Autonomy without Anarchy

10 years, 9 months ago

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Giles Fraser on how to make the most of your international PR budgets in a constrained financial environment.



With consumer and business spending depressed in many parts of the globe, many PR agencies are feeling the squeeze as budgets come under review. Internal PR functions are also under pressure: 52% of comms heads polled last year in the annual PR Week/Brands2Life Communications Directors Survey said they were expected to do more with less. The upshot is that the machinery of reputation management is arguably weaker than it was three or four years ago when times were better.

That is not to say that the challenges of corporate reputation management have diminished at all during that time. Quite the contrary. The explosion of digital and social media over the past two years means that public relations has become more real-time and interactive than it has ever been before, while continued volatility in the stock markets can intensify the ill effects of bad news.

The challenge facing PR practitioners, both in-house and in consultancy, therefore, is how to balance the demands of digital media for real-time responsiveness, with the business’ need for reporting, metrics and intelligence. Meanwhile, the research, planning and message development that are part-and-parcel of our discipline must continue to be resourced adequately.

With more plates to spin, and fewer hands on the job, corporate PROs need to prioritise. This means implementing new approaches to global PR management that emphasise results and creativity at the local level with smart processes that lighten administrative burdens and concentrate resources on brand-building (and are seen to do so). For the purposes of this article, we have dubbed this devolved, collaborative model ‘autonomy without anarchy’.

A principled approach

The first stage in successfully implementing such an approach is the agreement of a set of basic principles that define success, for both the corporate organisation and local operations, and establish the key rules of engagement. These should be agreed at all levels internally before roll-out, and ought to address the following:

• Corporate PR objectives
• Local/regional business imperatives
• Brand and product/service positioning and messaging
• Exceptions – "red flag" areas where corporate communications must be involved, for example crises or financial communications
• Key success factors – both quantitative and qualitative measures, and mechanisms for reporting and measurement

With these principles agreed and communicated to local agency teams, it should be feasible for PROs to take a step back from at least some of the day-to-day content approval. Consider press releases and articles, which often need translation and multiple layers of approval before they could be deemed ready for the market. In fact, many of these could easily be handled in-country, with no involvement from corporate, with local agencies, perhaps, providing a short summary of the document in English for sanity-checking by the regional PR team.

Provided agencies have mastery of their clients’ messaging, there need not be any reputational risk, with the upside that they can be freed up to produce more content, with greater local relevance, with the same or fewer resources.

The benefits of such an approach are exemplified by social media – where speed and relevance are everything. For example, Brands2Life provides support for the EMEA Twitter account on behalf a global IT service provider. The team follows a pre-agreed framework under which tweets are created and posted in real-time. As a result, its following has grown from nothing to over 700 qualified IT industry insiders in less than six months.

Self-service PR

For all of their potential threats to corporate reputations, the digital media revolution does offer new means for PR managers to bring the same levels of real-time granularity to their own campaigns. Collaborative environments, such as Google Apps, SharePoint and wikis, have brought the concept of secure global PR extranets and document collaboration well within the grasp of almost every company. Rather than relying on email, in-country teams should instead place all reports and collateral on the PR extranet, for corporate communications staff to access and compile as they require. This self-service approach saves considerable time on all sides, while providing a genuinely up-to-date global view of campaign status.

These tools also raise the possibility of real-time analysis, at last bringing PR alongside finance and sales in terms of business intelligence. Thanks to the document collaboration capabilities of the latest versions of products such as Microsoft Office and Google Docs, global PR dashboards can be configured to update themselves in real-time as local teams log new coverage.

While it would need several articles to describe this new modus operandi in detail, I hope I have shed some light on new ways of managing the occasionally conflicting demands of today’s communications environment. It is, however, clear, that the rules of the PR game are changing: a global recovery, however imminent, is unlikely to lead to a return to the ways of the past.

For PR programmes to work well, agencies must demonstrate mastery of their clients’ brand messaging, and adeptness with today’s tools of the trade. For their part, we would urge in-house PROs to examine their current processes, and define their PR principles, with a view to creating autonomy without anarchy.

 


 

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The Author

Giles Fraser

Giles Fraser, Co-Founder, Brands2Life, which is co-owner of the Oriella PR Network, a network of independent, best-of-breed communications agencies based in 20 countries around the world.

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