As more and more companies’ communications go global, more and more pitfalls emerge.
For me in Tokyo in 1994, it was an overhead projector that unexpectedly cut off 20 percent of the image of my client’s nifty new MPEG-2 chip. Journalists gasped, my client fumed, I got fired.
A quarter-century later, more is at stake and international terrains are even harder to traverse.
Here are unwise practices and attitudes that can undermine global communications:
1. “Americanitis” or “fill in the name of the country-itis.” Executives often mistakenly expect that the reputation they’ve spent years building will magically translate to local societies, adapt to prevailing market nuances and reach their targeted constituencies. Such an attitude suggests, erroneously, that the same PR tactics and strategies that work in the home market can be used abroad. It can also lead to impatience and unrealistic expectations. Like any “new kid on the block,” the company must build its reputation through hard work and establishing new relationships.
2. Corporate HQ overreach. Often, funding for a PR program overseas comes out of the HQ’s coffers. An HQ executive would probably seek involvement in those global PR activities, as well as a say in how the money is spent. That makes sense, but when corporate HQ exercises strict control and approval over every overseas action, bureaucracy handicaps the international PR effort.
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3. Inability to localize content. This process goes far beyond translating materials. Think McDonald’s serves the same food in Indonesia as in the U.S.? You can order Bubur Ayam Spesial at a McDonald’s in Jakarta, but good luck buying that item 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 characteristics of a particular market, the stronger the story becomes for the targeted audience.
4. Treating translation of press materials as an administrative task. A PR activity’s efforts can go down the drain if this vital responsibility is mishandled. Years ago, there was a client situation in Korea in which the Korean word for merger was used instead of the Korean word for partnership. The client was a publicly traded company, and all heck broke loose when the release incorrectly announced a merger with a Korean company.
5. Going cheap. Searching for value works when you’re buying a frying pan; not so much when it comes to global PR. Companies often take on too many markets for the allocated budget. For example, a company might prioritize the U.K., Germany, France and Italy, but the budget is modest. Instead of doing a good job in two of those markets, they spread their resources too thinly across four countries, with little or no success.
6. Conducting international PR long distance. The power of PR comes from relationships with local influencers, government officials and journalists, as well as understanding the nuances of the local market. These can be achieved only by legwork on local streets—not by buying foreign email directories or flinging news releases into foreign countries via distribution services.
7. 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 spokesperson can be a challenge, because he or she is rewarded based on that quarter’s sales results, not building a long-term image. Using executives from outside a given country often means sacrificing local market knowledge (not to mention facing language barriers).
8. No actions behind the words. “We’re committed to the local market.” Every company targeting a foreign market makes this point, but often, they don’t act to support that idea. This is a bigger issue than PR. Companies should work to become an asset to the community and the local economy. Obviously, it’s easier to build a reputation for a company that takes these steps. Furthermore, it doesn’t require a large investment in money and time. Instead, it’s a matter of respecting the local market.
Whether you’re part of a consultancy or an in-house communication department, attitude is a huge factor in determining the success or failure of a global effort. Ask: Do team members care what happens outside their home base, and do they help their colleagues around the world?