As more U.S.-based advertisers expand internationally, interactive agencies are finding themselves facing new challenges.
Though the globalization of digital marketing is nothing new, it has taken on new proportions in recent months, according to many media buyers. They say as regional clients have gone multinational, agencies have had to build up their regional hubs and more intensively manage cross-border communication.
“In 2005, we’re on the verge of this Internet advertising revolution,” said Andy Chen, interactive media director at Carat International. “Clients who have been slow to adopt online marketing — this is the year they wake up and have a more confident online discussion.”
Chen, along with agency execs at mOne, Organic and elsewhere, say that increasingly means boosting a client’s interactive efforts overseas. Their approach follows the “think globally, act locally” adage. Carat International manages its global campaigns from its headquarters in London, and offices in Paris, Hong Kong, and Wiesbaden, Germany. It coordinates the execution of each campaign with its local offices in more than 75 countries around the world.
“The way we approach it is with a global plan, tailored vernacularly,” Chen said. “Most of the challenges we face are operational. Strategically speaking, establishing a marketing strategy globally is not any different. When it comes to execution, we rely heavily on local offices to bring it to the local level.”
Sometimes that involves the central planning group taking on ad-hoc projects on behalf of a local office to ensure the health of the account overall. “Sometimes you have to do things for the benefit of the group, even if we may not be compensated in the normal way,” Chen said.
Carat charges larger clients a central management fee to ensure all its campaigns are coordinated across regions, and to gather information across markets. Some of Carat’s international clients include Adidas, Renault, Philips, and Kodak.
A similar approach is taken by WPP’s mOne, which has regional hubs in London, New York and Singapore. The agency has been running multinational campaigns for technology clients IBM, Cisco and SAP for several years, but has recently expanded and formalized its global infrastructure to coordinate the work of 45 local offices worldwide for clients like Unilever, Kimberly-Clark, and BP.
mOne’s Suhaila Suhimi-Waldner, Global brand team head in North America, said the agency generally focuses its media spend in the top seven regions where the client’s sales take place. Typically, this can include major European regions, as well as China, Russia and India.
“One of the biggest mistakes an agency can make when implementing a global campaign is to try to do something globally when it would be better handled locally,” said John Montgomery, CEO of mOne North America. “Strategy is driven from the center, so the brand speaks with one voice. Within the markets, strategy is implemented locally.”
“The global hubs are here to make sure the overall strategy is consistent. Local knowledge is crucial in executing the campaign,” added Suhimi-Waldner. “The tactics to reach an audience are very different from one country to the next. Not just media choice, but understanding the way people consume knowledge.”
At mOne, communication between regional agencies is maintained through regular meetings to share information — not just about specific campaigns, but about larger technology issues that will affect all of mOne’s clients. Information is shared on leading-edge trends from various regions, such as mobile phone technology in Asia, rich media in the U.S., and interactive television in the U.K.
Global campaigns present a similar challenge for creative agencies as well — one that comes down to balancing coordination with control, according to Marcelo Guerra, account director at Organic. “You need to have effective corporate coordination, but keeping control of every detail would be very challenging. We leverage our relationships with local creative agencies to localize the central strategy,” he said.
Guerra lists the most important qualities for an agency to have to succeed with multinational campaigns as flexibility and the ability to work well with other agencies. He suggests agencies focus on putting together an efficient communication structure to make sure everyone involved understands the need for a central message that is tailored to each region it appears in.
“It can be difficult logistically, but once you get the mechanisms in place, it can be streamlined,” Guerra said. “But there will always be late night phone calls.”