. The Transom .

Monday, May 01, 2006

Time to pull back the curtain on partnerships

Let me ask you a question, Mr. or Mrs. Large Multinational. If you were going to do business in China, or Germany or India, would you rather work with the small regional office of a large US-based PR firm, like Fleishman-Hillard, or with the largest, most respected local agency in that country? Believe it or not, regardless of your answer, most of you continue to use the smaller, regional offices of US-based companies.

There are a number of reasons for this. You want to only manage one agency. You trust the quality of the US agency. You don't know enough about the local in-country agencies. Sound familiar? Now please allow me to pull back the curtain and let you in on a little secret of the agency world.

You're not getting the best, but you're paying for it.

Agencies like FH, Golin-Harris and the other big guys bill themselves as 'global' agencies. They have offices everywhere from Paris to Tokyo to Timbuktu. But how good are those offices. How good is FH's office in Berlin? I believe it's about 5 people. Not exactly the powerhouse of communications you had expected for a major effort in Germany.

Now take professional networks like PROI, of which I'm a member, Worldcom and Pinnacle. These are made up of mid-sized agencies around the US and sometimes, as in the case with PROI, around the world. Our partner in Germany, Fischer-Appelt, is the largest agency in Germany, with offices in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg and Dusseldorf. They employ over 140 people. Now that's a powerhouse. Which agency would you rather have working for you?

PROI has only 50 members. We keep it small because we want to know each other and ensure that our quality is the same across the board. I know if I call Adreas at Fischer-Appelt, he will deliver results at the same high level of quality that our clients demand. If I call Yukiko at Asahi Agency in Tokyo I'll get the same thing.

And the best part, my clients still only have to manage one agency - mine. We integrate the process so it's as seamless as working with one large agency. Central point of communication and management, local professionals on the ground delivering results.

In two days I'll be in Berlin for our annual PROI partners meeting. While there, I'll be discussing two new projects with our partner from London and Munich. This approach works if you can answer one question: Do I want to go with a 'name' agency in the US to do my work abroad, or do I want my US agency to manage the process with their local best-in-class partner?

Globalization and flattening the world (yes, a reference to "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman) starts with actually being global, not pushing US thoughts on how to do business to your foreign stakeholders. Go local. Manage centrally. Achieve more.


  • The rules of the game differ from one country to another when it comes to cultural nuances. A gesture that can mean honesty and warmth in one country can be seen as an insult in another. To reach your intended audience, you need to be familiar with the country’s history, social norms, traditions, politics and economy. A complete foreigner can turn a media relations plan into a disaster. Just because a person was extremely successful in America doesn’t mean that s/he will be enjoying the same in China!

    What F-H, Golin Harris, Weber Shandwick Worldwide and the other large agencies have that mid-sized agencies don’t is a strong brand name and identity. Fortune 100 companies recognize them because they conducted massive international media relations on themselves. They turned their top executives into experts and have publicly celebrated their work… For that reason, companies sometimes choose to buy the name, i.e. F-H, to associate itself with what is considered as the best. Some companies simply buy the brand, not the product/service.

    In my experience, mid-sized public relations companies rarely express the fortes of being a member of professional networks like PROI, Worldcom and Pinnacle. For example, Cushman/Amberg Communications’ website makes very little mention of their association with PROI. If Cushman Amberg wants people to know that they are part of a powerhouse, why don’t they announce it?

    Also, these small to mid-sized companies do not work on building their name. They have the talent, resources and ability to do it, yet only a handful of agencies take advantage of it. These large international agencies evolved to what it is now because they considered themselves a client as well.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tuesday, May 02, 2006 7:04:00 AM  

  • I think you make several very good points. It is true that many smaller firms don't promote themselves as aggressively as they should. I believe one reason for that may be a lack of resources, but that's not the only reason. I also agree that Fortune 100 companies tend to buy the 'brand name' rather than the expertise. The joke has always been that an executive won't get fired for hiring FH if they bomb, but they will get some heat if they hire ABC Agency and it goes south. It's an unfortunate double standard, but one that is starting to go away, in my opinion. We've received a lot of business from companies that are tired of putting up with the big 'brand name' firms. But only because we have to constantly deliver.

    Thanks for your feedback!

    By Blogger Rob Amberg, at Monday, May 08, 2006 8:40:00 PM  

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