Technology PR

Dealing with US tech companies

Spin Bunny ( makes reference to the fact that “there are obviously a lot of shit US clients out there winding up European agencies with their attempts to steamroller campaigns across this side of the pond.”

A more diplomatic way of putting it is that there is definitely a tendency for US companies to want to create global campaigns ie they create the guidelines and templates which are then adapted for local consumption.

This issue is nothing new – its existed ever since the first US tech companies began opening UK and European offices.

I wrote a piece about this whole subject several years ago – – (full text below) I’ve had a lot direct feedback from people of both sides of the pond to this piece over the years.

The general consensus is that things have got better – if not perfect. The biggest complaint still is that the local country PR and marketing people are not consulted in the process. Or rather, their feedback is solicted – and then promptly ignored. The smarter US companies are hiring Europeans into US based international roles – or at least hiring Americans with experience of Europe. Having said that, this still counts for little if these people don’t actually have any real influence on how this global programmes are rolled out.


“You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same over there that they got here… but there, it’s just a little different.”
Vincent Vega (John Travolta) – Pulp Fiction

Vincent Vega’s pithy analysis of cultural difference in Europe can be aptly extended to embrace any non-US territory around the globe. And no more so than in the realm of public relations. The relentless need to “go global” from day one means that any US organisation seeking to extend its PR reach internationally has to be aware and prepared for the rather “different” world at large.

In my experience of dealing with US organisations on an international basis over the last 14 years, I have discovered a number of common pitfalls that many companies fall into. There is no question that US organisations are learning and improving their approach to international PR, but there are still some things to be aware of to ensure success.

One of the most commonly held misconceptions is to view an area such as Europe or Asia Pacific as a homogeneous whole. Europe and the Pac Rim are, however, complicated mixes of country, culture and language, subject to a wide variance in business and marketing approach.

In practical PR terms, the organisation that believes it can simply modify and roll out its existing North American strategy is probably in for a tough time. It is very important to plan ahead and think through the financial and resource implications of running mutli-country campaigns. Think global, act local has never been more true.

Although US companies are beginning to be more aware of the geographical, business and cultural diversity of Europe, they can fall into the same trap with Asia. In other words, thinking in regional terms rather than taking into account the subtle differences between countries – indeed, the variations that can occur within a country.

For example, Japan is a completely different market to Korea which in turn is very different to China – for example PC penetration in China is low compared with the rest of the region, but TV penetration is very high. This may well have implications for what kind of PR and marketing a company looks at. Also the regulatory environment varies from country to country, as does the media. Viewing the Pac Rim area as a “single market” can be a very poor premise on which to base a communications strategy.

From a business perspective, Europe is still considered the most obvious place for US companies to expand into. However, it is easy to fall into the trap of attempting to take the US strategy and merely “tweak” for European consumption. Here are some of the key practical points to bear in mind when planning a multi-national communications strategy.

“We’ll just issue our US press releases a few weeks later in Europe when we are ready to launch in those territories”

This attitude betrays a number of misconceptions. One of the most common complaints from European and international journalists is that you can always tell US press releases by their length – shorter press releases are the norm – less is more. Also, the effort required to translate these lengthy tomes into the native language of every country for distribution will add to your time and resource overhead. And who will be doing the translation for you? Indeed, translation is properly the wrong word to describe the process – better still to “adapt” the release. This will almost certainly be best undertaken by resources on the ground who will have the best understanding of local nuances and market factors. But then you need to think about how these resources are to be identified and managed, potentially remotely from the US. Don’t forget that if you have already issued a press release in the US, simply trying to “repackage” this release a short time later will probably be a wasted effort. Europeans can read Internet newswires too…

“We’ll bring our worldwide VP of marketing over for a whistle stop press tour”

This is the, “It’s Wednesday, it must be Paris” approach to press tours.

What kind of on the ground presence have you built up in the territories you intend to carry out your PR activity? Simply parachuting in senior people to meet the press for a few hours and then disappearing is not likely to demonstrate a particularly long-term commitment to the country concerned. What evidence do you have to show you have something valid and locally relevant for the media? By attempting to cover 10 countries in one hit, you are more likely to dilute your efforts and end up with a poor fragmented, response. Far better to concentrate efforts on one or two countries to begin with and gain mindshare footholds here before moving on elsewhere. Also, think through how you intend to maintain an ongoing relationship with the press in each country. Do you have resources on the ground that can respond to local enquiries in a timely fashion? Despite good intentions of making your senior personnel available to the world’s media when they are back in the US – will they take calls at 4am PST when a UK journalist is on deadline?

