The Global Agency Has No Clothes

Phil Carpenter

You’re the CMO of fast-growing Silicon Valley tech company. And with business expanding rapidly overseas, you’re looking for PR support across the globe.

silicon valley tech Source: pexels.com used under CC license.

Over dinner with a friend at the Rosewood in Menlo Park, you ask him for advice on your agency search. “We’re focused on the U.S. right now, so I haven’t had to solve this problem yet,” he replies. “But we’re using Edelman now, and if we were expanding globally, I’d probably just use them.”

Stop. Right. Here.

You didn’t ask for my advice. But I’ll give it to you anyway, because you’re about to make a big mistake.

The global agency has no clothes.

Marketing professionals that haven’t worked globally are often seduced by the idea of a global firm. “I have one throat to choke. I get a single invoice. What’s wrong with this picture?”

What’s wrong is that in defaulting to a global agency, you’re forgetting what makes a PR team great: the people. And just because a firm has an outstanding team in New York doesn’t mean it will have people of equal caliber in London. Or Dubai. Or Beijing. Team quality can vary widely from geography to geography with a global agency – despite the promises that the big firms will make to the contrary. The only way for you to ensure that you’re getting the very best talent available in the markets that interest you is to go with a “best of breed” strategy.

Selecting the best team for the job in each market maximizes your probability of driving excellent results in each geography. It also optimizes for flexibility, for if one of your partner agencies isn’t making the grade, you can swap it out in favor of a more promising option. It’s a lot easier to change out a single agency than it is to try to drive significant change within the office of a global agency. And replacing an entire global agency is so painful that you might settle for mediocracy in several offices just to avoid that pain.

You shouldn’t have to settle.

If you opt for a “best of breed” approach, you have two principal ways in which you could manage your set of agency partners.

The first is to own these relationships directly. As CMO, you’d appoint a team member (e.g., head of global comms) to engage with the principal agency contact for each of your partner firms. Through the agency contacts, your team member will communicate strategy, drive programs and report on results. This approach is ideal for clients who want to stay very close to the work, who like both the control and the detailed situational understanding they get through such direct oversight. This disadvantage is that “direct” is fairly work intensive, and your head of comms will spend much of her time working shoulder-to-shoulder with your overseas agencies.

Your second choice would be to select one agency as the coordinating firm, and to have that agency then manage the others. You set an overarching global strategy and then enable that coordinating agency to work with local firms to customize that strategy and its execution, and to report on results. The advantage here, of course, is that you retain the advantages of the “best teams” approach but spend less time, effort and money on managing the agencies in your partner portfolio. The disadvantages are that you have less direct control over the partner agencies and don’t get the same level of intimate market understanding that you get when you manage everything yourself.

Both of the above choices can work well for you. And each is a substantially better option than turning your worldwide PR program over to a single global agency and hoping for the best.

So, if you’re thinking about trusting your global PR fate to an Edelman, Weber Shandwick, or other larger firms, think again. You deserve the greatest possible results for your PR investment. To get those results, I urge you to go “best of breed.”

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