INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MEDIA: Balancing global and local - International media brands have to walk a tightrope between their global and local coverage, Robert Gray reports

While many major multinational corporations have had to pursue a

"think global, act local" strategy in order to connect with different

international markets, the owners of leading international media brands

have also had to spend a lot of time and effort balancing the

global-local equation. Multinational values and distribution have to be

tempered by relevance at a local level and sensitivity to the needs of

an audience in a particular region. It can be a difficult balancing act

to pull off.



"We have been completely convinced by the global nature of the business

news story for more than ten years," Dick Tofel, the assistant to the

publisher of The Wall Street Journal, says. "But we also have an old

saying in America: 'where you stand depends on where you sit.' That's

true for readers as well."



The WSJ makes use of its parent company Dow Jones' news network of more

than 1,600 editors and reporters, which is claimed to be the largest

network of business journalists in the world but, on the other hand, it

has US, Asian and European versions of the newspaper. Decisions on

content for each version of the WSJ are taken by editors on the ground,

in order, Tofel says, to avoid a "formulaic approach to

globalisation".



Bloomberg, the financial TV channel, thinks it is important to localise

further. It broadcasts in seven languages, five of which are available

in Europe: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.



"We believe that in order to be a successful pan-European broadcaster

you need to broadcast in the local language and tailor content," Trevor

Fellows, the head of media sales at Bloomberg, says. "All of our

channels are editorially separate. We know from our research that if you

are German you don't want to watch your news programming in

English."



Fellows says he is increasingly seeing business advertisers supplying

versions of commercials in different languages, rather than a single

English-language execution, in order to appear relevant and communicate

effectively across Europe.



Jonathan Howlett, the director of airtime sales at BBC World, the

commercial channel that is distributed globally by cable and satellite,

agrees that advertisers are looking at country-specific advertising and

choosing which "feeds" to take. However, he feels that too much

localisation may be a bad thing.



The BBC World view is that its target audience is a "corporate nation"

comprising people with an international perspective.



Given that these mainly "upscale" people have similar views, it should

be possible to produce programming that, although it is aired worldwide,

still reflects the concerns and interests of this audience.

"International businessmen tend to have more in common with groups of

similar people in other countries than they do with different sorts of

people in their own country," Howlett says.



For the most part, BBC World's programming remains consistent the world

over, although there are some concessions to local markets. Last year

saw the launch of Asia Business Report, shown in the mornings in Asia,

which is not transmitted in Europe - mainly because the business

audience there would be likely to be asleep at the time. India is the

main exception to BBC World's policy of broad content consistency in

that there is a greater element of lifestyle programming.



"It is a fine balancing act but the channel has not rushed into just

producing local programmes," Howlett says. "If you want local news you

will go to the local news channel. There is genuine demand for a real

international perspective."



CNN, the 21-year-old news channel, now has more than 30 brand extensions

worldwide on TV, the internet, radio and mobile services. In 1997 it

began to regionalise its TV output and now has six separately scheduled

English language TV stations serving different regions of the world. In

addition, it has introduced local language television services in

Spanish, Turkish and German. There are also six local language news

websites, with a seventh - CNNArabic.com - due to launch next year.



"Regionalisation allows us to give advertisers a two-pronged solution,"

Kevin Razvi, the executive vice-president of Turner Broadcasting System

International, says. Advertisers can go for the pan-regional or the more

local services - or combine the two and maximise their reach through

CNN.



It is often difficult for advertisers and media buyers to get a firm

handle on international media. As Hans Germeraad, The Media Edge's chief

executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, puts it, the

increasing localisation of content and advertising opportunities, aided

by developing technology, means that national planning and international

planning should be combined.



"There's a danger that if you are an international player and tip the

balance in favour of being too localised, you end up going head to head

with the indigenous players," Mark Proudfoot, MindShare's managing

partner, says. "But the danger with a pan-European channel trying to

appeal to everyone is that it becomes anodyne." An attempt to avoid the

anodyne was a factor behind the summer relaunch by Time Inc of its

Asiaweek title. Time has put greater emphasis on lifestyle coverage in a

bid to make it appear more of a fun read.



The supra-national business media brands face competition from both

national and international rivals in every country. Their core audience

of business people is busy and often overwhelmed with information.

Consequently, being a must-see product presents an ever more daunting

challenge.