International PR Tip No. 4: Centralization versus Localization

A crucial question in running international PR is how to organize resources and set-up across many different markets. In larger corporations, more often than not, those organizations have evolved as time went by, rather than having been planned and built deliberately from scratch.

The usual picture is that some markets do have internal PR positions, others don’t; the professional experience of people overseeing PR tends to range from seasoned professionals to management assistants, often placed in marketing, or sometimes in HR (especially when it comes to internal communications). It is often unclear who owns budgets (and maybe where these budgets come from), which in turn leads to fierce discussion between local and central about where to spend them. A plethora of local agencies and suppliers – briefed locally, managed locally, incentivized locally – creates complexity and inefficiencies; and as a result, it is often hard to find a consistent, overarching strategic idea when looking at all the different activities.

So, finding the delicate balance between a completely centralized approach (which may disregard local specifics) and an entirely localized one (which eliminates consistency) is a difficult task.

My take on this has always been the rule of “centralize wherever possible and localize wherever necessary”.

In my view, among the responsibilities that really always should be centralized are the following:
– Strategy
There can only be one communications strategy (which of course may need different forms of tactical execution)

– Budgets
While of course the process of defining budgets should involve regional/local input, final decisions need to be taken centrally. There’s hardly anything more hindering to a smooth process than constant infighting between center and local about who owns the money and where it should be spent. An intelligent way of budgeting may be to dedicate a certain portion of a (centrally decided) local budget for tactical local initiatives, to allow for the necessary flexibility.

– Core Initiatives
There needs to be a general agreement on what are the major PR initiatives to be driven internationally in a given budget period. Of course, there will be tactical local decisions regarding the timing or size of implementation of a specific initiative (or even a decision to drop one completely, if – for example – a specific product is not sold in a market), but the process must have argue local PR why not to participate in a core initiative, rather than having central PR argue why they should.

– Infrastructure
Central PR should provide an intranet that allows everyone involved to access PR materials (like press releases, photography, videos), background materials (for example crisis handbook, process descriptions) and templates (e.g. standard agency contracts).

Then, there’s elements that are worth considering for centralization, as there may be considerable efficiencies to gain:

– Suppliers
I believe that, still, too few PR professionals embrace classical purchasing approaches like creating economies of scale or buying services or materials from low cost countries. Consolidation of e.g. layout and printing suppliers can bring about massive savings while increasing consistency and quality. At the same time, factors like proximity (e.g. for physical checks of printings), transportation times etc. must be taken into consideration as well. Hence, in contrast to the first set of responsibilities, individual choices must be made.

– Monitoring and evaluation
Appointing one global monitoring supplier simplifies collection and, more importantly, consistent evaluation of results. Ideally, those are fed into one single scorecard which offers the option to drill down into specific data for regions, markets, brands etc. There’s, or course, also savings to gain through economies of scale.

Finally, in my view, some responsibilities must be handled locally, like for example:

– Media relations
Media relations – despite the web, facebook and twitter – are still relations between human beings, they need a face, a voice, a language, the right timing and tonality, and a deep understanding of an individual media’s culture, approach and positioning

– Tactical adaptation of Core Initiatives
For Core Initiatives, there needs to be an overarching big idea, and good materials to work with. Yet only local knowledge can advise exactly which creative format, which media channels, which locations etc. are best suited to create maximum results on the ground

– Tactical local initiatives
There’ll always be a certain level of activities that are only relevant for one single market – the press release announcing the appointment of a new sales manager, a local factory jubilee, or the like. Local PR should be given a budget to run those initiatives independently (in agreement with the center, if need-be). In order to judge whether such an initiative is worthwhile, I’ve always used the definition of “both meaningful and necessary”.

– Market Intelligence
In order to continuously keep developing and improving an international set-up and strategy, it is crucial to receive (and listen to!) intelligence coming from the markets – e.g. about competitor initiatives, new trends, best practice examples etc. This of course will only happen if the markets are truly involved in an ongoing conversation throughout the whole process from strategic discussion to final budgeting – and not just seen as simple executors.

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