landscapes, trends and cultures. An approach that might work in the UK, for example, might not resonate or cut through in Germany or France.

That’s why it’s important to have local experts or agencies on the ground who are well-versed on the regional trends and nuances to advise the brand on the best approaches to take.  

Bring on the experts

During the session, we also discussed the different in-house and agency approaches to cross-market communications. As independent agencies, we’re naturally all big advocates of the ‘best of breed’ agency model but can appreciate the benefits that other approaches offer too.

Some brands prefer to go all in with big branded global networks that cover multiple regions, while others work with independent networks like PROI Worldwide. Then there are the brands with large internal comms teams who take the ‘hub’ role in-house, as well as freelancers who are great for project-based work.

One thing we all agreed on was that a best of breed agency network model offers greater flexibility over other approaches — allowing brands to cherry-pick the right agencies that fit their needs, which is something that the big branded global networks don’t offer.

There are also times when a particular agency isn’t performing as well as the brand had hoped for, or the team working in that particular region isn’t a great cultural fit for the business. Having a bespoke network gives the flexibility to make changes to local teams as needed.  

As a member of PROI Worldwide, alongside 24/7 Communication and Atrevia, we’re not short of talented agencies to recommend to brands. We’ve worked with many of our PROI partners over the years, so we have a good idea of who will be the right fit.

But at the same time, we can appreciate occasions where there are conflicts of interest or a PROI partner doesn’t have the right credentials or experience to fit a brand’s needs. So, we have also built really strong relationships with other independent agencies like Wisse and Procre8, so we can bring multiple options to the table for brands looking to scale.

Appoint a lead agency

Brands that have a presence in multiple regions don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or resource to be liaising with several agencies day in, day out. That’s why appointing a lead or ‘hub’ agency is crucial.

The roles and responsibilities of the hub team will depend on the brand’s budget, but it can span anywhere from simple day-to-day coordination and reporting to planning and managing the meatier, more strategic campaigns.

The benefit of having a lead agency means that a lot of the initial thinking and strategic planning is centralised, so the regional agencies can focus on execution and generating those all-important local results.

Lead agency as an enabler

All of us panellists have worked into lead agencies in the past and have had some good — and not-so-good — experiences.

We all agree that an effective lead agency needs to work as an enabler. This means providing the necessary support and guidance to turn the team’s requests or ideas into reality.

Don’t get me wrong, when a lead agency is managing more than two or three agencies at a time, and are trying to coordinate and action everyone’s requests, it can be quite overwhelming.

That’s why you need an organised team, who has slick processes and structures in place, to set the agencies up for success. 

Measuring success

Everyone’s favourite topic, right? Measuring the effectiveness and value of a lead agency isn’t necessarily as black and white as measuring the impact of a PR programme. But there are a few ways we’ve done this in the past.

For example, conducting annual 360 reviews with relevant stakeholders on the brand’s side as well as with the spoke agency partners. This involves us getting direct feedback on how the lead agency is performing and understanding what areas (if any!) can be improved.

Or, we can run a share of voice analysis among the brand’s key competitors. If the lead agency is doing their job effectively and enabling the spoke teams to get results locally then, in theory, the brand’s share of voice should increase year on year.

Scale intelligently

One thing’s for sure, scaling PR efforts globally is no easy task. There are so many considerations at play, which is why research, strategic planning, and effective coordination are key.

If you’re a tech brand and are considering scaling your communications across EMEA or internationally, watch the video below for our key insights and takeaways. Or, get in touch with the team today.

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Kiran Saini

About the Author

With a degree in Communication and Media Studies from Brunel University, Kiran has gained invaluable experience of the media industry following her internships with a magazine publishing company based in London and an entertainment PR agency in Richmond. Her most recent internship, however, was with Wildfire where she got a real taste for tech PR. Her passion for media coupled with her new found interest in tech helped her secure a permanent position at Wildfire in January 2016.