I made my first trip overseas in 1994, supporting press conferences in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Taipei and Singapore in one week.
Talk about a PR hustle.
As you might expect, things didn’t always go according to plan.
At our first press conference in Tokyo, no one had bothered to mention that the format for overhead projectors in Japan — yes, LCD projectors were still a curiosity back in 1994 — was different from the format of the overhead projectors in the U.S. Our client put his first foil on the projector ready to sing the virtues of the latest MPEG-2 chip only to see roughly 20 percent of his content cut off at the screen.
The journalists reacted with a gasp … and then absolute, utter silence. They were embarrassed for my client.
My client wasn’t embarrassed.
He was angry.
The only thing missing from the Tokyo press conference post mortem was a single lightbulb and the client offering me a cigarette. Eventually, I was “released.”
Since that fateful trip, I’ve seen patterns emerge that can undermine global communications.
- “Americanitis” or fill in the name of the “country-itis”
.Executives often conclude that having a high profile in the domestic market guarantees a hero’s welcome when they land on foreign shores. They mistakenly expect that the perception or reputation they’ve spent years building will magically conform to local societies, adapt to local market nuances and reach out to their targeted constituencies. Unfortunately, such an attitude leads to believing that the same PR tactics and strategies that work so well in the home market can be thrown over the fence to be used in other countries. It can also lead to impatience.
- Corporate HQ Control
Often, the funding for a PR program overseas comes out of the HQ’s coffers. It stands to reason that the HQ executive would want some involvement in the international PR activities and how the money is spent. Makes sense. But when the corporate HQ exercises strict control and approval over every overseas action, an incredible bureaucracy takes hold that handicaps the international PR effort. Just the simple task of approving a news release can turn into a nightmarish saga as inputs ping-pong between HQ and the country office, exhausting everyone’s time.
- Inability to Localize Content
Localizing content goes far beyond the translation of materials. Do you think McDonalds serves the same food in Indonesia as the U.S.? While you can order Bubur Ayam Spesial at a McDonalds in Jakarta, good luck buying the dish in Indianapolis
Many companies aren’t willing to put in the time to localize the storytelling for each target country. The more effort a company puts into shaping the content to the specific characteristics of a particular market, the stronger the story becomes for the targeted audience.
- Treat Translation of Press Materials as an Administrative Task
A PR activity’s efforts can go down the drain if the translation of the press materials is not handled accurately. Years ago, we had a client situation in Korea in which the Korean word for merger was used instead of the Korean word for partnership. The client company was publicly traded, and all “heck” broke loose when the release went out incorrectly announcing a merger with a Korean company.
- Unrealistic Expectations
This one relates to Americanitis. A company enjoys a high profile and substantial market share in its home market, so it automatically expects to receive the same type of profile in a foreign market. The reality is that the media doesn’t know the company or knows very little about it. Like any “new kid on the block,” the company needs to build its reputation through hard work and establishing new relationships.
- Cheap Won’t WinSearching for value works when you’re purchasing a frying pan. Not so much when it comes to global PR. The common mistake is that companies take on too many markets for the allocated budget. For example, a company might prioritize the UK, Germany, France and Italy in Europe, but the budget is modest. Instead of doing a good job in two of the markets, they spread their resources too thinly across the four target countries and don’t move the needle anywhere.
- Conducting International PR Long Distance
Some companies consider flinging their news releases into foreign countries via news release distribution services as a form of international PR. Others purchase directories that list the local media — and in some cases, the names of publications’ reporters — in a given country. Yet, the power of PR comes from the relationships with the local influencers, government officials and media as well as understanding the nuances of the local market. This can only be achieved by local feet on the street.
- Lack of Spokespeople
Often, companies operate what amounts to a sales office in an overseas market. The top executive in such an office focuses on sales. Deploying this person as a company spokesperson can be a challenge, since he or she is rewarded based on the quarter’s sales results, not building a long-term image. And leveraging executives from outside a given country often means sacrificing local market knowledge (not to mention the language issue).
- No Actions Behind the Words
“We’re committed to the local market.” Every company targeting a foreign market makes this point. Often, they don’t take actions to support that idea. This is a bigger issue than PR. Companies should be looking for ways to become an asset to the local community and local economy. Obviously, it’s easier to build a reputation for a company that takes these steps. Furthermore, it doesn’t have to require a large investment in money and time. Instead, it’s more a symbol of respect for the local market.
Whether you’re part of a consultancy or an in-house communications department, attitude is a huge factor in determining the success or failure of a global effort.
Do team members care what happens outside of their home base?
Do team members help colleagues around the world?
I remember asking one of our account directors who was particularly strong leading global campaigns what was the key to her success.
She said recognizing upfront that it’s hard work.
Yes it is.