Guest Post: PR in the U.S. is as Heterogeneous as Europe
A Guest Post By Richard Fogg, Managing Director of CCgroup.
As someone who’s seen Deirdre on stage in London, I know that her appeal and reach is truly international. So I know that I’m speaking to both large U.S. and European audiences in this post. Which means I should be careful about how I phrase aspects of this article. But I’ve decided against that… I’m just going to be honest.
British and European PR agencies have long bemoaned the geographical ignorance of some U.S. marketing directors. Europe is not a single, homogenous entity – as presumed by some U.S. clients – it’s a complex, multi-faceted continent. Due to the enormous differences between European countries – cultural, linguistic and political – a singular, homogenous approach to PR is doomed from the off.
I thought that might be an old fashioned view, but it’s not. Many London-based PRs still feel that some of our U.S. paymasters just don’t understand the impact of regional idiosyncrasies on PR practice in Europe.
But let’s flip that around. What about our own geographical ignorance? Do Europeans understand the impact of regional differences in U.S. PR practice? No! Not in the slightest!
Save stereotypes about West Coasters being more internationally-minded and Southerners taking a more relaxed approach, the European PR folk I’ve spoken to tend to view the U.S. as a completely homogenous communications environment.
Having chatted to a few of our U.S. agency partners, it became clear that there was a lot for Europeans to learn about how PR differs between U.S. regions, but there were no assets out there to help people. So, we asked agencies from nine different U.S. regions to help create a resource that could help international marketers in considering their approach to North American PR.
The results were fascinating. We discovered some real cultural differences and some clear similarities in basic PR practice between U.S. regions. The full findings are on our ‘U.S. Transcreation’ project website. We investigated 10 areas of interest – mainly focused on media relations (a sensible place to start). Four themes really stood out:
Us Brits have the most cynical press in the world – it’s a source of national pride amongst the PR fraternity. But our grizzled hacks seem to have more than met their match in New England. The local experts we spoke to described New England reporters as ‘distrustful of PR efforts’ and ‘bordering on cranky’.
Thankfully, PR people and spokespeople can expect to experience a more respectful and curious class of reporter in the East South Central region (including states like Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee). Cynicism differs vastly between regions.
Particularly interesting was the way in which typical media personalities match familiar stereotypes:
- In New York reporters are in a hurry
- On the West Coast journalists take a more global view
- In the South Atlantic region (including Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C., and West Virginia) media are more laid back – considerably more open to ideas and PR pitches
The Rules: Media Hospitality
In Europe – especially the UK – media and influencer hospitality is the norm. So I was very surprised to learn that, in some areas of the U.S., media hospitality is in terminal decline.
In the West South Central region (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) the shift is at its most extreme. Here, reporters reject the majority of hospitality invitations – they don’t want to be seen to be ‘influencable’. Entertainment is not the norm.
In two thirds of U.S. regions, reporters insist on paying for their own subsistence. That’s very different from what we experience in Europe. Today, hospitality only seems acceptable and common in the Pacific, East South Central and South Atlantic regions.
It’s the curious localised habits and behaviours that really intrigued me. Here are three glorious nuggets:
In the South Atlantic region, reporters are very sensitive to PR and spokesperson manners. It is considered impolite to be pushy or aggressive in pitching. You should expect to work on ‘Southern Time’ – a concept which demands patience, especially when working with ‘hard’ news.
In New York, we were told that it’s not unusual for reporters – in mid-interview – to suddenly pick up their devices and start checking emails, social feeds etc. Apparently, they are listening.
In West North Central (which includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) everything is about the local story. Journalists need super-local content or a story – no matter how strong – will not make the cut.
What makes news?
Journalists across most U.S. regions demand strong local angles for almost all content. To a more European audience, this seems quite parochial – but they need to know how it affects their readers, and many U.S. reporters will avoid pitches and companies that fail to localise their stories.
Only in major cities do national and international stories gain traction.
Europe and U.S. PR practice. Not so different after all?
From an outsider’s perspective, U.S. regions can seem remarkably similar. There aren’t really the pronounced differences we have in Europe, but that’s not to say they’re not there. Marketers who ignore these idiosyncrasies risk failing in their efforts to communicate their messages to regional U.S. audiences. We’re hopeful that the project we’ve undertaken will help marketers understand what they’re up against and seek local counsel.
One major surprise of this project is the amount of attention we’ve received, without any real backlash. I can’t believe we’ve got everything right, so we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Richard Fogg is Managing Director of London PR agency CCgroup.