July 15, 2013

Size isn’t everything in global PR

You will hear elsewhere in this publication from Fifth Ring BBN’s Clif Collier on the company’s strategic commitment to think and act globally. The more churlish reader – particularly if they were a football (soccer for our USA readers) fan – may think this is like Aberdeen taking on Manchester United. It is a relatively small agency lining up against the Edelmans and Fleischman Hillards of this world. At first glance, it could seem like that. Although we have a fairly compelling international offering, with offices in the UK, USA, UAE and Malaysia, compared to global PR leviathans we are small. Yet we have beaten some of the very biggest to secure major international accounts.

Of course, much of our recent success has been achieved with the phenomenal teamwork of BBN (Business Branding Network). This allowed Fifth Ring BBN to pool the resources of several like-minded and talented agencies. But even then, the group involved was small in comparison to some of the competition. So given our size, why are we landing truly international accounts? I think the answer is in our focus and determination. The huge agencies of this world have often achieved growth by broadening their client base and breaking into new markets and industries. But we decided long ago to stick with what we’re good at – then get really good at it. We chose to focus on several key industries. This has now proven to be an excellent strategy in getting global business. We can now go anywhere and beat anyone in our chosen fields, because expertise is a hard currency in global business and the exchange rate is always good.

In this article I would like to talk about our strategy to beat the big boys and other things that you must be aware of when taking on international competition. I will use PR as an example, because that’s my field. However, many of the issues are the same whatever business you’re in.

The commitment and dedication to our markets gives us a distinct advantage when working on international projects, but there are still new challenges to overcome. Journalistic deadlines, writing styles, and getting close to key journalists all become a little more challenging to achieve globally. Your team’s telephone manner had better be good when trying to sell in a white paper to a trade magazine in Rio to someone with limited English.

Of course, the best way to resolve these local difficulties is to have people on the ground who know the local market and way things are done. This is where you can really win big – by attracting talented and committed professionals in a given geography, you immediately position your business at the right level. Coupling local expertise with an international reputation presents a very compelling proposition whatever your business objectives. 

Despite worldwide scope, if your target audience is a business-to-business market like ours, it is still relatively small – we are not dealing with consumer goods here. Decisions in our world are much deliberated, long-lasting and focused on developing partnerships that require commitment, reliability and trust in order to thrive. We have to be strategic partners with our new international clients. Emotional issues such as trust and security are absolutely critical. Expertise, experience and knowledge in our chosen fields help a lot with this. It gives our clients a confidence they might not get from a bigger, less focused business. 

A cursory look at the websites of the leading global PR agencies, and many other international businesses, reveals a common selling point – it’s their people. This is vague and simplistic to the point of being trite. It doesn’t begin to explain why one company is best equipped to deliver something truly effective, economical and ultimately, special. This is another example of how a lack of focus can be a disadvantage for a bigger corporation. 

Managing a few key international accounts incredibly can be a good approach for a small-to medium-size B2B enterprise – and this requires a completely different marketing approach to that required for local businesses. In order to reach your widely spread and highly targeted audience you need an outstanding digital resource and fully integrated marketing teams. Forget Esperanto, you need fluent speakers in the international language of social media, digital networking and influencer marketing in this interconnected world. Geographical markets critically define strategy and more media options require in-depth knowledge of more fragmented markets. A deep understanding of the digital world and how it may apply to your target market is invaluable, and something smaller companies can use effectively and cheaply. The internet can give any small business a big voice if it’s used correctly. 

A capability to engage, impress and deliver for clients used to operating in this brave new world is what your business must develop if you want to expand internationally. There will be big challenges, not least when you open yourself to greater scrutiny and competition. Once you start taking on the big boys – and beating them – you can be sure they’ll have the panzers lined up on the lawn when the next big account comes along. But don’t be scared of this show of force and remember, with focus and determination, you can always outflank a bigger foe. 

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