Stop, collaborate and listen. Did you know that Robert Van Winkle actually wrote those lyrics while sat in an international all-agency PR meeting?

I know it’s hard to believe but it’s the only way I can explain what inspired him. Having recently hosted such a meeting (we call them Summits) with our EMEA-wide client, Eaton, I can only agree with the artist formerly known as Vanilla Ice.

Those three words are the core pillars of building a collaborative international communications programme, capable of delivering consistency, insight and, ultimately, business value. But it is easy to forget in the rush of the day-to-day. That’s why we’re now insisting on running Summits annually for our largest clients, an investment which delivers huge value.

However, I do think Mr Ice purposefully messed with the order of the words to make his rhyme sound better. Here’s how I imagine it was originally written down…

Stop

It’s one of the first 20 words which we learn as children and yet the older we get, the harder it becomes. As comms-folk we too rarely take the chance to purposefully pause and view things objectively. I know we think we do in weekly meetings, client updates and quarterly reviews, but I would venture these scenarios are really just a continuation of a discussion already in progress, rarely genuinely new endeavours.

To gain real value, the “Stop” must be a switch to something completely different to the norm. In the case of all-agency Summits this means getting everyone together in one place with the client. Don’t get me wrong, video conference has fundamentally change the way we do business, but removing all distractions and focusing the attention of 20+ people at once can only be done in one way.

Yes the travel costs money, yes two days out of the office has its own impact and yes, finding a date for everyone to get together can become a painful juggling act…but it is worth it, because harnessing the combined attention of an extremely talented bunch means you can achieve incredible things in a short space of time.

Listen

We talk to our teams all the time about the value of active listening. Curiosity is the key to building lasting relationships with clients and if you don’t listen to the answer, then you may as well not have bothered. But how often do you apply this when talking amongst agency teams? The answer is, not enough. These relationships must be nurtured just as much as those with the clients themselves if we’re to develop trusted networks which deliver great work.

At the Eaton Summit, we started the day by simply listening to each country talking about their proudest moments from the past year. What inspired them, how it came together, what challenges were overcome and how it could be made even better.

As you can imagine, with 16 countries in the room this took quite a while but looking around the room at everyone furiously taking notes, the shared value was quite obvious. New story angles, a gem of a spokesperson, a forthcoming product not yet launched in your market or a clever campaign mechanism…and that was just from the first four country representatives!

Collaborate

For decades the industry was sold International Coordination to clients with a multi-country brief. It implied a “one-team” approach where vast numbers of nationalities would work together, hand-in-hand like some sort of Eurovision Song Content after-party, where the outputs would be award-winning international campaigns. In reality, they got a poorly formatted monthly coverage report and a frustrating weekly call during which of the 12 of the 30 minutes were taken up with a roll call followed by multiple requests for various people to put themselves on mute. Coordinated? Barely.

So can we agree that rather than call it ‘International Coordination’, lets shoot for ‘International Collaboration’ instead? It should, by default, be coordinated, but it must also provide the value of two-way collaboration which clients rightly expect: diverse views and insights, empowerment to say no and a platform for consistent delivery…now, whether clients are prepared to pay for this is the theme of another blog to follow shortly I feel!

I won’t say that we have reached some sort of perfect nirvana when it comes to working with agency colleagues and partners from around the world because, in truth, it is something we’re continually looking to evolve and improve. But from the evidence of the recent Summit, where we spent that best part of four hours workshopping new campaigns and providing feedback on ideas, we’re taking a big step in the right direction. There is no way we could have produced campaign ideas and got total buy-in without having everyone together at the Summit like that.

Don’t view multi-country meetings as a cost, seem them as an investment from which substantial returns can be reaped.

So there you have it, Vanilla Ice: lyrical genius, accidental PR expert. If you want more from your agency network, or simply want to discuss how we can apply other rap lyrics to best practice frameworks, drop me a line.

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