Cracking the Code on Global Brand PR

Written By Lisa Gibbons, Senior Director, Corporate and Government Affairs — Latin America, Mondelēz International
Edited By Christiana Stewart, Medill IMC Class Of 2015

Published on 10/21/2015


Since its founding by the great Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays, the public relations (PR) field has reinvented itself to adapt to an ever-evolving media landscape. A walk through history reveals how game-changing mediums like television, email, the Internet and social media have shaped the field. But beyond the channels, another phenomenon is influencing the PR arena: globalization.

Working at a company that was becoming increasingly global, in 2011 I founded a concept called the Global Brand PR Council at Kraft Foods. The council’s aim was to turn major global brand milestones into big wins for the company. While local brand PR was a key part of marketing strategies around the world, never before had the company tackled global brand PR. And the opportunity was ripe — as two iconic consumer brands were about to cross significant thresholds: Tang surpassing the $1 billion revenue mark and Oreo celebrating its 100th birthday (both brands that are now part of Mondelēz International’s portfolio after the company split in 2012).

Through these experiences, I learned that global brand PR requires a unique recipe with five steps.

STEP 1: Dream Big to Go Global

We had to dream big to achieve big results and engage a large team behind a single global effort that was “on top of their day jobs.” We created measurable goals to paint a clear picture of success. In the case of the Oreo 100th birthday, we set our sights on 1 billion media impressions and the engagement of 24 markets. The Oreo 100th birthday far exceeded our wildest expectations with more than 3 billion media impressions, 6,800 media placements and 175 birthday celebrations across 38 countries with consumers and nearly 30,000 of our employees. By aiming high globally, each market followed suit making the Oreo 100th birthday one of the — if not the — most successful global brand PR efforts on record.

STEP 2: Build a Global Team, Replicate Locally

An African proverb wisely submits, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” A challenge in any large, global company is to move with speed. It can be tempting to “go it alone,” but forging a truly integrated, cross-functional global team is a critical success factor — and then you can replicate that same structure locally.

In the example of Tang, our partnership with marketing globally and locally was instrumental because marketing was the keeper of the brand equity and the budget. Tight collaboration with marketers gave us the business support we needed globally, along with some funds to execute local events. For the Oreo 100th birthday, which benefited greatly from our lessons learned on Tang, we broadened the team to include archives, facilities, creative services and information systems. Aligning cross-functionally required extra effort upfront, but the results speak for themselves.

How do you celebrate the 100th birthday of Oreo in China where consumers have known the brand for less than a decade? Cultural differences can become a barrier to a global effort. But only if you let them.

STEP 3: Maximize Global Relevance
Figure 1
Figure 1

We found that the key to overcoming this challenge was developing multiple story angles. For instance, in the U.S., NPR covered how Oreo exotic flavors, such as green tea in China, propelled the global expansion of a U.S.-born brand. A recipe strategy for Oreo cake pops in honor of the brand’s centennial celebration in Canada where Oreo has been in pantries for years became a viable consumer angle. In Asia Pacific, Businessweek was keen to cover the brand’s explosion in emerging markets.

Multiple story angles — the brand’s growth, the launch of a new marketing campaign, the rollout of commemorative products (such as Oreo 100th Birthday Cake Cookies), recipes, trend reports and surveys, the brand’s history and local events — enabled the story to powerfully cut across geographic and cultural borders. Different angles also provided multiple “bites of the apple” by creating relevant pitches for business press, consumer outlets and social media.

Figure 2
Figure 2
STEP 4: Think Globally, Act Locally

Multiple angles are effective in driving a drumbeat of coverage, but they can lead to fragmented messaging and execution if not carefully managed. To create global consistency, while accommodating local market nuances, we developed a global plan and corresponding playbook.

The playbook became each program’s “bible.” It established a common global thematic. For Oreo, we adopted “Oreo 100th Birthday: Celebrate the Kid Inside” (Figure 1) and for Tang we embraced “Rocketing Past $1 Billion” — a nod to the brand’s iconic heritage with the U.S. space program (Figure 2).

The global playbook provided artwork that drove consistent look and feel, while enabling local teams to translate and adapt the messaging. We included a global menu of options for execution, which gave markets choice within a global framework. One chapter featured talking points, fact sheets, media “save the dates” and pitches for each story angle to drive a consistent message around the world. And in the case of Oreo, we created an online centralized media hub where journalists could find video, product images, logos and other information. This lightened the workload when it came to responding to media requests, while ensuring consistency.

STEP 5: Measure & Celebrate

If it’s not worth measuring, it’s not worth doing.

Tang was our pilot for the Global Brand PR Council and was delivered with next to no global budget. To celebrate the tremendous teamwork it took to make the global vision a reality, we recapped the results around the world and shared them with senior management. Showcasing the sheer scope of this massive global effort not only recognized those who contributed from Mexico to the Middle East, it created the business case that inspired the global biscuit category team to invest in global PR for the Oreo 100th birthday.

Pulling off a global brand PR effort takes an army. And a little recognition goes a long way. After all, you never know when you’ll need to recruit a team for your next global brand PR opportunity. [END]


lisa (1) Lisa Gibbons is the senior director, corporate and government affairs — Latin America for Mondelēz International, a Fortune 500 global snacking company headquartered in Deerfield, Ill. Prior to her current role, she worked at Kraft Foods as the director of corporate affairs in the fast-growing $26 billion developing markets business. There she founded and led the company’s global brand public relations council that drove the Oreo 100th birthday campaign — the largest global public relations campaign on record.
DSC_7490* Christiana Stewart worked as an event manager for a sports marketing agency in Chicago. She traveled the United States managing consumer events for clients such as Cadillac, GMC and Buick. She received her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School.

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