So, you are thinking that international PR might be more interesting than single country PR, that it offers the chance to show off your language skills and enjoy some international travel? Is this a true picture? Well, yes and no.
To work in international PR you will definitely need the same skills required to work in single country PR, no matter what sector you work in. You will need to be able to work fast and accurately, to write to an excellent standard of English, to be happy to pick up the phone and pitch journalists a story at any time of the day or night, to think creatively and analytically about a subject and come up with new approaches to a story or a strategy, to organise complex and challenging events and to stand up in front of strangers and present a subject that you learnt the night before as if you have known it all your life.
International PR though takes you into different ground, and it isn’t always as creative and immediate as doing PR in your own country or region. A few agencies manage international programmes themselves, using people based in the UK who are fluent in the language of the countries in which they are managing PR. This can be a cost-effective solution for client companies, but not having journalists on the ground in each country makes a big difference to what can be achieved. It is more usual for international programmes to be managed from a single agency (the lead agency) and implemented in-country in however many countries the client needs the programme to cover.
A key part of managing international PR programmes is administration. You have to manage many different aspects of a programme in a number of different countries. You need to brief the agencies involved, keep them informed, brief them for reports, and then you probably need to chase them for the reports because they will never all get them to you on time.
You need to collate the information you get from each agency and put it into a standard format to give to the international client – it is so hard to get 20 agencies to all do something in exactly the same way!
The good part though is that you are dealing with people in all those countries on a daily basis – developing friendships along the way, as well, possibly, as the occasional grudge at someone who just will not get their reports in on time.
You are responsible for negotiating multi-tiered relationships – between the country agencies and their country media, between the country media and the country client, between your international client and each agency and sometimes even between your international client and his/her own country managers. A major part of international PR programme management is keeping those relationships running smoothly and supportively. Sometimes you will have to berate an agency to get its act together or they will lose the account. Sometimes you will have to be tough back at your client if you feel they are being unfair to an agency.
It isn’t always easy, but it isn’t always as difficult as it might sound.
I don’t mean this in a ritualistic, politically-correct way. You have to appreciate though that the people working on your international PR programme are probably just as clever as you, that they have a lot to offer your programme in terms of creativity and intelligent thinking, and that they know their market much better than you ever can.
Too many people assume that their role in managing an international PR programme is to tell the country agencies what to do and to do and make sure they do it. Wrong!
You should always ask them first – even before you send the proposal to the client. They will almost always have a lot to offer. They can also point out that the day you have proposed for an event in their country is actually a national holiday.
To brief non-native English speakers in multiple countries it is a huge help if you understand and think about your own language. The ‘lazy’ English speaker will talk at high speed and use a wide range of English idiom – because that is what we do in our every day lives. But if you use terms like ‘give it a bit of welly’ on a teleconference with other countries, it is likely that many people will not understand what you said, no matter how good their English is.
The usual response from people on the call will be to say that they have understood what you have asked them to do. Even if they have not understood you, they will often say they have, so that they are not embarrassed in front of others about the limitations of their English. So you need to get it right first time. You need to take idiom out of your speech, and speak clearly and relatively slowly.
It really helps if you have learnt another language, and if you have to listen to people speaking in that language occasionally, to remind you just how hard it can be.
Once you have some experience you will also start to get involved in developing international programmes, advising clients on how they can better manage the resources at their disposal, and how to achieve better results.
But if you get all the above right, the consulting and management side will come easily.
Photographs: Richard Bailey