(First of a two-part series on going global with a company's strategic public relations.)
Standing at the threshold of your company's global expansion, sniffing the excitement of new opportunities and challenges and, more than anything, the sheer possibilities of it all. Building a product brand in a major new market. Establishing a corporate reputation in a place where you have been unknown. Expanding the scope of internal communications to include ex-pats as well as new employees who may not speak your corporate language.
It's exciting, for sure. But if your PR team has largely been focused on the domestic market, you likely have no roadmap to follow as you gear up to go global.
Some companies are going global by necessity. Home economies in many mature, slow-growth markets are in recession. And companies are pinched by industry over-capacity, record energy costs and sky-high costs of commodities such as steel and copper, let alone petroleum-based materials from asphalt to plastic.
Others are expanding from a strong home base, called by the siren promise of rapidly expanding consumer economies that may or may not be similar to the home market.
Whatever your company's motivation for global expansion, corporate PR can play a number of vital roles in helping the enterprise succeed.
Having recently returned from Belarus in Eastern Europe, and Mexico the week before that, I've had PR globalization on my mind, specifically:
- How to help guide the business to be strategic in laying the ground-work for patient brand development when an opportunistic game-plan seens so appealing from an immediate risk-reward stand-point? For example, developing countries seeking to jump-start their own industrial prowess offer your company semi-lucrative licensing agreements with a nice income stream but nothing in the way of a brand footprint. When the licensing agreement is up and the cash sepnt, your company may be left with no market presence.
- Are the ideals of corporate reputation universal? Or is it arrogant to assume, for example, as a U.S.-based company's public relations officer that I know what the company should stand for in Eastern Europe? Shouldn't one spend at least some time in the primary new markets before turning over the keys to local agencies and askng them to replicate what's worked in the home market?
- How to strike the right cultural balance in internal communications to help new operations assimilate into the melting pot of your (successful) company culture as well as to help spread company-wide the vibrant new aspects of a start-up operation's spunky mind-set?
Of the rapidly expanding BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- it is Russia that intrigues me the most. After decades of stagnation in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras, Russia's economy began humming several years ago under Vladimir Putin's firm control. And that was before the incredible run-up in the price of oil. Only Saudi Arabia produces more crude oil than Russia, so as world demand and run-away speculation have driven the price of a barrel of oil over $100 (and lately far north of that lofty price), Russia has benefitted handsomely. With a new-born consumer economy led by the nouveau riches bent on conspicuous consumption, Russia may be a prime market for you, IF...
If Russia can clean up its industry and industrial products from essentially unregulated polluters to full compliance with EU emissions standards.
If Putin and his hand-picked "successor" Dmitry Medvedev get serious about cleaning up the rampant corruption and thuggery that make Western companies rightfully leery about investing there.
And if the government can resist the temptation to go retro-Soviet in nationalizing everything in sight and chasing away international investment. The recent expulsion of BP CEO Robert Dudley is certainly not a good sign. How Putin and Medvedev respond to the international backlash that is surely coming (you read it here first) may lay the foundation for a truly global Russian economy, or set it back two decades.
I'll expand on these themes in my next post. comments welcome, of course. Especially from Russian-national economic majors at prestigious Western universitites.
- Jon Harmon