Why So Many Media Companies Stumble Globally

Success Requires Perfect Alchemy of Local Appeal and International Reach

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- There are plenty of global conglomerates in industries from finance to pharmaceuticals to, of course, advertising. But running a global news business requires a tricky combination of international brand appeal, regional relevance and subject expertise that both travels and translates.

How to be a global media brand

Here are some tips from Gregg Lipman, managing partner at CBX Strategic Branding:

  • Focus on one area of interest and do it well, such as news, celebrity, music or business.
  • Have a brand name with international, general appeal.
  • Know your audience and cater to that specific, potentially regional audience.
  • If you want to branch out beyond your core offering, consider partnering with another credible source, as CNN and Sports Illustrated do.
  • Don't bring an agenda; stay neutral to be considered credible.
  • The few news brands that have succeeded, to greater or lesser degrees, arguably include CNN, Bloomberg, People, Thomson Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Financial Times and The Economist.

    Other contenders are the Associated Press, the BBC, ABC, NBC, maybe CBS, National Public Radio, News Corp. and the top U.K. dailies, said Ken Doctor, the newspaper veteran who's now an analyst at Outsell. "If a news-media organization sees itself as covering the wider world, sees it as its foundation, that in and of itself differentiates it from all the local media -- newspapers, TV, radio -- out there," he said. "If, in addition, it has substantial reporting and editing resources, then it can play. The tough part is the part we're in: Who wins the race to ubiquity and can make it pay off?"

    Those that do tend to transcend corporate, political and local agendas; cover locally but market regionally; stick with marketing their media brand for the long term and devote enough financial resource to fund a strong sales force and newsgathering team.

    One important factor is to have enough flexibility to be interpreted appropriately in each market, said Charlene Solomon and Michael Schell, authors of "Managing Across Cultures: The Seven Keys to Doing Business With a Global Mind-Set."

    "One of the reasons there are so few global media outlets is because typically media is developed for local tastes," the co-authors wrote in a joint e-mail.

    'Conflicting agendas'
    Further hampering media from becoming truly global, according to Eric Zeitoun, president at international brand consultancy Dragon Rouge, are "conflicting agendas which limits their global reach and relevance." Fox News is limited by a politically partisan image, and CNN is similarly limited by a cultural perspective, he said. "CNN tries to be international media but comes across as being very American."

    Few media companies manage to transcend local or political agendas, Mr. Zeitoun said, and the ones that do live in niches such as fashion, lifestyle or leisure -- witness the international sprawl of Vogue, GQ and National Geographic. "This is probably due to the fact that these segments of the media are driven by fundamental human values -- aesthetics or curiosity -- that transcend culture and socioeconomics," he said. "In most cases, they cater to a local consumer target by adapting the news content by region while remaining the same editorial spirit."

    That's hard to do with news, which nobody wants to see bent too far for parochial reasons. The Financial Times puts different articles on the front page of each edition in the U.S., the U.K., continental Europe, Asia and, since last year, the Middle East. "It's important that you talk to the cultural differences," said Ben Hughes, global commercial director and deputy CEO at the FT. But some 70% to 80% of its content still runs across all editions, he said.

    Marketing a media brand requires a similar mix of consistency and specificity. The Economist has a global reach but takes a regional approach to marketing and thinking about consumers, said Paul Rossi, managing director of the Economist Group in the Americas. "In the U.K., our brand challenges are very different than they are in the U.S. One-size-fits-all doesn't work for us, because the brands are in different stages of development in those markets."

    Most media companies, though, don't think and act like brand marketers, said Susan Fournier, professor of marketing at Boston University's school of management. "Some media firms think about getting 'hits,' and hits are short-lived and temporally bound," she said. "Brands are for the long haul. It takes different talents to manage brands vs. fads -- and often the media companies just do not seem to hire in a focused way to develop these skills and sensibilities."

    Ad sale presents challenges too. Advertisers are increasingly looking for highly targeted ad buys and specifically tailored executions. There are still plenty of global advertisers seeking certain audiences wherever they are -- for instance, auto, financial, technology and luxury companies targeting well-heeled executives through business publications around the world. But it takes resources and time to help some of those marketers run different creative executions even when they make global buys.

    Despite the difficulties, there are new global news brands to come. The U.S. has gotten used to exporting its media, but the next big news brand could come from anywhere, said Tom Zara, executive director of strategy at Omnicom Group's Interbrand -- possibly China.

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