Rule one: offend the locals

Today's guest post is by Will Brewster, a serious
player with Flagship, Peppercomm's sister consultancy in London. Will is here in the States and his post provides an interesting take on
another English PR firm's rather aggressive invasion of our shores…

Launching a British PR agency in New York with the claim that US PR is lazy and that the agency will retire the "shotgun" approach to PR here in the States, is certainly one way to announce yourself to the locals. It seems that my countrymen at Diffusion PR, that launched in the US this week, aren’t here to make friends, but rather, are on a mission (a seemingly aggressive one) to convince America that there is more to PR than a quest for column inches.

I don’t disagree with their diagnosis for good PR. Indeed, they describe their approach in much the same way as Peppercomm and its partner agency Flagship Consulting (my employer) in London would, citing a focus on audiences, and outputs that make people think and behave differently.  They believe PR is not about getting coverage that is a "mile wide but an inch deep".

Hear, hear and touché to all that. At Flagship we’ve been helping our clients for many years to, as we put it, create persuasive conversations that lead to identifiable and measureable behaviour change. Steve Cody has spoken at length on these pages and elsewhere  about how vital it is to truly understand audiences and how traditional PR is now only one of many channels to start meaningful conversations (note the term conversations again) with people.

Indeed, having spoken to my colleagues at Peppercomm, many here would agree that US PR can be lazy and one dimensional. It’s what Peppercomm has been offering an antidote to since its inception over 17 years ago. Others out there do the same and it’s hard to agree that American firms uniformly communicate badly with their potential audiences. Besides, there are many UK PR agencies who have been running on a pile it high sell it expensive model for years.

As an Englishman in New York myself, I just worry that Diffusion’s message comes across as arrogant and aggressive when history tells us that a think global, act local approach works best.  To come into the US market and claim, albeit implicitly, that the way all US PR agencies carry out their work is lazy and scattergun, is setting themselves up for a fall. Sure, they’ve hired in some US talent, but whether they meant to or not, they have come across as a smarty pants British agency that will teach these useless, brash Yanks how to communicate properly.  Other companies have tried and failed with this approach – Tesco with Fresh and Wild and Stagecoach with Coach USA, spring to mind. 

They’ve got the PR media’s attention with their proclamations and, no doubt, plenty of Manhattan agencies are sitting up and taking notice – indeed, I have to applaud a PR agency that actually says something eye catching and not anodyne. But, I wonder whether they might have been better off easing off on the national rhetoric as, once national pride is at stake, few defend their honour more vigourously than the Americans. I would have advised them to focus more on what they do, and rather less on the perceived failings of others.

I wish them well in their venture, but I’ll be keeping an eye on the proverbial pedestal as it’s shot at.

4 thoughts on “Rule one: offend the locals

  1. I think it is arrogant of them. You don’t go to someone’s house for dinner and tell them you are a better cook.

  2. Agreed that the spin wasn’t right for a four year old agency setting up a small office in a new country. I think focusing on their impressive growth and momentum would have got some good attention without irking the natives.

  3. Yes, but, these particular Brits are putting their own spin on the old, ‘ugly American’ adage by imposing their POV on a new market. Personally, I find that off-putting, if not a tad foolish. But, hey, I’m a Yank.

  4. Good post, Will.
    As someone who has worked in PR on both sides of the pond I think the only thing anyone can say for sure is that it is impossible to make generalizations. There are good agencies in the US and UK and there are bad agencies in the US and UK.
    Good luck to Diffusion though. Launching a US office four years after starting in the UK is impressive stuff.