Dealing with US tech companies


Spin Bunny (http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/2695039) makes reference to the fact that “there are obviously a lot of shit US clients out there winding up European agencies with their attempts to steamroller campaigns across this side of the pond.”

A more diplomatic way of putting it is that there is definitely a tendency for US companies to want to create global campaigns ie they create the guidelines and templates which are then adapted for local consumption.

This issue is nothing new – its existed ever since the first US tech companies began opening UK and European offices.

I wrote a piece about this whole subject several years ago – http://www.workinpr.com/inter_pr.asp – (full text below) I’ve had a lot direct feedback from people of both sides of the pond to this piece over the years.

The general consensus is that things have got better – if not perfect. The biggest complaint still is that the local country PR and marketing people are not consulted in the process. Or rather, their feedback is solicted – and then promptly ignored. The smarter US companies are hiring Europeans into US based international roles – or at least hiring Americans with experience of Europe. Having said that, this still counts for little if these people don’t actually have any real influence on how this global programmes are rolled out.

VIVE LA DIFFERENCE! THE POTENTIAL PITFALLS OF INTERNATIONAL PR

“You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same over there that they got here… but there, it’s just a little different.”
Vincent Vega (John Travolta) – Pulp Fiction

Vincent Vega’s pithy analysis of cultural difference in Europe can be aptly extended to embrace any non-US territory around the globe. And no more so than in the realm of public relations. The relentless need to “go global” from day one means that any US organisation seeking to extend its PR reach internationally has to be aware and prepared for the rather “different” world at large.

In my experience of dealing with US organisations on an international basis over the last 14 years, I have discovered a number of common pitfalls that many companies fall into. There is no question that US organisations are learning and improving their approach to international PR, but there are still some things to be aware of to ensure success.

One of the most commonly held misconceptions is to view an area such as Europe or Asia Pacific as a homogeneous whole. Europe and the Pac Rim are, however, complicated mixes of country, culture and language, subject to a wide variance in business and marketing approach.

In practical PR terms, the organisation that believes it can simply modify and roll out its existing North American strategy is probably in for a tough time. It is very important to plan ahead and think through the financial and resource implications of running mutli-country campaigns. Think global, act local has never been more true.

Although US companies are beginning to be more aware of the geographical, business and cultural diversity of Europe, they can fall into the same trap with Asia. In other words, thinking in regional terms rather than taking into account the subtle differences between countries – indeed, the variations that can occur within a country.

For example, Japan is a completely different market to Korea which in turn is very different to China – for example PC penetration in China is low compared with the rest of the region, but TV penetration is very high. This may well have implications for what kind of PR and marketing a company looks at. Also the regulatory environment varies from country to country, as does the media. Viewing the Pac Rim area as a “single market” can be a very poor premise on which to base a communications strategy.

From a business perspective, Europe is still considered the most obvious place for US companies to expand into. However, it is easy to fall into the trap of attempting to take the US strategy and merely “tweak” for European consumption. Here are some of the key practical points to bear in mind when planning a multi-national communications strategy.

“We’ll just issue our US press releases a few weeks later in Europe when we are ready to launch in those territories”

This attitude betrays a number of misconceptions. One of the most common complaints from European and international journalists is that you can always tell US press releases by their length – shorter press releases are the norm – less is more. Also, the effort required to translate these lengthy tomes into the native language of every country for distribution will add to your time and resource overhead. And who will be doing the translation for you? Indeed, translation is properly the wrong word to describe the process – better still to “adapt” the release. This will almost certainly be best undertaken by resources on the ground who will have the best understanding of local nuances and market factors. But then you need to think about how these resources are to be identified and managed, potentially remotely from the US. Don’t forget that if you have already issued a press release in the US, simply trying to “repackage” this release a short time later will probably be a wasted effort. Europeans can read Internet newswires too…

“We’ll bring our worldwide VP of marketing over for a whistle stop press tour”

This is the, “It’s Wednesday, it must be Paris” approach to press tours.

What kind of on the ground presence have you built up in the territories you intend to carry out your PR activity? Simply parachuting in senior people to meet the press for a few hours and then disappearing is not likely to demonstrate a particularly long-term commitment to the country concerned. What evidence do you have to show you have something valid and locally relevant for the media? By attempting to cover 10 countries in one hit, you are more likely to dilute your efforts and end up with a poor fragmented, response. Far better to concentrate efforts on one or two countries to begin with and gain mindshare footholds here before moving on elsewhere. Also, think through how you intend to maintain an ongoing relationship with the press in each country. Do you have resources on the ground that can respond to local enquiries in a timely fashion? Despite good intentions of making your senior personnel available to the world’s media when they are back in the US – will they take calls at 4am PST when a UK journalist is on deadline?

“The press everywhere speaks/reads English these days don’t they?”

There is no question that English has become the lingua franca of the international media and commercial world – however, that doesn’t mean that the media in certain countries will be happy to get information en anglais. As an example, putting out English language press releases in France will almost certainly mean they find their way into the wastebasket – electronic or otherwise. Similarly, not having native language speakers available in certain territories will almost certainly be seen as a lack of commitment to the local market – how can we believe you are serious about competing in this country when you don’t even speak our language? Again, thinking through what resources will be required to sustain an ongoing media relationship is crucial.

“Can’t we just hire a global PR agency to handle our international campaigns?”

Yes – but the acid test is in ensuring that the right mix of skill, expertise and resource is genuinely available across all the territories where you are to be supported. Even though they may not admit it in public, most large global agency networks would concede that there is bound to be a variation of skill and expertise from country to country. An agency may have very good European credentials, but not so in other parts of the globe – and vice versa.

The other approach is to seek out best of breed PR resources in each country. The challenge here clearly comes in managing and coordinating a network of disparate agencies. However, it is possible with proper strategic planning to put in place reporting processes that allow an in house manager to gain maximum flexibility and benefit from such an arrangement. But be prepared to devote significant time and effort to making this work.

For example, will your international PR coordinator be based in the US or overseas (London, Paris, Hong Kong)? If based in the US, you need to make certain that there is a means for each agency to report its activity, measurement and results in a standard format to ensure that consistency of message is being adopted. If you are going to put in place regular conference calls with your overseas agency contacts, this needs to be done at a time that will work across widely varying timescales (West Coast US-based companies that want to hold conference calls at 11am PST may find their overseas partners are a little less than willing to take part…). If you are to have an overseas-based coordinator, strive to hire someone who is native to the region and has an understanding of the local environment. However, experience of international PR coordination is in short supply, so be prepared to invest time, money and energy into finding a suitable candidate. Parachuting in US personnel is one option, but again, be prepared to accept that there will be an inevitable learning curve.

In short, there are a number of challenges to be faced in terms of running multi-national PR campaigns. Having said that, with a sensible and realistic approach, it is more than possible to gain great commercial benefit from making sure that you focus effort and resource on building relationships on a country-by-country basis. Vive la difference!

Andrew Smith
Object Marketing

Object Marketing Director Andrew Smith is one of the UK’s leading hi-tech PR practitioners, whose career spans 14 years of journalism and hi-tech public relations. In that time, Smith has developed and implemented many highly successful strategic PR and marketing communications programmes for some of the IT industry’s biggest brands including IBM, Novell, CompuServe, RealCall, OneSwoop and Hyperion Software.

He was one of the first PR professionals in the UK to exploit e-mail, the Internet and World Wide Web as high impact public relations vehicles. Smith is often invited to speak on the subject of PR and the Internet, and is a frequently cited commentator on new media matters in the PR and marketing press.

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