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Want Big Global PR Results? Time to Think Small

Erika Heald

Oct 20, 2019

When your business is international, it’s only natural to ask the question “should our PR agency be global too?” But, increasingly, some companies are finding it’s a better fit to manage a stable of regional PR agencies that really know their audience.

Whether you have an existing partner that says it can support your new regional activities or you’re starting fresh with your search, it’s important to be thorough in your decision making, especially since international PR and marketing activities gone awry could permanently damage, or even destroy, your brand.

Tip: Learn how to hire a PR agency and how to hire a marketing firm.

Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better in Global PR

Global PR agencies have innate appeal simply because they can act as a one-stop-shop that can scale with you. And, in many cases, these brands have earned their reputation through a track record of success and true global expertise.

But an agency should not be chosen as your best partner simply because it is global. Further, the convenience of having one agency may come at costs that your team hasn’t considered.

Understanding the difference between translation and localization is crucial when choosing an agency partner. Translation services simply take a message from one language and turn it into the equivalent words in another language. Localization, on the other hand, is the process of adapting a message with the region—and its preferences and idioms—in mind.

The difference may seem subtle, but localization controls how everything about your communication—from your word choice, imagery, layout, channels for distribution, etc.—may be received by regional audiences. For PR, this also means tailoring your media approach based on the communication styles of that region.

In an attempt to stay competitive, agencies may tout regional expertise that is nothing more than translation. Or, many global agencies now partner with local agencies who actually do the work at the local level, begging the question of if you should cut out the middle management—the global PR agency.

Topics to Vet with Your Global PR Agency Partners

When considering a global agency relationship, be thorough in your discovery phases to ensure you have a full scope of what services they actually provide. Make sure you cover each of these topics when vetting your agency partners:

  • Scope of International Services: Dive deep into the exact nature of how the agency conducts its international business. Do they have established offices in your target market, partner with outside agencies, or do they conduct all business out of their HQ? Agencies may outsource work that gets added to your bill, so you should understand what is performed in-house and what is included in the fees.
  • Case Studies and Customer References: Ask to see case studies of work done in your target region(s) and ask for client references.
  • Main Contact: Who would your primary contact be, where are they located, and what languages and cultures have they mastered?

The Case for Regional Agencies

Engaging with multiple regional PR agencies carries added responsibility around communications and further complications with your workflows (don’t you love scheduling meetings for three time zones?), but the benefits can outweigh these added hurdles.

Working with multiple agencies is a very common practice. In 2017, an estimated 43% of companies were working with multiple agencies, and over half of the comms pros in the same survey noted that one of the top reasons for working with PR agencies was because of activities in specific geographic markets.

Much like in your home country, the local options will vary greatly in quality, but you’re eliminating chances of translation gone wrong.

Finding regional agencies to partner with may seem daunting. But it can greatly reduce the risk of brand blunders in your most important international markets. Use these strategies for success when exploring regional partners:

  • Ask Your Network: Check if your existing agency has an international partner they recommend and ask your peers and colleagues about their agency relationships.
  • Have A Local Representative on Your Search Team: Regardless of who is leading the agency search, a member of the regional team this agency would partner with should take part in the conversations. They can better identify potential red flags, and dive deeper on if the local agency is able to deliver on the services you need.
  • Start Small: You do not need to invest in a year of PR services upfront across a handful of agencies to decide if this approach will work for you. Consider starting a small project to get a feel for the agency before committing to a larger scope of services.

How to Go Small Without a Huge Internal PR Team

If you decide that a multitude of agency teams are the way to go, follow these best practices to ensure the most effective use of your team’s time:

  • Designate a Lead: Ensure that there is a single representative from your company that is overseeing all of the agency relationships. If regions start operating in silos, there’s a potential for them to launch campaigns that damage the brand outside of a localization error.
  • Hold Cross-Agency Planning Session(s): Each year, or more frequently if resources allow, host a (preferably in-person) planning session that with all of your agencies. This will help build a greater sense of unity, especially since these agencies will be working side-by-side during campaigns that span their regions.
  • Find Tech to Help: When you’re working across time zones, it helps to have technology that assists with these logistics. Find video conferencing solutions that allow you to record your meetings so you can easily share replay links with any regional partners that could not make a meeting. There are also collaboration tools designed to enable seamless communications for global teams

Global Success with Your Partner(s)

Regardless of how many agencies you collaborate with to execute your PR program, it’s important to establish consistent global PR metrics and dashboards that each agency uses to ensure you’re meeting your PR goals—and not creating unintended brand harm. With this governance in place, and combined with regular cross-agency strategy meetings, collaborating with a group of regional PR agency partners has the potential to truly localize your brand, and better realize your brand promise in your highest growth potential markets.

For a complete guide to PR measurement—for internal teams and agencies—read our ebook on PR and social media KPIs and everything you need to know to prove ROI.