Letter from London
by J. Scott Punk, APR, MCIPR
As Director of Global Brand Management at ESI International, Scott is responsible for ESI's worldwide media relations program as well as a helping the company unify its brand platform and messages.
It takes patience to adapt to a culture that is deceptively similar to that of the US while sorting out the essential differences. That could apply to almost any new situation, but for someone from the State's 24-7- always-on tempo, the UK's more measured pace has the potential for missteps. It is not that there isn't a sense of urgency, rather that there is a respect for balance. And, although not every project is all consuming all the time, deadlines are never missed and quality is never compromised.
Perhaps the most unexpected surprise is vocabulary. A small thing perhaps, but the differences can be confusing, consultancy vs agency, diary vs calendar and details vs contact information to name a few. Accept that conversation may be a little vexing at first. Other key points about office life include understanding that there's a greater sense of deference, don't be taken aback if a manager wants to run something by a supervisor before working with you. Also, when it comes to change, be clear about the business case, change will be embraced if it's well thought out, but will not be embraced for the sake of change in the way it often is in the States.
In many ways, these differences apply to working with journalists as well. The more measured pace means they are much easier to get on the phone and, especially with the vertical trade press, seem to prefer a good first phone conversation to an email pitch. You can take them to lunch or buy them a pint. That said, journalists in the UK prefer to work with long established sources and getting them to accept new sources takes patience. However, like most media outlets around the world, the economic stress of smaller staff is helping to create more opportunities for sources – especially those willing to contribute bylines.
Although you may have decades of stellar credentials in the US, delivering strong results and leading effectively will go much further toward establishing your credibility. The CIPR's website, TV channel and LinkedIn group are great sources for getting settled into the PR profession in the UK. Joining and volunteering can help you see PR from a UK perspective, grow your network of colleagues and friends – and, when needed, get some English to American translation help.
After more than 25 years as a PRO, mostly in consultancy and NGO work in the US, with a little university teaching thrown in, moving to corporate as a global PR director based in London has proven to be one of the most professionally and personally enriching experiences of my life.