Multinational Vs. Agency Network15 years, 7 months ago
Agency selection can be a complicated process. A marketer can choose the network route or the multinational route. Both offer distinct advantages, but what does an independent network have to offer? Nancy Bacher Long weighs up the pros and cons.
Before you take your PR program global, you need to think critically on a local level. The best programs can go awry when they are not thoroughly evaluated at the regional level. That’s why identifying the right agency partner early on – well before a program is launched – is a critical first step in taking a campaign beyond your market’s borders.
The right partner can do more than just help you localize an existing PR program; a great agency will help you to recognize, prioritize and address differences in culture, custom, values and social mores before you even begin developing a campaign.
Whether you choose to work with a large multinational agency, or a network of independent agencies, you’ll need a partner who works seamlessly with you to execute tactics.
It is important to understand the situation from the perspective of each individual market. Your perception may be that the work you are undertaking is "foreign". But while it may be foreign to you, it is local to target audiences in each location.
Just as it is always important to provide media with a local angle, it is equally as important to identify a local agency partner to help you localize your message and deliver the most appropriate tactics to support a PR program. When evaluating the need for global PR services, it is important to think about the level and scope of agency support in other markets before hiring an agency partner.
For certain projects, the current domestic agency servicing the account may be able to step in and handle the assignment. If the global needs are relatively simple and limited, such as developing template materials that will be distributed to corporate counterparts in other countries, the logical solution is to have the materials drafted by the people most familiar with the account. This method is really only valid if there are no global activities required beyond delivering documents for translation.
For more sizable projects, consider a single agency with a voice in many corners of the world. In recent years, the PR industry has seen significant consolidation, and the world’s six biggest communications groups have purchased dozens of independent PR firms. Although multinational agencies can be very skilled some clients shy away from them, seeking more individualized services. The alternative is an independent agency network or partnership. These are groups of independently owned agencies and currently, four major networks exist: IPREX, Pinnacle, Public Relations Organisation International (PROI) and Worldcom.
Such organizations serve national, international and multinational clients who seek PR services from local PR professionals who speak the language and are intimately familiar with the customs and cultures of the regions in which they work.
These offices tend to be staffed by local PR professionals, with partner agencies that offer experience at the regional level. Their insight into the nuances of the local media and culture helps to identify opportunities early on, as well as steer clients away from potential pitfalls.
There are additional benefits to using independent network agency members. As they are independent, and choose to work together in partnership, they stimulate and reinforce best practices. They routinely discuss maintenance of standards, conduct integrated training and share work on behalf of mutual clients.
Which Route Is Best?
What are the key differences between a multinational agency and an independent network?
Allard W. van Veen, APR, fellow CPRS, past president and currently corporate secretary and member of the International Management Board, PROI, says: "A multinational has offices in various countries. When a client needs services abroad they are steered to those offices. With a network, if a partner is not the right ‘connection’ for a specific assignment, the network will identify a firm who is. This allows for mix and match, in order to get the right team working on the project."
How Do The Offerings Differ?
There is no difference in level of competence among PR professionals in networks or multinationals. The difference is often in the distribution of competence. Independents have proven their performance in their markets, but in the multinationals, the competence may be inconsistent on a local level.
Regional scope and regional experience are often how systems differ, and this differs among each multinational. It is all based on where the offices are located and the experience of the staff.
The key is finding the right central account person. This person must make sure that messages are consistent and strategy is clear, ensure quality control and guarantee results are met. This person must also be skilled (and tested) in getting offices located around the world to work together and be focused. Ultimately, for the client, the system has to appear seamless.
Companies that choose to develop centralized communications platforms to be rolled out in a range of countries are better served by one integrated multinational, with office contacts close to the clients’ headquarters. In the majority of other cases, where strategy and execution need to occur on the local level, a network may be most effective.
Advantages And Disadvantages
The main disadvantage of independent networks is that, despite their performance, it may be considered a risk for a client to go with a smaller group with limited or no international recognition.
Selecting a large multinational, which has a worldwide brand, may be an easier decision to make and sell to upper management. However, the disadvantages of multinationals are client perception that large account rosters and multiple priorities may threaten or inhibit the individual attention they receive.
Nancy Bacher Long, President, Dorland Global Public Relations, President-Elect, Public Relations Organisation International.mail the author
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