‘Going Global’ with a Targeted, Specialist Approach
Over the past few years, globalization has moved from a potential business strategy to a definitive growth mechanism. Every business sector and industry has been touched by this trend, including health care, which last year saw record M&A growth as numerous ‘mega deals’ among large corporations were consummated, including the much-hyped Pfizer/Allergan merger.
Although the PR sector hasn’t quite seen the same level of global growth as others, it has not been immune to the trend. According to The Holmes Report, there were a total of 65 acquisitions within PR in 2015, as US and UK firms pushed hard to gain a presence on both sides of the pond. It’s a trend that promises to continue this year: recently FleishmanHillard and Fishburn Hedges announced a merger. Meanwhile UK PR and strategic comms agency, Freuds, bought the boutique Brew Media Relations agency in New York for a $15million stock and cash deal—all before we’ve even closed out the first quarter.
From what I can see as an American working in London, this keen desire for a global presence is being fueled by two things: centralized campaigns are very clearly becoming a priority, and Europe, in particular, is quickly establishing itself as a hot bed for startup innovation, leading to its growth as a lucrative market.
Interestingly, though, all of this consolidation has led to a widespread hunger for targeted, specialist firms that can quickly get under the skin of the client’s business and that have senior level strategic thinkers who can help align PR and comms to the bottom line.
Traditionally, the big PR guns have expanded into the European market by bringing a team over from the US or through an acquisition strategy, gobbling up independent operators in key markets. While the latter has given larger firms a local, on-the-ground presence, in most cases, it has widened the gap between the jack-of-all-trades agency and the specialist independent, boutique firms which are small, nimble and strategic enough to totally ‘get’ their clients business in no time at all.
For this reason, there is a small movement of independent US firms expanding into the UK as a stepping-stone to Europe, either through an established network of partners, or with baby steps to opening an office. This type of expansion not only gives them a local, on-the-ground, native speaking presence, it also gives their clients the targeted, responsive approach they seek.
But, to be successful in this crowded space takes a long-term commitment, particularly given that the European market is so vastly different than the US. Firms need to be fully aware of the key differences between markets—not just recognizing language barriers, which can prove difficult even in the UK, but more importantly, respecting cultural differences. We jest, but the ‘don’t ask, do it now’ American sense of urgency can really clash with the strong European work/life balance and respect for time outside of office hours!
By Laura Cameron, Pascale Global Tea