Making international communications work on a cold Parisian night

I’ve just come back from 18 hours in Paris. Apart from horrific insomnia (3.5hrs kip) which was solved by walking from arc de triomphe to place de la concorde and back, via an Irish pub at 0100, I reckon it went very well.

It’s the why that interests me. We pitched to a truly global trade trade association, fronted by a Canadian, a Frenchman and two Norwegians. Our team was an itinerant American based in Brussels, an Anglo – Irish Brit from London and another American who flew in from Atlanta for the meeting. Behind us, the international theme continues, with a German based in NYC and a Russian in London .

Working at Ketchum has re-opened my eyes to the potential of truly global cross border teams. Forget the profit centre, and provide the client with the best skills to do the jobs as briefed, no matter where they are based, or where the team member comes from originally – this was pretty much the case in Paris, and was more or less the way my first attempt at a career, investment banking, works. A trading floor might have a national flavour, depending on location, but a significant proportion will be truly international, providing significant operational advantages to both client and institution.

Banks are very different to PR agencies, due to internal management matrices, ownership structures and the way they interact with clients, which will often be part of a similar truly global matrix. Global vertical integration makes sense – whereas in communications it often does not, as there are so many purely local mandates that need tight local control, with a detailed knowledge of the local market.  This can lead to a certain amount of siloing of p&l and staffing challenges when considering truly international work, especially as many comms agencies are set up in local markets, not working across a global vertical.

This “local” structure is what I’ve seen for most of my PR career. Even if we’re talking about an international multi bn$ client that wants global capital markets advisory, the strengths of the boutique model; detailed market and industrial knowledge, tight teams that work together all the time, are limiting when we consider genuinely global needs.

So to return to where I started; to offer genuine global communications advisory and execution capabilities you need scale and skills. Only a firm like Ketchum (and its global rivals) could genuinely assess a global communications challenge, advise the client on its options, and then create a series of global solutions that are simultaneously run on a global level. You need a lot of people in a lot of places, all of whom should ideally have travelled extensively. Of course you still need top quality local teams, as this is where a lot of income is derived, however it’s as much about global mindset than anything else.

Understanding what works in Moscow, Ryiadh, Joburg and Bejing, in addition to more traditional “western” markets is one of the major strengths of Ketchum. We really do make this work.  On a day to day basis, it’s easy to forget, as you get lost in the job, but on a cold and sleepless night in Paris, it’s the thing lets you know tomorrow’s going to go well.

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