Competing with Everyone from Everywhere

12 years, 11 months ago

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Doing business globally presents an array of competitive situations and collaborative possibilities that require different strategies and approaches at different times. How well can PR meet these challenges, ponders IPRA President 2008 Robert W. Grupp.



While writing a blog entry recently for Chief Communications Officers at Fortune 500 companies, I confessed that I think we sometimes take international public relations for granted.

In the United States, and I suspect elsewhere, there still are too few professionals who regularly practice public relations and corporate communications among diverse cultures on multiple continents. As a practical matter over here, that often means arriving at the office very early for a strategic planning call with Europe and Asia; sorting through issues with Europe until about 2 p.m., and then scheduling a call with Tokyo from home in the evening – all while managing the day-to-day in the USA, taking an occasional call from São Paulo. This doesn’t even contemplate the international travel that is involved.

As we approach the IPRA 2008 Public Relations World Congress in Beijing November 13-15, I find myself contemplating how events like this, and professional associations such as IPRA, serve to strengthen the role of chief public relations officer in corporations and among clients. My conclusion: we still do not fully acknowledge the implications of working in a world in which we are all “competing with everyone, from everywhere, for everything.”

The Boston Consulting Group authors who coined that phrase in their new book Globality cite two dimensions of an aspiration to go global. One is strategic logic; our goal of helping our companies and clients shift their mind-sets so they can successfully take advantage of the vast opportunities that globalization offers. The other is an internal or personal conviction that values openness and trust, and thrives on the complexity that arises from communicating across cultural, social and economic boundaries.

Competition and collaboration

Doing business globally presents a great variety of competitive situations and collaborative possibilities that require different strategies and approaches at different times. There are endless opportunities and many ways to play each one. Too often, this is unfamiliar territory for chief public relations and communications officers and their teams who are more used to seeking the single best way, the ideal organization structure, the signature leadership style.

Whereas in the ‘80s most public relations was hopelessly local and in the ‘90s mindlessly global, many corporations today are exploring a more collaborative approach where expertise is pooled from all over the world and centers of excellence emerge in, say, Mumbai or Shanghai, irrespective of corporate structure and hierarchy.

Past IPRA President Roger Hayes and I have been researching IPRA’s new Gold Paper on Globalization and Public Diplomacy, to be released at the World Congress in Beijing. While interviewing the CEO of one of the world’s top 10 public relations agencies, I asked whether the skills of his agency’s staff are consistent globally to a point where staff can be assigned interchangeably in Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, London and Sydney. Thinking of Nokia, IBM, GE, Sony and Boeing, I was hoping for a “yes” answer. Instead, the CEO said that the goal remains aspirational. At best, only 30-40 percent of his agency’s global team is performing at a level where client work could be completed consistently and well no matter where the staff is located.

To build strategic and sustainable relationships across the world, our corporations and clients require a broad range of skills including relationship building, reputation management, dialogue, cultural interpretation, good governance and behaviour, and perhaps embracing them all – diplomacy. Chief public relations and communications officers must be seen as combining the optimum mix of skills required to grow and sustain business globally.

Differing world views

The authors of Globality suggest that people in the rapidly developing economies see the world fundamentally differently than it is viewed from the developed ones. They say that the United States, Japan and Western Europe are slower-growth economies characterized by wealthy consumers, well-established companies, well-defined markets and relatively well-functioning infrastructures. China, India, Russia, Brazil and others are fast-growth economies with young and poor populations, companies inexperienced in modern business, overburdened infrastructures and markets of unknown dimension.

This situation presents real opportunity for IPRA. For the past decade we have seen our membership grown and broaden geographically from a predominantly European and North American base in the 1980s to an association that today includes nearly 1,100 members in some 100 countries, especially in the rapidly developing economies.

The challenge and opportunity for corporations and clients thrust into global markets is a catalyst for chief public relations officers to rethink their role and purpose. Let us use our unique global network in IPRA – and events like the IPRA 2008 Public Relations World Congress – to advance concepts such as dialogue and diplomacy, grounding communications and public relations in terms of credibility, relevance and effectiveness, no matter where we live and do business.

 


 

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The Author

Robert W. Grupp

Robert W. Grupp is President at Grupp Global Partners LLC, a management consultancy with a strategic focus on corporate communications and international public relations. Grupp also is Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Florida where he teaches Global Strategic Communications in the Master's Degree Program in the College of Journalism and Communications.

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