PUBLIC RELATIONS: Centralise PR for a cohesive brand - Holly Acland discovers how three companies handle their global brand management

Procter & Gamble has about five billion global customers, British Airways flies 40 million people around the world annually, and ISP World Online has close to one million customers. All face different challenges in terms of managing their global PR strategy, but the one thing that unites the three is their commitment to communicating their brand consistently across different markets.

Procter & Gamble has about five billion global customers, British

Airways flies 40 million people around the world annually, and ISP World

Online has close to one million customers. All face different challenges

in terms of managing their global PR strategy, but the one thing that

unites the three is their commitment to communicating their brand

consistently across different markets.



This emerged as the common factor at a round table discussion organised

by Edelman PR Worldwide and chaired by Marketing. The aim of the debate

was to examine how three companies operating in different markets

managed their international communications (see boxes).



Co-ordinating a global PR campaign has always thrown up problems for

companies with an international offering. Cultural differences between

countries, division of budgets, and variations in the way media is

consumed are just some of the obstacles companies face. But the

globalisation of business means companies have had to come up with a

solution to access international markets.



For BA, which has traditionally used a variety of small, independent

agencies, the answer has been to consolidate its agency

relationships.



In May, GCI Europe picked up its corporate and marketing PR account for

North America and Europe and was briefed to provide a consistent PR

programme across these markets.



Similarly, P&G co-ordinates its global PR strategy through a network of

lead agencies, having previously viewed PR as a local

responsibility.



Suzanne Peters, P&G’s director of public affairs for beauty care for

Eastern and Western Europe and for hair care globally, describes this

process as a major step forward.



But however companies structure their PR network, communication remains

key to running any successful international programme. According to a

survey of 70 senior Edelman PR Worldwide consultants carried out by

IPSOS RSL in August, poor communication is the biggest source of

problems for effective international campaign management.



When asked what three changes would improve the running of international

PR programmes, efficient and ongoing communication topped the list at

50%, followed by an appreciation of budgetary constraints (29%), and the

issuing of standard procedures/strategy (24%).



P&G’s Peters, BA’s international head of communications, Louise

Tingstrom, and World Online’s sales and marketing director, Lawrence

Alexander, all agreed that regular contact was fundamental to

co-ordinating any campaign on a global scale.



And they also championed the integration of PR into the marketing

mix.



Alexander brings together the company’s advertising, DM and PR agencies

on a weekly basis and Tingstrom and Peters ensure PR is involved at an

earlier stage in the cycle of a campaign than it used to be.



Companies looking to extend their brands internationally would do well

to take note of the ways in which these three companies have tackled

their global communications strategy.





WORLD ONLINE



World Online, a European ISP which launched in 1996, is currently

expanding into Europe at a rate of one country a month. For sales and

marketing director Lawrence Alexander, this means keeping a close eye on

all PR activity to ensure a consistent message is delivered across all

markets. ’If you work in an environment which changes second by second,

and have to meet our expansion programme, you need to keep a tight rein

or the whole thing could disintegrate,’ he warns.



Although World Online works with a different roster of local agencies in

each of the 13 countries in which it operates, its marketing strategy is

driven from the UK. The company has three agencies in the UK - Joshua

(branding and advertising) Finex (DM and sales promotion) and Edelman

(PR). From the outset, these agencies worked closely alongside each

other.



’I put them all in a room together, told them what I was trying to

achieve, the time frame and the budget. Then I left them to it,’ says

Alexander.



’They meet once a week and I try to be there as well.’



An extranet site has been set up between the agencies, which carries

press releases, the weekly meeting report and all creative work. And

Alexander is clear about what he expects. ’I want my agencies to come to

me and ask me awkward questions - to make me squirm and to force me to

think ahead.’



But he admits that while he maintains good, regular contact with the

company’s UK agencies, it can be harder to keep track of activity across

all the company’s European markets. ’We are very anxious not to break

away from our core branding - ’Freedom of Movement’ - which can be

difficult,’ he says.



The company’s main PR initiative was ideally suited to covering all the

European markets. By co-sponsoring Cher’s three-month European music

tour, which finishes next month, World Online found a platform to raise

awareness across a broad audience. There were 50 tickets available for

each of the 35 concerts for PR purposes. These were distributed to

press, business partners and consumers through promotional activity and

competitions.



The company is also the sole sponsor of the Eurythmics world tour.



But Alexander emphasises that pan-European centrally-controlled activity

should be complemented by local activity. If a local initiative proves

successful, it can be rolled out as a template to other markets.

’Ultimately, you have to be flexible and respond to what’s happening

across the group.’





BRITISH AIRWAYS



When Louise Tingstrom joined British Airways one year ago as

international head of communications, she inherited a PR network of 74

agencies around the world. Tingstrom - who joined BA from Visa

International where she was senior vice-president, communications -

began the task of streamlining the agencies and has since appointed GCI

to co-ordinate all activity in Europe and North America. A similar

process has taken place in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America

markets.



