PUBLIC RELATIONS: Building PR teams to conquer Europe - Effective pan-European PR needs international strength and local knowledge. Lexi Goddard reports

Polish journalists love a press conference but many British hacks now shun them; the Brits are big newspaper fans whereas Italians prefer television; Norwegians and Finns are mad about the net but Italy has yet to catch on in a big way. When operating in a European marketplace, one PR solution does not fit all.

Polish journalists love a press conference but many British hacks

now shun them; the Brits are big newspaper fans whereas Italians prefer

television; Norwegians and Finns are mad about the net but Italy has yet

to catch on in a big way. When operating in a European marketplace, one

PR solution does not fit all.

While most companies recognise that factors like the globalisation of

trade and the introduction of the euro means marketing across Europe is

the way forward, running a cross-continent PR drive is no simple


Cultural and language differences are the two biggest barriers. Then

there is the incompatibility of IT systems and variations in fees and

costs. But the most challenging question for UK marketers is how to

co-ordinate a pan-European PR campaign.

There are at least six ways to tackle Europe, ranging from using a

country’s in-house PR resource to hiring individual freelance PR


Most big businesses invest in a network, but the questions don’t stop

there. Is it best to pick local agencies and appoint a UK agency to

manage the network or to opt for a PR firm with an office in each


The subject is investigated by independent PR consultant Natalie Palk in

her report, ’The Public Relations Industry in Europe’. This is based on

the responses of 345 PR agencies across 11 countries. The survey was

sponsored by Media Information, producer of the electronic media contact

directory Mediadisk, and will be presented by its marketing manager

Alison Radovanovic at the PR Showcase exhibition on July 5.

Palk found that larger PR agencies have the ’manpower and organisational

culture and structure’ to handle the management challenge of

co-ordinating large cross-border projects. She adds, however: ’Although

many of these agencies seek to provide both strategic advice and

implementation service, it is far from certain that all large companies

offer the best of both worlds.’

According to Palk, smaller one-nation PR firms have the ’detailed local

knowledge to provide country and region implementation of European

strategies’ and are cheaper. Also, there is potential - if they keep

abreast of technological developments by offering intranet or e-mail -

for smaller PR companies to build international links and create

’virtual organisations’ to rival the big players.

Keeping up in Europe

Overall, she believes that clients will demand more pan-European and

global PR expertise in the future. ’Those who cannot deliver a

cross-border service will be left behind.’

PR agency Grant Butler Coomber (GBC) is an example of a medium-sized UK

player which can rustle up a press conference in Soho, Strasbourg or

Stockholm. It oversees a network of 25 GBC-owned and affiliated agencies

across Europe under the banner of Tiger International, and runs

cross-continent campaigns for Data General and software firm BEA.

The UK office offers centralised training and account manager exchanges,

but is careful not to tread on toes. ’You can’t just impose yourself on

a country’s PR people, you have to get the local agency and marketing

manager to buy into the system,’ says account director Sophie


According to Spyropoulos, clients still ring up and want to ’do Europe’

without appreciating the cultural diversity and sheer amount of planning

involved. ’Sixty per cent of a pan-European campaign is logistics,’ says

Spyropoulos. Clients also frequently underestimate the cost. ’Even huge

multinationals don’t realise how much budget is needed. One company

wanted to do PR in 20 countries for pounds 2000 a month. Just Germany

could cost pounds 5000 a month.’

The first step, says Spyropoulos, is to ’tier’ the countries, because

some are more crucial to cover than others. France, Germany and the UK

are the three largest markets, then Scandinavia and Benelux.

Hill and Knowlton (H&K), one of the world’s biggest agencies, has 20 of

its own agencies plus 11 affiliates scattered across Europe. Clients can

buy the entire network and have H&K in every capital, hire the group to

co-ordinate the campaign from the UK or just use its Latvian or Italian

office. ’The idea is to be flexible,’ says Giles Fraser, managing

director of information industries at H&K. ’Clients can buy the skills

they need for the task and, because of new technology, agencies can now

work together by forming virtual teams.’

The average campaign consists of both country-specific work and

pan-European elements rolled out by the lead agency but customised by

each country.

’The French may want to organise a customer seminar whereas the UK

prefer to sponsor an event, but we all deliver the same message,’

explains Fraser.

Motorola’s European PR structure is an example of this mix-and-match

model. H&K is the lead agency and was hired by Motorola in Sweden,

Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, but not in the remaining 17

countries. As lead supplier, H&K meets with Motorola’s European

communications director Rolf Olsen and country communications chiefs

once a month.

For the European launch of the Motorola TalkAbout 200 walkie-talkie, the

company took 44 journalists from four countries to Iceland and organised

a back-to-base challenge on a glacier. As a way of showcasing the

benefits of the product, the journalists were divided into teams and

could win only by communicating with the walkie-talkie from the back of

a Ski-doo or four-wheel-drive.

Olsen says the system is still evolving. ’It has avoided overlaps in the

PR budget but to create a fully integrated team at European level takes


In the meantime, Palk has a few words of warning for UK agencies - the

traditional ’gatekeepers’ of pan-European PR. The phenomenal rate of

staff turnover, the high proportion of younger, less experienced staff

plus the frequent inability of British practitioners to speak a second

language means the UK is in danger of losing the top jobs to



Five years ago IBM took the unusual step of appointing Ogilvy Public

Relations to manage its 28-strong European PR agency network. Many

multinational businesses have a lead consultancy at the helm that can

dedicate more time to the communications strategy but IBM has taken it a

step further.

Ogilvy’s UK office acts exactly like a client hiring local agencies to

form bespoke networks for the IT colossus. A dedicated team of Ogilvy

administrators trawl the continent for ’best of breed’ PR outfits to

work largely on IBM’s massive e-business marketing campaign.

Once on board, Ogilvy pays their wages, dictates the strategy and even

has the power to fire them. ’The problem with one single agency network

is you hardly ever find an even skill base across a wide territory,’

explains Joerg Winkelmann, IBM vice-president of communications for

Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

’We have found a solution which balances global with local needs,’ says

Winkelmann, who oversees the operation from IBM’s European HQ in


’I don’t care about the name over the agency door, only the people and

what they can bring to the table. In the beginning there was a

resistance to work across borders but we have overcome that. Instead of

everyone reinventing the wheel 25 times across Europe, we have one

seamless entity.’


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