Making PR conference calls more collaborative

While many things have changed during the 20 years I have worked in B2B and technology PR agencies, some have resolutely stayed the same; one of those has to be the joy of multi-country PR conference calls. Often resembling something closer to collecting the country scores on the Eurovision Song Contest than a PR planning exercise, these calls can be as entertaining as they are useful.

With Germany outlining their highly structured methodology for creating verticalised content, against the British pride in their ‘strategic approach’ and France’s full and frank reluctance to sell what it has achieved to the clients, like Eurovision these PR calls often highlight just how varied business cultures are across Europe, and beyond.

Calls such as this can be a great way of aligning PR activities across a wide region and numerous PR players, but a combination of bad lines, language misunderstandings and cultural differences can also make them an exercise in time-wasting. So, we thought we’d highlight some of the challenges we’ve found as a party on these calls and also some of the tips for success that we’ve picked up from our clients too.

In terms of challenges, one of the key areas has to be mis-communication. Despite having a clear agenda, countries interpret what’s required of them in different ways. Some share little with their counterparts, others share too much; some prove too tactical while others contribute too much that’s irrelevant. There’s a tendency for the participating countries to treat these calls as an extended client update, rather than the pooling of ideas across a wider network of PR people.

To overcome this mis-communication challenge it’s important to have a very simple and clear agenda, and for the leader of the call to make it clear what’s expected of each party ahead of the call. It’s also necessary for the call to be well fielded, as the opportunity to veer off the agenda can be significant.

I am sure PR conference calls are here to stay for a long time yet, so here are a dozen key hints and tips for ensuring they’re more PR vision than Eurovision.

Keeping your multi-country PR calls on track:

  1. As the client, be there to facilitate rather than control. Getting your PR agencies talking to one another (as long as you’re in the loop) can add huge value to your PR programme and the results that are achieved.
  2. Communicate and follow a clear agenda giving participants plenty of time to prepare so that the call content is rich and useful.
  3. Ask participants to prepare specific contributions that you as call leader can check beforehand.
  4. Be ready to field the call very closely, both to keep it on track but also to facilitate cross-agency communication. There’ll always be a tendency for agency representatives to talk to the client rather than other countries.
  5. Ask all participants to find one thing from the call that they are going to add to their programme that another territory has achieved success with.
  6. Avoid the call being one way – what have you as the client got to give the agencies in terms of updates? Are there experts and spokespeople who could join the call and present on a new topic or product?
  7. Make your communication more collaborative – would using a collaboration platform help with pre- and post-call sharing and ongoing cross communication between agencies?
  8. Don’t seek to pit agencies against each other in terms of success. While you may want to encourage some healthy competition a blame culture is not healthy and will not lead to collaboration.
  9. Respect cultural differences. Not only will country representatives behave differently on the call, the way they deliver PR in their territories will also differ due to the way business is run there.
  10. Build in face to face communication too. We know budgets are sometimes tight but there are some great benefits in getting your country PR and agency reps together in person. The level of value achieved from your PR programme should multiply as a result.
  11. Keep a list of countries on the call so that you can ensure everyone is encouraged to participate and comment – and make sure you ask all of them for an update!
  12. In Europe, don’t ever hold a call in August – too many holidays!

Rob Skinner is Skout’s MD and before he started attending PR conference calls he had a full head of hair.

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