“The press everywhere speaks/reads English these days don’t they?”

There is no question that English has become the lingua franca of the international media and commercial world – however, that doesn’t mean that the media in certain countries will be happy to get information en anglais. As an example, putting out English language press releases in France will almost certainly mean they find their way into the wastebasket – electronic or otherwise. Similarly, not having native language speakers available in certain territories will almost certainly be seen as a lack of commitment to the local market – how can we believe you are serious about competing in this country when you don’t even speak our language? Again, thinking through what resources will be required to sustain an ongoing media relationship is crucial.

“Can’t we just hire a global PR agency to handle our international campaigns?”

Yes – but the acid test is in ensuring that the right mix of skill, expertise and resource is genuinely available across all the territories where you are to be supported. Even though they may not admit it in public, most large global agency networks would concede that there is bound to be a variation of skill and expertise from country to country. An agency may have very good European credentials, but not so in other parts of the globe – and vice versa.

The other approach is to seek out best of breed PR resources in each country. The challenge here clearly comes in managing and coordinating a network of disparate agencies. However, it is possible with proper strategic planning to put in place reporting processes that allow an in house manager to gain maximum flexibility and benefit from such an arrangement. But be prepared to devote significant time and effort to making this work.

For example, will your international PR coordinator be based in the US or overseas (London, Paris, Hong Kong)? If based in the US, you need to make certain that there is a means for each agency to report its activity, measurement and results in a standard format to ensure that consistency of message is being adopted. If you are going to put in place regular conference calls with your overseas agency contacts, this needs to be done at a time that will work across widely varying timescales (West Coast US-based companies that want to hold conference calls at 11am PST may find their overseas partners are a little less than willing to take part…). If you are to have an overseas-based coordinator, strive to hire someone who is native to the region and has an understanding of the local environment. However, experience of international PR coordination is in short supply, so be prepared to invest time, money and energy into finding a suitable candidate. Parachuting in US personnel is one option, but again, be prepared to accept that there will be an inevitable learning curve.

In short, there are a number of challenges to be faced in terms of running multi-national PR campaigns. Having said that, with a sensible and realistic approach, it is more than possible to gain great commercial benefit from making sure that you focus effort and resource on building relationships on a country-by-country basis. Vive la difference!

Andrew Smith
Object Marketing

Object Marketing Director Andrew Smith is one of the UK’s leading hi-tech PR practitioners, whose career spans 14 years of journalism and hi-tech public relations. In that time, Smith has developed and implemented many highly successful strategic PR and marketing communications programmes for some of the IT industry’s biggest brands including IBM, Novell, CompuServe, RealCall, OneSwoop and Hyperion Software.

He was one of the first PR professionals in the UK to exploit e-mail, the Internet and World Wide Web as high impact public relations vehicles. Smith is often invited to speak on the subject of PR and the Internet, and is a frequently cited commentator on new media matters in the PR and marketing press.


Fatherhood – got any advice?

After all these years, the wife and I will be (all things being well) joining the ranks of parenthood in December. The 27th is the alleged date, though something tells me its either going to be the 25th or New Year’s Day.

Blimey. Naturally we’re both excited and scared in equal measures.

Now that we’ve been begun telling family and friends, I realise we have unleashed an undocumented torrent of advice on the whole subject. If anybody has any useful advice to lend on the subject I’m all eyes and ears.


Former colleagues – where are they now? Part One

I realise FriendsReunited has a section to allow you to get in touch with former colleagues – however, its no use if they don’t actually sign up. It occurred to me that the blogosphere could be an alternative route to getting back in touch with people. (And yes, I know Google is the answer to everything, but this is more fun).

My working career began in 1985 at the Retail Newsagent Tobacconist and Confectioner. One of the UK’s oldest trade weeklies (founded in the late 19th century), I arrived at a time when the retail/wholesale side of publishing got interesting (with Rupert Mudorch, Wapping, and the move from rail to road distribution). Also co-incided with the launch of the first national newspapers in a generation – Today, The Independent, etc.

However, whatever to:

Brian VinerBrian_viner – staff writer – well, I know what happened to Brian. He went on via the Ham and High and the Mail on Sunday to be become a fixture columnist at The Independent, where he is now. The look on his face  as he lost a 2000 word feature through hitting the wrong key on his Amstrad PCW8256 is an abding memory. I did email a few years back at the Indepedent, but got no reply.

