Being a European PR agency, at Firefly, I have the pleasure of working with French, German and Scandinavian colleagues on a regular basis. And those are just my co-workers: in the course of my day-to-day work, I also come across plenty of fellow Americans, Antipodeans, western and eastern Europeans, and many, many citizens of the world who have travelled so extensively, and have lived and worked in so many places, that to pin them to any one flag might be taken as an insult. The exposure to the business cultures of so many different countries remains, to this day, one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
It’s also the source of a significant challenge; the one we call “international PR coordination”. When I first started working in EMEA PR (agency-side, with a large IT company as my principal client), the approach was simple: if the client was an American firm, the US led on strategy, London was the gateway to Europe and therefore played middleman, and the European countries were satellites whose main role was implementation. This hub-and-spoke model, it was posited, would ensure a coordinated approach to communications. Messages would radiate from the centre, and PR execution would be consistent across regions, with some room for adaptation and adding local colour.
It wasn’t long before the flaws in this system were revealed: content that was frankly, hard to adapt for the local market; the complexities of translation in multiple languages, when releases are almost always undergoing surgery until the last minute; the mad scramble to help spokespeople deliver news – accurately and compellingly – despite the fact they’d only seen the content the night before; and search engine optimisation for localised websites (don’t even get me started with the death of the headline). All the while, maintaining a very diplomatic approach to international colleagues being “coordinated”, whose needs were at times, in conflict with the overarching strategy.
Personally, I think there is a slightly misplaced belief that – because of the maturity of the US and UK media markets – PR best practice is the unique domain of English-speaking countries, and indeed, the west. It is not. Yes, we have some of the best talent in the business, so it’s only natural to think our two markets would lead the global industry...for now. But after attending a conference last week and listening to a speaker discuss the way emerging markets have leap-frogged the west in technology adoption (for example, mobile payments), I wondered how long we, in the western PR world, can hold on to these claims.
Best practice “at the fringes” will, I believe, shape the global PR industry for many years to come. These future best practices may be process-based (like the hub-and-spoke model, which still works to a large degree); but more likely, they will be enabled by technology. In the same way that the microsite or campaign landing page gave global PR teams somewhere to “point” people to, thus issuing a clear call to action, future PR best practices will be more automated and intelligent. For example – some day, someone will devise a tool that analyses hits to a campaign website, keywords used in comment boxes and general sentiment (in multiple languages), and generate an automated PR action plan based on these, and other metrics, on an on-demand basis. (Maybe someone has and I am sinfully unaware; please elucidate?)
Technology is a great equaliser, and we are already seeing this in the PR world. It is by no means something to fear: the traditional PR hubs will continue to thrive, but increasingly the way they approach best practice will leverage technology as well as process, to address cultural nuances. It’s in the best interest of our employers, clients, and increasingly, careers.