Years ago, as a young PR pro, I met a senior executive from one of the world’s largest technology companies who told me that his job was to invest his budget not in those markets where they were established today, but in those which showed greatest future potential.
That made a lot of sense. Logically there should be less need to invest in marketing in a country where a company is already well-established, and more upside from those where it isn’t. He also explained, however, that the trickiest part of his job was explaining to the general managers of the larger subsidiaries why they weren’t being allocated budget commensurate with their size …
It can often be the same with European PR budgets, with the vast majority absorbed by one or two of the region’s biggest markets. I can understand why this happens. A sense that consolidating resources into a single market will deliver better ‘bang for buck.’ There’s ease, too – it’s less complex to manage a single country PR agency account team. But there are obvious downsides, primarily being unable to support markets with communications that might benefit from increased awareness, even if on an ad hoc basis (around, for instance, a key trade show).
A decision to concentrate activity into one or two markets can also be driven by available budget. Again, if clients allocate budget where business is today rather than where it might be tomorrow, this can reduce the budget available for international PR, which then puts pressure on where activity can take place.
The challenges of traditional models for European public relations
Take the hypothetical (but not unusual) example of a US-based tech company, which sees 60% of its global revenue generated in its domestic market and, say, 20% coming from Europe. Say that same company as an annual global PR budget of $500k. Again, it wouldn’t be unusual to see that PR budget allocated against revenue, so $300k for the U.S. and $100k for Europe. This raises a number of issues.
As those of us who live here know, ‘Europe’ isn’t a single entity (any more than ‘Asia’ is). Multiple markets, multiple cultures, multiple languages. $100k isn’t easy to split across more than one market for an ‘always on’ campaign, let alone three or four. And is $100k enough in any case? Again, looking at the organisation’s objectives, markets outside the U.S. might offer greater potential for growth, so would surely deserve a greater proportion of the global PR budget? But then I would say that, right?
While larger, better-resourced organisations might be able to afford to hire PR agencies in several key European markets – either best-of-breed in each country or a single PR agency network – this can come with its own problems. In addition to the budget needed to spin up separate PR agencies in multiple markets, there’s the additional time and cost in multi-agency management, duplication of work, inconsistency in approach or quality, and difficulty in accommodating the inevitable ebb and flow of activity across different locations. And let’s be honest, the GM of every agency office in a regional network will be keen to maximise their own subsidiary’s revenue.
Rethinking the communications approach for Europe
We’ve created a different model here at The Hoffman Agency in Europe, which helps iron out some of the creases of the traditional model. It’s ideally suited to those clients who would benefit from support in multi-markets – sometimes ongoing, sometimes ad hoc — but which don’t always have the resources to appoint and manage PR agencies in multiple countries.
At the core of our approach is to create a single European client team. Multi-national, multi-lingual and often (but not always) working in multiple locations, they’re set up to act as a single account team. This brings a number of benefits.
Firstly, they get fully and deeply immersed in the client’s business, helping and supporting each other in their learning, and concentrating the understanding of a client. Secondly, it aids coordination and consistency: communication is easier, and content is created and localised more reliably and accurately (‘write once, and publish in many languages’ is a bit of a mantra).
It is also highly efficient, and can be incredibly agile. There’s minimal, if any, duplication of effort (particularly between senior, more expensive staff), and in close liaison with the client we can prioritise (and deprioritise) individual markets depending on the focus of the business at the time. A significant new customer win in Sweden, a niche conference in Malta, or a key influencer in Switzerland can all be accommodated within the overall programme, without the need for a team permanently on the ground in any of those locations.
A PR team for Europe: dynamic, agile, curious and flexible
It’s also an exciting model for my own team. I make a point of hiring ‘Europeans’. That sounds obvious and probably a bit silly. But it relates to an attitude as much as a place of origin. This attitude sees a team of people who are cognisant of the cultural differences between European countries; curious about nuances in the business and media landscape across the region; and excited by the prospect of regular European travel. People who are both proud of their own nation, and passionate about the strengths of Europe as a whole.
As I say, it’s not a model that will suit every client. Indeed, for those organisations where the local marketing team will demand ‘its’ agency and dedicated agency, a single European team won’t fit the bill. And any organisation that isn’t willing to address the most common issues with undertaking international PR should probably leave Europe well alone for the moment …
But for those organisations that are aiming to manage European PR centrally (and often remotely from the U.S. or Asia) it can be a highly effective way to drive results in markets that offer the most potential for business growth, while supporting the more established. And that’s surely worth a conversation in any language?