John Haylett – my first editor. And tennis nut. He was editing Tennis Monthly a few years back, but no idea where he is now.

Susan Iesi – features editor. No-one could write a 1000 word feature on confectionery like her. Google draws a great big zip.

Karen May – staff writer. Welsh, strong views. Went travelling for awhile, but apparently did end up back in journalism – but where?

Belinda Archer – staff writer. Went  on to  Campaign, and freelance work.  Byline in the Guardian in 2000, but no sightings since.

Nick Shanagher – Deputy News Editor – Irish/Australian. Ribbed me mercilessly. Was Editor of Local Government Chronicle in the early 90s, but not heard of since.

Who knows – perhaps somebody out there might have some clues.

Technology PR

£12K fee income per annum – the amount you need to bill to become a top 50 UK tech PR agency

Note: this was previously posted at the Old Towers – however, this was one of the posts that led to me moving to Typepad ie lots of people wanted to comment to it but couldn’t – also interesting how widely discussion on this has circulated.

Some observations.

Sarbanes Oxley continues to be used as a reason for not being able to
enter the table – so none of the tech divisions of the big agencies
makes it into the list. However, one notable exception is Firefly –
which is privately held. Firefly has been missing from the list for a
while. Firefly was one of the shining lights of the tech PR sector in
the late 90s – you don’t seem to hear that much about them these days.

Perhaps most interesting is down at the lower end of the table. Wyatt
International claims 50th place on the basis of £12,025 worth of tech
PR fee income – for the entire year. (That wouldn’t have covered some
client’s monthly expenses bill back in the late 90s).

In fact places of 43 – 50 are occupied by companies recording under
100K of fee income for tech. On that basis, many freelance tech PR
consultants would have made the top 50 if they had entered.

I’ve always taken PR Week’s league tables with a pinch of salt. Mainly
on the basis that the focus is on top line revenue rather than on
profitability. What would make the most interesting reading would be
looking at the most profitable agencies. No point in generating £4m in
revenue if your net pre-tax profit is 50p – or you are making a loss.

In terms of margins in the tech PR sector, the figures bandied around
are usually 10 – 12pc net profit (very good) to 5pc (average). So lets
do some maths. If we assume an agency has £2,907,161 top line, then
this would generate around £145,358 net pre-tax profit based on a 5pc
margin. Then take away corporation tax at 19pc (assuming no dividends)
– this leaves around £117K in retained profit. Which when all is said
and done, is not exactly a huge amount. Assume the company has around
50 odd employees – that doesn’t leave a huge pot for directors and
employees bonus (and this would be taxed as well so the amount people
might end up with is even less) – or for re-investing the money back
into the business in terms of business development, etc.

Even though the big agencies are not represented in the table, it
doesn’t take much to figure out that their net profit contributions
back to their respective mother ships can’t be that great.

Now of course, there may well be agencies out there with net margins of
20+ per cent – but I suspect not. And the bigger an agency gets, the
tougher it is to maintain double digit margins. Given that staff costs
are by far and away the biggest overhead for any agency, you can see
why people are trying to get more out of a people while keeping a cap
on salaries.

Which basically shows that generating real net pre-tax profits in the world of hi tech PR is pretty tough.

Technology PR

Challenges (and benefits) of a changing analyst market (and PR market)

David Rossiter’s take on an early post at the Old Towers. Parallels can be drawn between the PR sector and the analyst sector ie a polarisation between really big firms and smaller, more focussed operators – the equivalent of the "individual" brand cited.

Challenges (and benefits) of a changing analyst market


Andrew Smith’s got an interesting post (
about the publications that IT decision-makers actually read. It’s not
always what you would expect (in fact they seem to read very few IT
titles, if any at all).

It’s focused me on writing about some of
the changes that are happening with the industry analysts and some of
the questions that we’re currently in the midst of answering.

we’re now actively engaged in challenging our own perceptions on the
relative importance of analyst firms and individual analysts. We are
constantly forcing ourselves to re-examine who has what knowledge and
influence, how that is applied and how we can best help our clients
make use of it.

We ask ourselves if Gartner’s increasing size
will actually result in an equal increase in influence. We don’t think
so. There will be an increase but not in a straight line proportion.
There will also be some kind of backlash over its increasing dominance
and the prices it charges.

