Conducting PR in another country can be daunting initially, but ultimately can be an eye-opening experience that opens up new communications possibilities and paves the way toward making inroads into a new market, among new target audiences.
Engagement in foreign markets does not have to be through trial and error, but rather a thoughtful and deliberate process that will move you closer to your communication goals.
Before launching your campaign, you may want to keep a few considerations in mind.
Know that you know nothing. If you have any assumptions, drop them now.
First, recognize the profound differences that can arise out of cultural norms. Read in-country newspapers and trade magazines that are relevant for you, and tap into social media networks. The important thing is to listen, and try to understand before jumping to conclusions. If feasible, consider hiring a consultant to do a one-day workshop focused on understanding a particular culture, and learn the appropriate business etiquette before entering a new market.
The rules of the road for media may be completely different, so it is important to ask basic questions regarding their timelines, preferences for being conducted by foreign companies/firms, interview best practices, and appropriate follow up mechanisms.
Special considerations should be made surrounding events, based on cultural norms. Determine whether media events should be small and intimate, or large and formal. Find out if media generally want to hear from speakers first, then ask questions, or submit questions in advance, or be given accompanying written materials. The more questions, the more successful you will be. In addition, translations can be difficult based on different dialects, it is important to tailor your communications to your target audiences based on their specific needs and preferences.
Be prepared for anything at events, since accommodation is key. Undoubtedly, there will be issues arise that you could not have possibly prepared for, and would not be an issue in the U.S. Make sure your entire team knows in advance that in person activities and events can be challenging, and be prepared to problem solve at a moment’s notice.
One of the most important decisions you will make is hiring a public relations firm that can provide good counsel and on-the-ground support and outreach. The best and easiest approach may be asking for recommendations to folks you trust in your network, and go one step further and research these firms online to make sure that they might be a good fit. Keep in mind that rates may vary significantly, so you may want to ask others about their experience and what they feel is appropriate based on the scope of the project.
Perhaps the most important consideration is rapport with an account team, since it could take time to understand the cultural and business norms in a given country and good communication will be paramount. During the search process, it is critical to be very clear on needs and goals and narrowly define what you are looking for in an agency.
Then pay close attention to their response to make sure that they genuinely listened and tried to deliver exactly as you requested.
Once you’ve selected an agency, show examples of previous communication plans, progress reports, team updates, coverage reports and final evaluation documents that will give the agency a frame of reference for project expectations and successful approaches that you prefer.
Throughout your interaction with the firm on the project, check your assumptions and ask basic questions. If possible, start with small projects to experiment a bit and determine what works and what does not work before taking on bigger initiatives. This could save significant time and resources down the road, and shift your long-term approach to planning.
Also, ensure that communication processes and expectations are clearly outlined for the agency – schedule a regular team update call and arrange to receive updates from the agency via email. Ask the agency to take notes during each conference call and provide via email.
Regardless of the scope of your project, it is always advisable to have a crisis communications plan in place. Adapt the plan based on the particular country and any special considerations and make sure everyone is aware of the plan, and knows where to access the plan and activate at a moment’s notice. Again, ask the agency for guidance on cultural considerations and norms within specific countries.
Finally, close the loop and share all results with your broader project team, and interpret the true value of your program. Share success with the agency, and communicate their role to the larger team as well. It also may be a good idea to point out opportunities that you may have identified along the way, and suggestions for moving forward.
Communicating the outcomes of your program will demonstrate the value of good PR and a strong team.
Tracy Cooley, APR is Senior Director of Communications at the Washington, DC-based Biotechnology Industry Organization. BIO hosts the BIO Convention in China and the BIO India International Conference, in addition to engaging in policy and advocacy activities and initiatives around the world.