My agency first expanded overseas by planting its flag in Singapore in 1996. Taking from this experience and working with a range of executives over the years, I gleaned some top threats to success when it comes to global PR: 1. “Americanitis” Some U.S. executives think that having a high profile in the domestic market automatically guarantees a hero’s welcome when they land on foreign shores. After all, why shouldn’t the image they’ve spent years building in the U.S. magically cross the Atlantic and Pacific, conform to local societies, adapt to local market nuances, and reach out to their targeted constituencies? Unfortunately, such an attitude leads to thinking that the same PR tactics and strategies that work so well in the U.S. can just be tossed over the fence to be used in other countries. We’ve come to call this mentality “Americanitis.” 2. Resources spread too thin Companies often find that they don’t have the resources and/or budget to effectively address all the target markets in a given geography. For example, a company’s European focus might be on the U.K., Germany, France, and Italy. Rather than spread a modest budget across all four markets, it’s better to deploy the budget in one or two countries where you can make a difference. 3. Corporate HQ control Often, the early funding for a global PR program comes out of the U.S. coffers. It stands to reason that the U.S. public relations people would want some involvement in the international PR activities and how the money is spent. When the corporate HQ exercises strict control and approval over every single overseas action, an incredible bureaucracy takes hold and handicaps the global PR effort. Just the simple task of approving a news release can turn into a nightmarish saga as suggestions and tweaks ping-pong between HQ and the country office, eating up everyone’s time. 4. Failure to localize content Localizing content goes beyond the translation of materials. Business issues vary from country to country. Yet 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 characteristics of a particular market, the stronger the story becomes. There’s a reason McDonald’s sells a burger with a squid-ink-dyed bun in China. 5. Treating translation of press materials as an administrative chore The hard work behind international PR 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 traded on NASDAQ, and all hell broke loose when the release went out incorrectly announcing a “merger” with a Korean company. 6. Short-term gratification An American company enjoys a high profile and substantial market share in the U.S., so it automatically expects the same type of profile in a foreign market. The reality is that the media doesn’t know the company or knows very little. Like any “new kid on the block,” the company must build its reputation over time. 7. Conducting international PR long distance Flinging news announcements into foreign countries via distribution services does not constitute global PR. As in the U.S., 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.
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8. No actions behind the words “We’re committed to the local market.” Every company targeting a foreign market utters these words, but some don’t take actions to support the statement. 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 an image for a company that takes these steps. It doesn’t require a large investment in money and time; instead, it’s more a symbol of respect for the local market. I know many of you have your own experiences with conducting PR overseas. I welcome your additions to the list. Lou Hoffman is CEO of the Hoffman Agency, a global communications consultancy. He blogs on storytelling in business at Ishmael’s Corner, where you can read more of his work.