Running a Public Relations Campaign Abroad

Running a Public Relations Campaign Abroad

If you want to expand your brand and your business abroad, PR is a great way of doing so. But is PR the same the world over? Polly looks at some of the main considerations when taking your PR campaign international.


PR is a fantastic and effective way of developing your brand, winning new clients and gaining more exposure for you, your company or product. Whether it’s an article in a newspaper, a mention on the radio, or the sponsorship of an event, if planned and researched properly, it can provide extremely valuable ROI (return on investment).

When carrying out PR activities in your own country, it’s on the whole a pretty straightforward measure as all parties will work closely together and maintain the same understandings. However, if you’re taking PR abroad, into a new region or country, it’s not quite as simple.

Your approach to Global PR will be very different, and you should be alert to the challenges you’re undoubtedly going to face along the way – dealing with a new audience, a new culture, a new language –  to name a few.

So, if you’re planning your Global PR debut you should already be defining and mapping the cultures of the people and companies that you want to target. Here’s a few things to keep in mind along the way.

Beware of Language and Cultural Differences

As with any service or product you take abroad, it needs to be presented to people in a way that makes sense to them. Often, language and cultural differences are disregarded or forgotten, and this is something that you simply cannot afford to do. The PR and advertising industries are plagued with examples of “lost in translation” type errors that are funny to us, but most certainly not to the paying customer.

For example, when Bing launched in China they were left puzzled as to why the locals found the brand so amusing. They later, very embarrassingly discovered that their name in Chinese had been miss-translated to their word for “virus”, which for an internet search engine isn’t great.

Don’t take this as “just a foreign language issue”. It’s not. It even happens between English speaking countries. The slogan “Wang Cares”, which was used by a US firm in the UK, didn’t work for obvious reasons – speak the two words out loud to yourself until you work it out.  Similarly, the airline UAL headlined an article about Paul Hogan, star of Crocodile Dundee, with, “Paul Hogan Camps it up” which unfortunately in the UK and Australia had certain connotations that we could not look beyond.

Think About the Spoken Word

There are areas within PR, such as interviews and press conferences, where the spoken word is more important that the written one. It is key to appreciate that speaking styles and the way information is shared differs from culture to culture.

German and American communication styles tend to be described as “explicit”, meaning that messages are conveyed solely through words. They also tend to “say it how it is”, being unconcerned about things like face, honour, politeness and the personal relationship. Correlating background information is deemed necessary and divulged, ambiguity is avoided, and spoken words have literal meaning.

However, in many other cultures and the Middle East, India and Korea for example, communication is considered “implicit”. The message people consume will be based on factors such as who is speaking, the context, and non-verbal cues, such as body language and intonation.

In short, the spoken word is not intended to convey the entire story. Listeners are expected to use their imagination, and read between the lines.

When these two types of communicators unite, it can get confusing, and for this reason it is vital to ensure that when using the spoken word abroad, you are aware of how you will be perceived by the audience and also what you may need to do to perhaps temper your communication styles a little.

In relation to the content of what you are saying it is prudent to also be aware of differences in humour, use of metaphors, aphorisms and anecdotes etc. Do your research! Every single culture has their taboos and “no-go” areas such as politics and language which can be very sensitive.

Pay Attention to the Written Word

Press releases, features and copywriting will all require a certain amount of “localization”. Writing style is key, and it goes without saying that the content of which you are issuing needs to be translated or adapted to the countries differences.

Now this is probably the most important point to consider when releasing content to the media abroad. Have you written your press release in such a way that it will truly engage and appeal to the audience in that country? On the other hand, some countries prefer a colourful, almost poetic writing style that inspires and engages the imagination whereas others want a more factual, objective and robust style that delivers a clear message. Some may be motivated by language that incorporates a spiritual or moral tone, others by a money-orientated or materialistic one.

Prior to putting pen to paper, research what the locals expect in terms of style. From here you then need to think about the local language and translating your content so that it ‘speaks’ to them in the way they would expect.

Understand Alternative Local PR Channels

There are many typical communication channels used in the PR world, to get your message viral. This could be the radio, traditional printed media, magazines, the TV, the internet and public spaces. The list goes on. However, just because these work at home, it doesn’t mean they will abroad.

In many countries the radio, TV or newspapers won’t actually be their first port of call. For example, in Africa only around 14% of the population have access to the internet. Radio however is very accessible and is almost everywhere you go.
Even if these channels do exist, it doesn’t mean that you can go about using the medium, in exactly the same way. Some methods used in PR such as guerrilla marketing, would be interpreted very differently in foreign countries. For example, interrupting live TV may be laughed at in the UK but in other countries it would be seen as not only rude but extremely rebellious.

It is important to understand where locals look to when they are seeking endorsements. In such countries, you would work with local alternatives such as religious leaders, churches, tribal chiefs, school teachers or NGO’s for example. Your PR coming from these people will not only reach directly the target audience but will be perceived as more credible.

Assess Your PR Materials

Prior to using any marketing collateral/materials in PR campaigns abroad, such as logos, slogans, pictures and colours, you need to once again ensure that they are designed to appeal and will be perceived appropriately by in country people. If not, it will 100% come back to haunt you!

Pictures of seemingly innocuous things in one culture could be blasphemous in another. For example, a UK company wanted to break into Thailand with their range of glasses, so they used images of cute animals wearing them. The ad completely failed. It completely failed because animals are considered to be a low form of life in Thailand and no self-respecting Thai would ever wear anything worn by animals. Similarly, logos, symbols and colours are all culturally loaded. Red may mean danger at home but in China it’s very lucky!

Conclusion

It’s simple. If you want to take your PR efforts abroad, make sure your efforts are worthy by taking time to research, plan and understand the people and how they are going to recognize you and your brand, as well as appreciate how the PR model in that particular country works. The more you put into researching and adapting your PR campaign, to suit your ‘local’ audience and culture, the more successful it will be.

Emma Tidey
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