Executive Urges Research, Humor to Sell an Image
Do your homework, know your audience and don’t take yourself too seriously.
When Philip Caudill follows the formula, he’s not preparing a dinner speech. He’s handling the intricate relations between Phillips Petroleum Co. and foreign countries.
Caudill says the seven years he spent in London as head of public relations for Phillips in Europe and Africa taught him the rights and wrongs of selling an American company’s image overseas.
“It doesn’t work to take American PR (public relations) programs with American perspectives into another country,” Caudill said.
“You can’t just walk in and say, ‘Hi, let’s do business.’ You’ve got to be careful you don’t make social errors.”
Caudill, now is head of advertising and business promotions for Phillips at its headquarters in Bartlesville, Okla. In an interview he said American companies are awakening to the importance of studying foreign cultures and using that information to tailor their public relations campaigns.
“This is really unfolding in international PR,” he said. “The trend is really common sense.”
Companies spend millions of dollars marketing their products, but when it comes to selling their companies’ images overseas, executives “often fail to take the most important step of all--the step of research.”
“They fail to ask the target audience what it feels,” Caudill said. “We (executives) simply assume they are interested.”
He said many PR executives now are using attitude surveys and “focus-group” interviews and are analyzing patterns of buying, voting and income distribution “to try to understand the people we’re dealing with.”
Research helped Caudill learn that residents of European countries prefer being addressed as French, German, Spanish, etc.--instead of as Europeans.
“There is indeed a Europe but there are very few Europeans,” he said. “It could be catastrophic . . . for an American business person to approach the European Continent as if it were all the same.”
Another lesson Caudill learned is that humor is a great communicator.
“It is possible, in fact desirable in many instances, to try to use humor to convey information,” he said. “So many of us, in any business, take ourselves too seriously.”
Caudill dreamed up “License to Drill,” a documentary on Phillips’ exploration operations in the North Sea that is disguised as a comedy fashioned after a hit British Broadcasting Corp. situation comedy.
“We kid ourselves as the oil industry in this film,” Caudill said, but the “radical approach” of the film, which is offered free to British schools and other organizations, has proved very successful in getting Phillips’ point across, he said.