Lorenzo Grandi is the marketing & community manager at pr.co. His work is to help people get the most out of their PR efforts online.
Expanding your business to foreign countries is possibly one of the most challenging tasks an entrepreneur can face. There are so many things you have to take care of: new distributors, more legal requirements, different marketing channels and new competitors to monitor. But what’s your call on PR? Spokespeople are usually aware of how to manage public relations in their own country. However, when dealing with a foreign audience, many different factors can change the rules of the game. So where do you start from? Here are some tips to guide you through the process.
1. Focus your resources
Lots of companies claim to be global since day one. Even though this can be true for some businesses, resources are usually limited. Being in too many markets at the same time will eventually reduce your impact. Focus on a country where you can make a difference, rather than spreading your budget in too many places. Once everyone’s starting to talk about you and your presence, you can expand nearby.
2. Avoid a culture clash
Remember that every time you enter a new country, you are approaching a different culture. People may speak your language for the sake of business, but rest assured they live, speak and think in a different way. This affects your business, but also the way you communicate. What do you know about humor in this culture? How do they tell jokes or create metaphors? The naming of your product may sound like a bad word in another language, or piss someone off. Do your research and avoid potentially offending a culture even if though it may seem harmless in your eyes.
3. Get to know the market
Since the 80s, sales people started to sell using techniques to make you feel pain, an urgent need for something, or a feeling of being left out when you don’t have something. In a new market, these tactics may not apply. Have you considered that external influences could make this new market completely different? The translation and localization of you communication and marketing contents can’t be seen as an administrative task.
“The most important point, from a cross cultural perspective, is how to write in a way that engages the readers in that society or culture. Some cultures may prefer colourful and inspirational writing, others factual and objective. Some may be motivated by language that incorporates a religious or moral tone, others by a money-orientated or materialistic one.” Neil Payne
4. Create connections
The way public relations are handled in another country can vary greatly. Start checking the local PR scene to get hints about what’s different. Ask for estimates, meet people and ask questions. Can you rely on a freelance? Does it make sense to hire an agency? Or maybe in-house people is the way to go. Who’s going to take care of the PR strategy and how much do they know my industry? What KPIs are we using and why? The basic questions are still the same.
5. Be ready for the next crisis
The question here is not ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ Being prepared is crucial for any crisis scenario, but it can take longer to make it abroad. For instance, Europe and the US usually deal with crisis in a different way: while Americans may see some European statements as under-communication, European companies usually feel that measured responses are more appealing to their citizens. More examples: exclusives don’t work in Japan; you can’t avoid red envelopes in China; pitches are a delicate topic in Germany. There isn’t only one right way to prepare for a communication crisis, especially on a global scale.
6. Be transparent, when possible
Transparency is one of the most debated issues in the last few years. This involves your company, but also the market and the country you’re entering. What if your company does not want to share details with the media? This can be seen as an admission of guilt. You have to be aware of what goes on behind the scenes, because you may have to face a crisis sooner or later. Understand your problems and try to get the truth, or at least find a workaround.
“In the United States, a CEO may confide quickly in their PR departments, explaining the company’s problems candidly. Overseas, many executives might not talk about those problems with PR professionals, as Europeans aren’t used to having to defend themselves in their media. Research, therefore, will take more time and greater finesse than in the United States.” Bill Decker, Partners International
7. Make yourself relevant
Make sure to understand newsworthiness criteria in the new country. What was interesting for your customers at home may sound pointless for your new potential customers. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and understand what is relevant to them. Start again from the basics: what are your goals? Tell your story and test the relevance of your content. Find the angles that turn your mildly interesting story into something worth reading.
8. The time is right
From an international perspective, it’s important to check the sense of time in different countries. For instance, people in the US usually think short-term: acting fast is the first step to solve any situation. This is not necessarily the case in other countries. Many issues are way too complex to be solved with a slogan, or with a short-time effort. Therefore, adapting to the foreigners’ sense of time is an important part of the process.
9. Manage your public face
Not everything can be delegated: many journalists would rather talk to your CEO or one of the founders, rather than to the PR guy. Your C-level definitely has to understand how to give interviews and spend time to prepare. On the other hand, don’t expect good results if you just translate a news release and ship it to foreign countries. Or, if the corporate headquarters need to control every single overseas action, even the simplest task can take ages and undermine the PR effort.
10. Some problems are bigger than PR
Finally, it’s important to stress that a PR strategy has to be coordinated with the business one. If you make a statement about how committed to the local market you are, you’re supposed to act accordingly. Of course, it’s easier to make bold statements than to become an asset in the local economy. Nonetheless, your PR strategy should also consider and involve these elements… just in case you’re not able to do everything you claim to do.
“The power of PR comes from relationships with journalists and other local influencers, as well as understanding the nuances of the local market. This can be achieved only with local feet on the street.” Lou Hoffman, The Hoffman Agency
How did you approach these issues in the past? How did you set up your international PR strategy? We’d love to hear your thoughts.