With the simplicity of and success from digital communication and collaboration – as made apparent by the pandemic – it can feel like location doesn’t matter anymore. When we look at some of the biggest players in PR, though, we see a category of companies from across the pond that have taken their stake stateside, and have been doing so far before zoom (temporarily) replaced physical offices. We spoke with the teams at six international agencies to hear their perspectives on the nuances of having a company with a large presence in multiple countries, plus the key cultural differences they notice between work in the UK and the US.
SMI partnered with Glossier to strategically plan and execute the brand’s successful entry into the UK market & to ensure its continued success in the global beauty market.
The name ScienceMagic.Inc may be new on the PR scene (the company was founded in 2020), but the team formerly known as The Communications Store are anything but novices. The company builds brands and businesses, partnering with said brands and world-class talent to define and articulate their purpose, develop their commercial strategies and build their digital interfaces. They’re driven by the power of community, content and commerce to build the next generation of direct-to-consumer businesses.
Key clients: Allbirds, Versace, The Crown Estate, Glossier
“As SMI grows globally, having a presence in the US and UK markets has been key to our strategic growth and our client services. Our headquarters are in London and we are able to draw on global skills which are geographically present in either market as well as local knowledge in both territories. We also have a strategy team, powered by data science that works on a global basis with some of the world’s best brands and businesses defining their global plans. From an internal perspective our presence in two markets as well as having wider global knowledge has provided team members with a rich, broad understanding of the global consumer landscape.
The cultures of the two countries, in spite of a common language, are different, some of these differences are obvious, some less so. The self-deprecation of the Brits is a well-understood behaviour in the UK, the straight-talking US approach is hugely refreshing and to the point. It is wonderful that these cultural differences exist, they make our company more interesting, our talent more valuable and our understanding of different consumer landscapes brings with it huge opportunity.”
The West Hollywood EDITION
Lifestyle communications agency Purple is well known for providing a range of services to major lifestyle clients all over the world. With five offices total, the company has a presence in New York, LA, London, Hong Kong and Miami (the latest outpost), the culturally-connected team aligns business ambition and cultural energy for commercial success.
Key clients: Edition Hotels, Freehand Hotels, Technogym, The Webster, Golden Goose, Bally, Messika, Faberge, Dr Jart +, Dsquared2, Yoox Net-a-porter, LaQuan Smith, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Cire Trudon, Noble Panacea, Smashbox, Revive, Kevin Murphy
“We actually have five offices - three being in the US and then two further in the UK and Hong Kong - each with a unique standing of having a deep insight within each market, as well as the ability to think globally, collaboratively as well as locally.
We have always worked as an international office, even before opening the first US office in NY 7 years ago, but I would say that we have a deeply rooted European/UK sensibility and creativity. One of the biggest positives with the American offices and teams is their willingness to always go the extra mile and a drive and competitiveness that isn’t as present in Europe.
Additionally due to the vastness of the US landscape, we have decided to have a physical presence in NY, LA and Miami as to better serve the local and national media, VIP and influencer services. As a company overall we always want to deliver optimum results with the mindset of 'can do' and finding creative solutions to overcoming any hurdles and roadblocks.”
Tiffany & Co.
Mission is a communications company born out of PR and experiential, and now heavily involved in social and influencer marketing. Mission has always believed the best way for brands to connect with someone is through their culture, which rings true today more than ever.
Key clients: Past and current clients include Netflix, Moet Hennessy, Swarovski, Unilever, Dermalogica, Breville, Nestlé Waters, Amazon, Tiffany & Co, Estée Lauder, Abbvie
“Having offices in three locations (NYC, LA, and London) with different time zones means we are ideally situated to be truly 'always on.’ We’re able to service clients on a global scale, and it brings flexibility for work to continue around the clock making sure deadlines are always met.
Our bi-continental presence also fosters a brilliant mix of employees from different cultures and backgrounds - bringing varied knowledge and perspective to our creative ideas and the workplace. We encourage strong connections between the agencies and often share work and collaborate. Additionally, from a client point of view, we’ve successfully helped brand launches, such as Equinox and J.Crew, into either US and UK local markets, as we are fully equipped to strategically support brands by leveraging our expertise in each region.
People often reference stereotypical differences such as the UK having more tea breaks and the US taking less holiday - which tends to infer a more dedicated US approach and more sociable UK workforce. But overall, both of our offices have an incredibly strong work ethic and there definitely is a mutual ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude!”
The William Vale
Bacchus is a British-born creative communications and brand development agency founded over two decades ago by Anouschka Menzies and Charlotte Lurot. The team devises global strategies and campaigns for a diverse range of clients across hospitality, travel, design, beauty & wellness, fashion, consumer brands and music and film.
Key clients (run by Bacchus NY team): The William Vale, Dive Palm Springs, Habitas, EVOK Hotels, Time Out Market NY, Chef Manu Buffara, RUMOR Rosé, Champalimaud Design, ZZ Driggs, THE WELL, Piglet, Clive Christian
“The New York minute exists! Although the pace in London is quick, NY takes it to a new level of haste. ‘Urgent’ in NY probably means they needed it a minute ago, not by end of day. I do think the speed of interactions is dictated by people’s directness in the US vs in the UK too. So, to truly succeed in the media world - particularly in NY where time is of the essence - it is crucial to be sharp and clear on what you seek or key opportunities could be missed.
Another consideration not to be ignored is the sheer scale and variety of the US vs the UK - after all, the US is approx. 40 times bigger (than the UK). With this in mind, if you are pitching media in the US you must consider the audience you wish to target - is the idea relevant to that state? Does the price point make sense? If it’s a travel idea, can you easily access it from that state? Is it the right season in the year? etc. With the UK being much smaller in comparison geographically, an idea is often more translatable across the different regions than it would be in the US. In current pandemic times where restrictions vary between the UK and US, it is imperative to keep up with the news on both sides of the pond to ensure you are not appearing 'tone-deaf' to either market.
