Hiring globally to act locally


This is an article by Dan Nicholls.
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When seeking to procure PR support at a global level, firms are faced with a critical choice: a market-by-market solution, a consortium or one global solution.

To make this choice, they need to assess their own needs and issues. What support should the agency provide – implementation, counsel, training? Do the messages need to be delivered rapidly and consistently throughout the world? Will different geographies and services need to be brought in or taken out at different times and can their agency relationship(s) accommodate such flexibility while maximising cost and operational efficiency?

In an ever-more fast-paced and interconnected world transformed by news on demand, global agencies don’t only have 24/7 crisis contacts (several agencies have these), but more importantly are open all hours and as such are uniquely sensitised to their multinational clients’ needs – ready to respond wherever and whenever a need arises.

This is often taken to mean that in a given crisis implicating two or more points anywhere in the world, a global consultancy can rally its local teams to support that crisis. While this is clearly one option, in reality clients will work with those they know best and trust on the ground. It’s not for a New York or London-based HQ of a company to insist that its local operations or subsidiaries use their global agency of preference whenever a particular issue arises, as they may well have local relationships with people far-better positioned to deal with the issue.

The simple fact is that no global PR agency can lay claim to being the number one in every market worldwide – every agency has its geographical strengths and weaknesses, no matter how much this may be spun or played down. For an agency to have a team of available global experts that can be flown anywhere as and when required is of far greater value, and while this is often an expensive option for the client, time and again it delivers measurable results with real impact.

Consistency in standards and reporting is also important for firms, as this can be a key factor in achieving consistent results. Global agencies are often far better-positioned to provide consistent levels of service than a collection of separate agencies or even a long-established consortium. By nature of their financial and strategic importance, global accounts are often able to command the highest standards across all markets, while the client might otherwise merit less attention from a local agency.

It is also advisable to establish whether a global agency has a variety of client relationship models: centralised with one point of contact, de-centralised with local market contacts or a hybrid system, and to ask the agency for previous client feedback on their models. Adaptability is an important asset for any professional service provider, so adaptability in client relationship management makes for a good start.

Another important consideration for a multinational client is whether a “system of silos” will hinder the sharing of knowledge and best practices internationally. While this is not always deemed essential – indeed some clients may prefer to have each market focus on its own deliverables without being influenced or distracted by other market activities or by standardised practices – it’s worth remembering that global agencies often have the resources to implement sophisticated knowledge-sharing systems which can be of great benefit. Indeed, an agency’s resources should be a key consideration in its own right, particularly in light of the current state of the global economy.

There is much consensus that larger firms will cope with any macroeconomic turbulence far better than smaller firms and this clearly has implications for an agency’s resources (and thus ability to service its clients).

There are some pitfalls to be aware of however.  Some global agencies overuse the “standardised approach” and don’t attach sufficient importance to local market insight, approaches and customs. When looking at the make-up of a global agency, it’s worth establishing how their network has grown.  Organic growth often suggests the agency will have an in-depth understanding of their markets, and while the same level of local market insight and expertise can also be achieved through acquisitions, it’s worth checking to what extent the acquired agencies have access to the parent company’s tools, training and corporate culture.

Ultimately, each organisation needs to evaluate its own business needs when selecting an agency and remember that one approach doesn’t necessarily fit all. That said, global agencies tend to offer a multitude of resources, expertise and solutions – not to mention efficiency and economies of scale.

Photos by Victoria Louise Crampton

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