Expanding your business horizons with International PR
Building a business from scratch is hard enough, but expanding into foreign countries is one of the most challenging tasks an entrepreneur can face. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as telling customers you ship overseas and waiting for the sales to roll in. There are lots of things to take care of: sourcing new distributors, understanding complex tax systems and monitoring new competitors, to name a few.
And then there’s your PR strategy. Your company spokesperson may be trained to manage public relations in the UK, but dealing with a foreign audience is a whole different ballgame.
Whether you’re a multinational company looking to raise your profile in the UK, or a UK company that wants to gain global coverage, a well-planned PR campaign can help you succeed on the international stage. Here’s how.
Think through your positioning
In the international marketplace, people will have little or no knowledge of your brand. You can’t assume your target audience knows what you’re trying to sell. In Eastern Europe, for example, consumers thought the Energizer Bunny commercials were actually selling little pink bunnies.
In new markets, the pitch must be basic and factual. So think through your positioning carefully – and test it. Create a cultural profile for each country and identify the most reputable news sources and their audiences. Pick one or two simple messages and repeat them over and over again – in your ads, news materials, point of sale pieces, sales brochures, billboards, everywhere. Frequency, focus and consistency are key to making your brand familiar to potential consumers.
Be mindful of language and culture
The success of any international PR campaign relies on an appreciation of the market’s cultural language and nuances. If your communications translate poorly, they’ll fall flat. This happened to Ford, when it launched the ‘Pinto’ in Brazil. The company had expected record sales, but were puzzled by the lack of interest. They later found out that Brazilians weren’t lining up at the local Ford dealership to buy a car with a name that translates to ‘male genitals’ in Brazilian slang. Needless to say, Ford promptly changed the name.
The same goes for the way you communicate at press interviews and events. Speakers must be aware of the cross cultural differences in humour, metaphors and aphorisms. In addition, references to topics such as politics and religion can be sensitive in other cultures – the last thing you want to do is offend potential stakeholders by not doing your homework.
Be alert for communication problems. Keep translation top of mind and avoid idioms and slang when writing your PR material.
The same goes for understanding the culture of your target market. Even global brands like Pampers aren’t immune to costly mistakes due to a lack of cultural understanding. For example, when Proctor & Gamble started selling Pampers in Japan, it used an image of a stork delivering a baby on the packaging. While the advertising made sense in the UK, it never caught on with Japanese parents. After some research, the company figured out that customers were confused by the image of a stork, as the story of storks bringing babies to parents isn’t part of Japanese folklore. There, the story goes that giant floating peaches bring babies to their parents.
This was an embarrassing cultural faux pas that could have been avoided with some research.
Research the market’s influencers
Before entering a new market with everything, you need to understand which publications are most influential, what types of communication get picked up, and who you’ll be competing with for share of voice. It’ll be very different to the domestic market.
Understand what’s considered newsworthy. What’s relevant in the UK may be of no interest to the German media for example. Research what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and take locale-specific journalist preferences into account.
Finally, pay attention to when you reach out. Avoid public holidays, holy days, and other distractions that could make your outreach less impactful.