We ask ourselves if there will be
more consolidation among the likes of AMR, Forrester, Ovum and Yankee
Group? Yes, because whether it’s true or not, these companies are
likely to believe they have to get bigger to effectively compete
against Gartner for influence in the end-user market.

We ask ourselves if we will see the smaller analyst firms such as Quocirca (, Macehiter Ward-Dutton ( and Redmonk (
gain more influence? Yes, because we believe firms are increasingly
buying people rather than (as well as?) companies. Watch out for the
rise of the ‘individual’ brand in the analyst market.

witnessing some interesting times in the IT industry analyst market at
the moment. The changes will not make the AR job any easier in the
short-term but it’s forcing us to re-examine how influence works in the
IT sector. It’s also helping us get to understand how the role of the
industry analyst is being re-defined.


People SF

Andrew J. Wilson in town

My very old chum (best man) Mr A.J Wilson is down in London for a few days. Good to see him again – and find out how recent fatherhood is treating him.

He is deep in the throes of anthology editing and gearing up for WorldCon in Glasgow.

For those interested, more info below.

SmokeAndrew J. Wilson was born in Aberdeen in 1963. After studying English Literature and Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, he went into publishing, and currently works as a freelance editor and writer. He is the science fiction, fantasy and horror reviewer for The Scotsman.

Andrew has published short stories in magazines and anthologies in Britain and the United States, including DAW Books Years Best Horror Stories, Markings, Fear and Scottish Book Collector, and he has also read his work on BBC Radio Scotland. His plays The Terminal Zone and The Black Ambulance Gang have both been performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the latter on a moving bus several years before Speed was shown in the cinemas!

He has also published journalism and criticism in a number of markets, including Scotland on Sunday, Dreamwatch, Caledonia and Metro. He has also appeared on television and radio as a commentator, and regularly chairs events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Recent stories have appeared in Gathering the Bones, an international anthology published by Harper Collins in Australia and Tor in the USA, and The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases. Forthcoming work will appear in H. P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror and Sailing on Strange Seas, a tribute anthology to William Hope Hodgson.

Technology PR

Aeberhard & Partners/A Plus Group/Brodeur A Plus/Brodeur Worldwide Reunion – Weds, Jun 29th 2005

One of the curious things I’ve noticed over the last month or so is that my blog postings seem to be passed far and wide. In particular, references to former colleagues and friends in terms of what they are up to.

For the last few years, I’ve been involved in organising occasional gatherings of people who have worked for A Plus, Brodeur, etc in all its incarnations. In light of the above, I’d thought I’d post some info about the next proposed shindig – in the hope that it may help to ensure that as many people as possible from the great Brodeur A Plus diaspora are apprised of date and location.

With a company name change (Pleon), and another office move, Mike Copland is kindly hosting the next event.

According to Mike: "For those of us that go back far enough, it’s been five company names and now five offices. For a very few, it’s actually six offices or, in one case, seven.

The great thing this time (well, one of them) is that we’ve moved into the real (or unreal?) agency world of having a bar on the premises. Which seemed like a good reason to invite all the Aeberhard & Partners/ A Plus Group/ Brodeur A Plus/ Brodeur Worldwide/ Pleon UK alumni to join us here (address below) on WEDNESDAY 29th JUNE.  The bar will be open from 5.30pm onwards: and there’ll be a few nibbles too.  Plus we can even recall the old days of bar football in the office since that’s also available.

Hoping that lots of you can make it and that we’ll meet up then. For those who are further afield and can’t make it, at least you can think of us having a drink on the 29th. And Ted Lelekas, who gets married in Greece the following Saturday, is excused!

Can you let Liz W ( know if you can make it so we can be suitably prepared. And if you know of others not on the address list or have any email address changes please let us know.

And see you on the 29th.

Our new home is the red brick building right on the corner of Old Marylebone Road and Marylebone Road, by the traffic lights before the start of the elevated section at the end of Marylebone Road.



Leading a double blog life

Welcome to the new alternative home for The View From Object Towers. Although I still intend to maintain my existing Bloglines home – – I’ve had too many people tell me I have to have trackbacks and comments. After casting around for advice from people who know much more about these things, I’ve plumped for Typepad.

Over time, I presume all my current readers will migrate this way.

In the meantime, apologies for the Blog schizophrenia.

Hear from you all soon.