Like everything else in this crazy industry, agencies’ approach to managing global business used to be easier. When I started working on my first global brand 20-plus years ago, marketers basically controlled a linear consumer journey. So global really just meant translating unified ad campaigns made up of TV, print, OOH and radio for other markets and then settling in with an ice-cold Tab to watch a LaserDisc.
Fast forward many years and—to state the obvious—things are pretty complicated. Consumers are in control, whether they’re in Indiana or India. They choose where, when, how they want to engage with brands and what content they consume. Brands are challenged every day by new competitors and disruptive models, not to mention by the new requirement to be transparent and on the right side of social and political issues, an impossible task in our polarized world. Meanwhile, clients are often hindered with legacy internal structures that result in silos and competing objectives. All of this while agencies are reeling from shorter client relationships, more projects and a new reliance on freelancers.
These dynamics are enough to give any global marketer an instant migraine.
But here’s the good news. There are some hard and fast rules of engagement that will increase everyone’s chances of success. And these rules hold true whether you’re a holding company agency with offices across the globe, a consortium or an independent shop.
While some of these may seem obvious, it’s amazing how often they’re overlooked and the amount of swirl and frustration that can result.
It’s critical that everyone come together to assess the successes and failures (there will inevitably be some) of the output and of the process itself.
Make it all clear up front
Ensure aligned objectives and a clear process and role for each stakeholder involved.
As crazy as it sounds, sometimes the local markets and global marketing at HQ actually have different objectives. Local markets may focus on short-term sales while HQ may aim to drive softer metrics like awareness and consideration. It’s critical that there is real alignment on the key objectives of every initiative and how it will be measured, not to mention the role that each stakeholder will play (i.e., input versus approval) and who is ultimately accountable.
Use common language
The confusion created by an industry that loves our acronyms and marketing speak can get even worse when you add actual language barriers. The best way to ensure that everyone is on the same page is to share vocabulary of terms and a reference for each deliverable, such as a briefing document, toolkit or creative presentation template. It’s a bit of time up front that will save a lot of time later.
Talk to each other
Create consistent forums for communication across all stakeholders, don’t cancel when things get hectic and also make room for impromptu conversations. Also, remember that in-person meetings matter, even in our digital age.
A tip for clients: Set aside budget at the outset for your team and agencies to go to the markets and have face-to-face dialogue. This will save money in the long run.
It’s likely (OK, certain) that there will be bumps in the road. Local markets won’t like the global concepts, their business priorities will change midstream or HQ won’t agree with market feedback. The best course of action is consistent communication and also candor. Don’t avoid hard conversations. If you follow the first rule, then everyone should be working toward the same objective. Honest, even awkward dialogue is critical to achieving these goals.
Close the loop
End every initiative with clarity on the results and what did or didn’t work. It’s critical that everyone come together to assess the successes and failures (there will inevitably be some) of the output and of the process itself. This will help you build a plan to address issues and replicate wins going forward. This is also a great time to see the final output in each market and to understand how each market adapted the strategy and global assets to meet their specific needs.
Unfortunately, the typical process is biased toward one-way communication from HQ to the local markets when it should actually be an equal and consistent two-way loop of inputs and best practices. In truth, the approaches taken by local markets to the work and the process are often a goldmine of learnings for everyone involved.
As always, though, the most important rule of engagement may be knowing that there is no perfect one-size-fits-all approach. Because every brand, business, client and agency is unique, every combination of players is as well. Even coming close to getting global right comes down to the communication and collaboration of the people involved and their collective willingness and ability to pivot as needed.
Best of luck to all those brave global marketers out there. We may need it.