PR Week Editor-in-Chief Keith O’Brien is typically spot on with his editorial POV. That said, he missed the mark with this week’s treatise on the Kekst sale to Publicis.
Keith argues that the acquisition is the first of many to come in the months and years ahead. Perhaps. But, I doubt it. Not in this economy where the multiples just don’t make any sense for most sellers.
More to the point of this blog, however, is Keith’s contention that, in combination with Cohn & Wolfe’s merger with GCI, the Kekst sale is all about global reach. He says, "There will, of course, always be room for local agencies and niche firms. But the onus is on mid-size and large firms to consider how truly ‘global’ their offerings are……. Clients and prospectives might seem more concerned with digital, CSR or green today, but the days when every client puts a global footprint at the top of its wish list are coming. Everyone needs to be prepared."
I disagree. And, I wish Keith had been covering the industry when his predecessors wrote similar tomes in the 1980s, ’90s and more recently.
The fact is global footprints rarely succeed. We’ve created one that we believe to be unique, but I’m not here to tout our approach. Rather, Keith needs to know how dissatisfied clients and "prospectives" are with existing global models. Here’s why: the holding company model may indeed have "on-the-ground" capabilities in 35 or 40 countries. But, each office has a different specialty. So, if I represent a US chemical company that needs local support in, say, Milan, I’m stuck with the holding company’s offering, which probably specializes in fashion.
Global networks of independent PR firms aren’t much better, and are really nothing more than pure geographic plays. So, while someone may have vetted the member firm at some point, do I really want to entrust my multinational client relationship to a Sao Paulo agency that happens to be a member of my network?
I think not.
Too many clients have attempted one-stop global shopping in the past, only to realize it’s far smarter, more strategic and cost effective to create a "best-in-class" solution set.
I’m sure Keith can show me examples of seamless, global solutions. But, I guarantee I can show him many more examples of smart, a la carte client programs. And, I’d be delighted to share our approach to solving a client’s need for a global footprint.
While clients may indeed seek more global reach, the strategy of buying up other firms in order to offer a global solution is fatally flawed. Having worked at several big firms (including GCI), I can tell you that, in most cases, teams in the NYC office can’t even work with the folks in the Atlanta office without fighting over billings (and worse, the corporate group can’t work well with the consumer group within the same office). The idea of executing a seamless program with the Paris office is just not possible.
Read more closely, PRfan. Keith’s argument has been bandied about for decades. Each time, it was based upon some recent macro development that made a global footprint an absolute necessity. And, sure enough, multinational clients followed suit only to become disenchanted down the road. I only wish you had the opportunity to listen to as many prospective clients bemoan the global footprint solution as I have. Maybe it’s you who needs to get with the times? Or, at least, spend more time listening to multinational client concerns?
“The fact is global footprints rarely succeed. We’ve created one that we believe to be unique, but I’m not here to tout our approach.”
Ok Repman, let me see if I get this correctly: global footprints don’t work except for “unique” global footprints, such as the one created by YOUR agency. In other words Keith’s analysis is correct with regard to Peppercom but not to or for anybody else. To wit:
(1) Keith: “the days when every client puts a global footprint at the top of its wish list are coming. Everyone needs to be prepared.”
(2) Steve: “I disagree.”
(3) Steve: “I’d be delighted to share our approach to solving a client’s need for a GLOBAL FOOTPRINT.” (my emphasis)
Gem of the blog: “I wish Keith had been covering the industry when his predecessors wrote similar tomes in the 1980s, ’90s and more recently.”
I believe Keith’s blog recognizes the fact that the world economy has changed drastically in the past 20 years Repman. Keith understands, appreciates and accounts for the following in his blog: the advent of internet, NAFTA, China’s escapade into free markets, outsourcing, India, Singapore, the fall of the Soviet Union, the reunion of Germany, the emergence of eastern Europe, the establishment of the European Union, Etc. All of the forgoing has occurred in the very recent past Repman, get with the times.