Establishing Global Reach and Partners Around the World
By Julie Exner
When you start working with a new client, it seems you start to notice their product much more in the world. It isn’t that there is suddenly more of the product, you’re just more aware. This phenomenon has a nerdy name, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, which proves it’s not just my imagination.
Before 2008, Fahlgren Mortine wasn’t seeing many global opportunities. We also weren’t looking. Then one day, an RFP in the technology sector, which was squarely in our wheelhouse, asked about our global capabilities. Hmm. We had none, and we did not advance to the next round of that RFP. We were also starting to get occasional, vague requests from clients for global reach. It was more like they wanted the comfort of knowing we could serve them in key markets across the globe if and when they needed it.
This was enough to elicit action. We quickly determined joining an international network was the way to go, and that IPREX was the best fit for us based on the overall quality and like-mindedness of the network agencies. After being vetted to ensure we’d be a good partner that would deliver solid work when called on, we joined.
For the first few years, the relationship was considered part of “operations,” which had the unintended consequence of disconnecting it from client needs. Relationships were beginning to be formed, but those on the front lines of client work did not feel connected to IPREX or the partners around the world that compose it.
In 2013, we shifted our approach. Entrenched in client work, I was asked to become the Fahlgren Mortine liaison to IPREX. One of my first activities in that role was to travel to the organization’s bi-annual meetings, where I took pictures of each partner I met and created a display of those pictures that hangs in my office. Over the next several years, I met partners in Paris, Shanghai, Morocco and other locations. Our “feet on the street” around the world had faces; they weren’t imaginary partners we had never met.
It was only natural that I wanted to tell everyone who would listen about those partners, what they were doing for clients and how the media operates totally differently in their regions. We now provide IPREX updates periodically in department and all-company meetings, and use the network for every opportunity that makes sense. That display, though, as tactical as it is, seems to have made the biggest impact. It’s a permanent reminder that we have professionals in global markets waiting to serve our clients.
That awareness makes a noticeable difference with account leaders. Baader-Meinhof takes over and global needs start to become more frequent: ongoing issues management for a challenge in Mexico; CEO publicity during a trip to China; distributing an anniversary press release in the headquarters market of Australia; a pan-European “culture check” for a global ad campaign; an SEO proposal for Gulf Cooperation Council countries; and the list goes on.
Just this year, more than 10 percent of our account base has worked with our IPREX partners to offer our clients something not many midsized Midwestern-based agencies can: boots on the ground around the world. Our clients appreciate the on-demand global reach without the always-on global price tag. And they appreciate that we, their trusted partners, can manage the global engagements seamlessly. The biggest ROI for us is giving clients one less reason to check out the multi-nationals. Firmly planted in the middle, we can use this international network approach to help fend off competition from the multinationals that are increasingly eyeing our space.
And the benefits go beyond the business. The chance to work with colleagues from different world regions is something our account leaders unanimously appreciate. Understanding the German preference for directness or how to clearly communicate with someone who is reading your request in a second language helps hone empathy and precision that applies beyond international work.
Since 2014, we’ve won and serviced more than $3 million in business that we wouldn’t have been able to pitch without global capabilities. We often extol the virtue of our relationship-based approach to IPREX: We live by the fact that we’ll get out what we put in. And though these relationships are nurtured through email, social media and video calls, they start in person. On a cruise down the Huangpu River in Shanghai, over lunch in Minneapolis, browsing through a market in Morocco. Tough job, right?
Because the agency has now developed these personal relationships, we can have the same confidence in our international partners as we do in our associates. That’s made the difference and turned “global reach” from something off to the side to a natural extension of how we serve our clients. Now, a week rarely goes by when we’re not connecting a client with a partner agency or asking a partner for advice on a global challenge.
Our country may be in a phase where our leaders are focusing inward, but our clients, their customers, and their supply chains know no borders. The more account leaders work with our international partners, the more confident they are in stepping up to help solve communications challenges beyond the US market, and the more opportunities we uncover. And for other domestic agencies unsure of whether to expand their reach through a network or otherwise, I’d say to look beyond the horizon that’s currently in focus. To borrow a line from the recent remake of Mary Poppins: “There’s a different point of view awaiting you if you just look up.”
Julie Exner is a Senior Vice President at Fahlgren Mortine, a communications and creative services agency with 10 offices in the U.S. and affiliate relationships overseas. Julie leads Fahlgren Mortine’s international strategy, connecting agency teams with the appropriate partners from around the globe. She is Chair of the Board for the Columbus Council on World Affairs and Americas President for IPREX.
she can be reached via [email protected]