The New Global World of PR: Five Lessons From Top Professionals

By webadmin on 12:28 pm Feb 06, 2013
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Djohansyah Saleh

In today’s rapidly changing, globally connected communications landscape, several questions are often raised, including what is the best way to allocate communications resources around the globe? How is the public relations industry shifting to adapt to the changing market mix? How are clients’ needs and expectations of their agencies evolving?

Weber Shandwick recently conducted discussions that involved 10 communication professionals — senior executives responsible for corporate communications in large multinational companies. From the conversations, five lessons were taken as reliable insights into building and protecting a consistent global brand.

Invest for the future

Many corporate communications teams will encounter complex negotiations when it comes to balancing competing goals against global budget distribution. Often, these negotiations occur around the margins: most funds are determined automatically based on the prior year or on current revenues, then adjusted down or up to reflect current priorities. But according to the communication leaders we spoke with, determining where — geographically — to allocate budget means considering two things:

The first question is not just “how important is a given region to the company now?” but equally “how important is that region to our future?” In other words, participants want the revenue footprint to be five or 10 years ahead, meaning they see communications as a part of what will help their organizations achieve their future footprint and revenue growth. They believe that revenue and communications work together closely.

The second question is not just “what do we want to accomplish this year in that region?” but equally “what do we need to deliver this year in that region?” With funds often attached to specific, measurable results, these executives are focusing their budgets on winning the winnable; a project or objective must not only make strides towards the future, it must also be demonstrably, quantifiably achievable.

Communications plans should be firmly rooted in business objectives for now and ahead, and tied to specific, measurable results that directly meet those business goals. If we fail to present solid, forward-looking strategic plans, we have no one to blame but ourselves if communications is underresourced.

Costly emerging markets

It makes sense to increase PR budgets where the opportunity is the greatest, and where the most long-term growth potential exists. To quote the communication leaders in the survey, what drives budgets has almost nothing to do with relative labor costs currency strength — there is no such thing as a “cheaper” place to do our work. What drives their budgets is the strategic importance of the work as a part of a global agenda.

Emerging markets such as Indonesia are of paramount importance to the future growth of many multinational companies. The budgets for these markets are growing at a rapid pace but are often still underwhelming. A recent survey by Weber Shandwick and Spencer Stuart revealed that, among 142 senior corporate communications professionals for international companies, while an average of 18 percent of annual revenue was coming from Asia, only 13 percent of their communications budgets are spent there. Undervaluing and overlooking the potential of these fast-growing states will only be detrimental to future growth.

To secure appropriate budgets around the world, public relations professionals need to understand global business strategies and objectives and need to present clients with realistic plans, attached to achievable and measurable deliverables, with budgets rooted in the strategic importance of that market in the years ahead. Equally important is to train our local team leaders and managers to think more holistically — to put their plans and budgets in context, rather than presenting them in a vacuum — and to always be clear about what their plans will deliver.

Global strategy, local tactics

“Global integration” was identified by the communication leaders as an important element for consistently positioning their brands. The term isn’t just a buzzword. It means a globally coherent strategy and consistently high-quality execution. It means sharing best practices and information with businesses/regions.

But what to always keep an eye on is the basic tenet of respecting global strategies while being mindful of local cultures. It is important to achieve consistency in global messaging to make sure your brand is well-defined and well differentiated but to almost never replicate tactics in multiple countries.

For these reasons, the leaders we interviewed use global agencies with strong local activity to achieve strategic coherence and adherence to global standards while also respecting the nuances of a particular market and culture.

Embrace digital

The past several years have seen an explosion in the number of PR firms who describe themselves as “digital” or “social media” agencies. But increasingly, employing a separate digital agency is like a restaurant having a separate department for stirring. It’s not really something you can separate from everything else.

There is no longer a separation between PR and digital, which means PR agencies need to redefine themselves as something broader than traditional PR. Any PR agencies that did not have digital thoroughly integrated into everything they do probably lacks the kind of strategic savvy that clients need to effectively navigate today’s communications landscape.

Indeed, in the 21st century you cannot engage with media if you are not literate in the content, cultures, tools, techniques and analytics of digital communications. In Indonesia, quietly establishing itself as a global epicenter for digital communications, the future of engagement is plain and simple: go social or go nowhere.

PR: an expanding discipline

In a porous world, where news and events can race across time and space, it is no surprising that PR teams are starting to do things traditionally done by other disciplines and the surveys confirmed this.

The global integration of public relations increases communications efficiency, strengthens brands and counters disruption and detractors. The broadening strategic role that PR is increasingly playing is helping to better position brands among stakeholders and making them more competitive for the long-term.

The definition of “public relations” is indeed expanding. Conventionally connoting media relations, the role of PR now plays a very big strategic role, particularly in defining and driving the brand. Because PR practitioners are increasingly responsible not just for disseminating information through the media but also for deepening relationships with stakeholders by engaging them, the profession is increasingly being recognized as the fulcrum, lynchpin and axis around which the best brand and reputation programs are built.

Today’s corporate communications officers and PR professionals are no longer simply responsible for media mentions and placements. Instead, they have a higher strategic purpose and role in their global organizations — they are builders and protectors of brands and reputation, no matter where their company’s good name is under attack. They are also increasingly responsible for understanding how to engage key audiences through their brands’ footprints, no matter where or when.

 

Djohansyah Saleh is Jakarta head of operations at Weber Shandwick and can be contacted at dsaleh@webershandwick.com.