Much like other global corporations, BA hopes that by consolidating its

PR agency relationships, it will increase the consistency of its brand

communications across key markets. ’I believe that with a network of

wholly owned or specially picked agencies you can achieve greater

communication benefits,’ says Tingstrom. ’I came in to sort out the

company’s international PR and to make it more commercially

focused.’



However, she - like Procter & Gamble’s Suzanne Peters - questions

whether any one agency can deliver a truly global service. ’It is very

difficult to get a consistent global service from any one agency,’ she

says.



Instead, this year has seen BA appoint a lead agency across each market

to co-ordinate activity. Tingstrom stresses that this arrangement can

only be successful when there is complete trust between client and

agency and the two work in close partnership.



’You have to talk regularly and be honest. I want an agency which will

stand up to me and say when it doesn’t think something we have suggested

is going to work,’ she says.



Tingstrom singles out BA’s sponsorship of the London Eye wheel and the

launch of its ’lounge in the sky’ initiative for the airline’s Club

World passengers, as two recent events which generated good PR

opportunities.



’London Eye worked extremely well around the world in terms of positive

PR,’ she says.



Despite Virgin’s attempt to debunk BA’s London Eye sponsorship by

floating a balloon above it carrying the words ’BA can’t get it up’ when

it was running behind schedule, research last month by CIA Media Lab

revealed that at least 3.8 million Britons - almost double the

operator’s target - plan to take the ride next year.



For major initiatives such as this, Tingstrom stresses the importance of

including the PR function in the strategy as early as possible. ’It is

important that advertising and PR agencies work closely and as part of

the same team. Having a PR expert up front works because PR agencies

think in terms of the headline.’





PROCTER & GAMBLE



Procter & Gamble products are sold in 140 countries around the world,

reaching about five billion customers, so it’s little wonder that its

global PR strategy is well developed.



One year ago, P&G reorganised its business into Global Business Units,

covering areas such as beauty and hair care, paper products and laundry

and cleaning. Each unit is responsible for brand equity and profit,

which includes marketing and PR strategy.



Suzanne Peters is director of public affairs for beauty care for eastern

and western Europe, and for hair care globally. That puts her in charge

of the public relations strategy for about 12 different brands. ’It

sounds complicated, but it’s actually very simple,’ says Peters, who has

worked for P&G for 15 years. Before taking on the role of director of

public affairs, she was marketing director in the UK and then in

Scandinavia.



’Our approach is ’strategy is central, but execution is local’. The

templates for PR campaigns are developed centrally and then rolled out

to local markets, which execute the campaign in their own time, with

their own tools,’ she says.



In order to do this in the UK, P&G works with a roster of PR

agencies.



Scope Ketchum, for example, is the agency of record for Vidal Sassoon,

and is responsible for all global messaging for the brand.



’Our global PR agencies need to understand the global issues relating to

each brand. This means a great deal of international co-operation.



However, in each market, relationships with the local media are key,’

Peters emphasises.



’Getting the balance right is the challenge in working campaigns

globally.’



But wouldn’t it be simpler to employ one agency with a global network

which covers all P&G’s markets? Peters believes that although ideally

the company would like to work with just one agency, the main obstacle

is capacity. Unlike the main advertising networks, PR agencies are less

likely to have the resources to provide uniform service quality across

the globe.



Other issues cited by Peters against using a sole agency are the sheer

volume of P&G’s brands and the fact that - unlike British Airways - P&G

is not selling the same product in each country, either in terms of

packaging, branding or positioning.



Nor does P&G impose a single rigid PR template on all markets,

regardless of cultural and economic differences. ’The PR template can be

seen as a buffet table. You can have any combination of dishes, but

you’ve got to have something from this table,’ says Peters.



And for PR agencies who berate the fact that PR is too often considered

at the last minute, Peters maintains that the PR function at P&G is

integrated into the marketing mix from the outset of every campaign.



’It is key that PR is an integrated part of the marketing and planning

execution,’ she says. ’To do this well, PR strategy needs to reflect

global brand equities. As a working principle, we expect our PR agencies

to be key partners in the business, alongside the advertising

agencies.’



P&G’s biggest public relations coup this year was signing Madonna to

promote its new Max Factor Gold line in Europe and the Far East. The TV

ad campaign kicked off in the UK and, according to Peters, generated

massive coverage in both the UK press and overseas.



’The catalyst for the Max Factor Gold campaign was having such fantastic

pictures of Madonna,’ she says. ’Once we had these images, we could help

local markets garner exclusives from different media. The key challenge

was ensuring we choreographed the release of the visuals to maximise

global impact.’



And - as a good example of crisis management - press releases and

statements were prepared in advance to guard against the story being

leaked before the official launch.



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