It may not seem obvious but one aspect to account for between the UK and US is actually the language. Whilst English is our common language, there are definitely small tweaks to spellings and use of certain working terms that need to be made when communicating clearly with media/clients/consumers between the two markets.
On the flip side for us at Bacchus, the beauty of having our offices in both NY and London is that we can come together consistently as one team (made even easier these days by Zoom!) to share ideas that perhaps haven’t yet been brought to life in our respective markets. Creativity is at the heart of our agency and through our diverse team, there is always a chance to gain fresh perspective.”
SEEN is a world-class collective of beauty experts executing strategy, creative and communications through two divisions. Beauty SEEN, founded in 2007, brings brand stories to life for press, influencers and direct-to-consumer activations. The team is known for both the depth of their beauty industry knowledge and the standard of their immaculate events. SEEN Works is a team of creative thinkers focused on everything from strategy and analytics to vision and design as well as content and brand experience.
Key clients: Tatcha, Westman Atelier, Ulta Beauty, SHEN, Garnier, Dove, Fenty, Vaseline, Eau Thermale Avene, Pai Skincare, Selfridge’s, Flannels, Isle of Paradise, frank body, Klorane, Rene Furterer, MONDAY Haircare, Omorovizca, Aromatherapy Associates
“Overall, one of the biggest nuances is the differences in overall market approach and trends across both category and cultures. As a global agency, we have a deep understanding of both the UK and the US markets which ignites creativity and unlocks loads of insights to inspire the team and drive forward brilliant ideas. We are able to push the boundaries because we have talent that is diverse and our perspectives are varied – we don’t only have our pulse on one siloed arena. The key is to take a step back and sense check each other: if something works in the US, we would always consult our UK team or contacts in different markets to ensure that we are translating the idea to feel authentic to that market.
This also applies to how we pitch our brands and speak to our media contacts. Even if we are approaching the same topic of trend for a story, we need to adjust the context for each market to ensure its relevant and resonates to land the headline and drive the key messaging for each market. With such a large presence in both markets, it fuels tremendous value for our global clients who are able to come to us to service multiple markets with seamless communications and translation of overall ideas and larger vision.”
A specially built installation, designed to reference audio spectrograms, presented attending guests an opportunity to get up close and hear the product for the first time after the on stage reveal (Sonos One)
Fun fact: Exposure and Seen (as well as Threesixty and The Supermarket) are part of recently-rebranded Casbah Group. With offices in London, New York, Paris and Tokyo, Exposure is a global network building brands with cultural resonance. The team focuses on producing work that links strategic creativity, engaging content and multi-channel communications.
Key clients: Sonos, Adidas, Jose Cuervo, Baxter, Uniqlo, Dr. Martens, Herschel, Kith, Polaroid
“The key to our international expansion strategy was to follow three principles: setting a maximum budget we could invest and sticking to it; a pillar client on board at launch; and one key agency lead to own the new office. Each of these factors needs adjusting based on the office so what we did in New York versus Tokyo or Paris was different. As an example, our lead client in New York (Dr. Martens) which opened in 2005 was already an existing client of ours in London. In Paris we secured a new, local client (Evian/Danone) delivered by our French agency lead in 2018. In Tokyo, we partnered with the Japanese distributor of Globe-Trotter who then became our first client in 2008.
The time-zones are valuable when running campaigns across different offices. Our creative, strategy and digital studios can all optimise their hours dedicated to any project by integrating their teams between different offices. This gives clients speed, agility and a global view on their brand. On the other hand, one has to be disciplined with time management to avoid being constantly on call between different offices. This is managed through a mentoring system within and between each office so people can work flexible hours depending on which office they are aligned to.
Recruitment has been a challenge in the early stages of opening an office. Our success and best results have come from home-grown talent being offered the opportunity to work between offices and/or relocate full time and lead the new agency. That has assured the culture and personality of our agency brands (Exposure, Seen Group, Threesixty and The Supermarket) is consistent and every office reflects our founding values.
There’s a sense amongst agencies that if you have a successful business in London, the transition to New York is relatively easy. I don’t agree with that. Apart from a common language (almost!!) there are so many cultural differences it’s easy to make mistakes – and in the US, mistakes are much more costly than in the UK.
Yes, having a client ready to support you and sending someone from the HQ to the new office makes sense, but networking your way into a new city or understanding how different cultures approach salaries, HR and recruitment as well as understanding the fundamental differences between how individuals conduct business in the UK & US is critical. Americans are openly proud and ambitious and talk with enthusiasm about scale, success and making money. Their British counterparts are more low key (almost apologetic) and use diplomacy more than directness.
Client structures are often significantly different between these two markets. There may be a lead office (Levi’s in SF, Uniqlo in Tokyo or Dr. Martens in London) that sets the strategy for the rest of the world. On the other hand, a more decentralised brand structure may run one market completely differently to another territory. That could be defined by distribution approach (agent network, distributors, or fully-owned brand office), retail strategy (online, third party, wholesale, direct to consumer, etc) as well as cultural differences such as work hours, social lives (people eat out much more in NYC) and mobility: It’s hard to find a 100% New Yorker in New York!!
We have a lot of clients across multiple offices but the approach is different and one size does not fit all. Being flexible, understanding local cultural nuances and being a great listener are important to avoid conflict since brand teams in different regions are not always integrated or rewarded by the same criteria.
Finally, we are a diverse and multicultural group so we found adjusting to other markets relatively easy and have been much more active in ensuring our agencies and the people we employ are creatively-driven, eclectic thinkers and culturally connected.”