Geographical expansion is easier than ever. Scaling up to reach foreign markets is a common growth strategy of start-ups providing online services. EU markets and countries are increasingly similar. However, some pitfalls await communications specialists launching their businesses abroad. How to avoid them? Enterie.com experts have some dos and don’ts for you.
Plan, learn and adjust
Assuming that a foreign communication environment, even a neighbour EU country, is similar to your home market, can be a costly mistake. So better do your homework – learn about your audience, get to know the media landscape, identify risks and develop the right messaging.
– Planning is critical when you’re entering the UK, says Kate Hartley, Managing Director at Carrot Communications, a London based agency that specialises in working with early-stage and fast-growth companies.
Kate Hartley continues:
– Always consider local trends, cultural context and what the media wants, which could be completely different from your home market.
In Sweden national newspapers and media are relatively few and regional papers have certain significance as well.
– There are also a lot of smaller magazines with narrow niches. That might add up and end up having a huge impact for the outcome of your PR activities, says Martin Ruist, Partner at Four PR.
At some markets, for example Italy or Poland, due to the media crisis, journalist are fewer and have really no time to manage huge amount of emails.
– This is something you will have to cope with, so you really need to call them to let them know they have to read your message, and give them short but complete information including links, images and videos. Whatever strategy and approach you choose, it is good to be aware of these issues, so you don’t waste your time, money and effort, says Alessandra Colao, Managing Director of a Milan based agency Doppia Elica.
This is what public relations are all about. Of course, depending on the country, you will need a different approach. Some basic knowledge about local culture and the way media works will be more than helpful. For instance, the French market may appear a bit hermetic to you, also because of the language.
– As a foreign company you may need someone to introduce you to this entourage, says Anthony Courtat, from a Paris agency Com’ I/O, who advise to introduce yourself to journalists in person.
Anthony Courtat continues:
– Meet them one-on-one and learn what they need and expect. It is common to invite a journalist for a lunch or dinner just to introduce your company. As reporters have less and less time for informal meetings, it is crucial to localize your approach of a new market and provide them with added value content (exclusivity, announcements, opinion pieces, infographics, etc.) and/or experience of your brand/products (immersive, perfectly suited to their audience).
Polish Magda Gorak, the owner of Profeina, proposes a different approach:
– Journalists are often overloaded with work, media conferences are less and less popular. So for new companies we suggest media tours – individual meeting in editor’s office with 2-3 journalist interested in your field. This gives a chance to get to know each other, introduce the company and its experts. This is a very effective way to build relations for a start, says Magda Gorak.
In Germany, where the media landscape is decentralised, personal meetings are rather difficult. Each region has its own major media so you must be prepared for traveling and additional expenses. Participation in industry events and meeting media there might be an efficient approach.
Localize, localize, localize
Running centralized communication is tempting in a new market. It is obviously cheaper and easier. However, even in the UK you should at least have your materials proofread by a native speaker. There are countries such as France where people feel very attached to their language and simply refuse to use English unless it’s absolutely necessary. Or Poland, where some journalists do not speak English at all.
Even in countries where English is well-known and commonly used, it simply pays off to go native.
– Even though Danes speak English really well, please use native Danish when communicating with the media – it will save their time and can be a crucial factor whether your story will be covered or not, says Jakob Kemp Hessellund from the Danish PR agency Kemp & Kjær.
Localization is not only about the language. It also refers to examples, quotes, case studies, etc. For example journalists and readers in Spain don’t really care about eCommerce market share in the Netherlands, and media in Poland will not be interested in customers’ attitude towards online banking in Sweden. A comment on market developments given by a local manager is always more interesting than the same comment given by some CEO from a distant headquarter. So always focus on the local angle of your story.
Localization, as our interviewees claim, also refers to tone of voice, sense of humor and other subtle cultural factors you should be aware of. Also consider local media expectations.
– Swedish journalists have a whole other expectation on press releases than in other European countries, which makes it important to know the genre for Swedish press releases so the journalists will recognize it as suited for the Swedish market and write the story, says Martin Ruist from FourPR.
Don’t be arrogant
There is no mistake more costly than the lack of respect for your new audience. Imagine that you invite guests to your house and from the beginning they start acting bossy.
– We have a rather modest culture, we don’t like bragging, we don’t like arrogance. Some companies underestimate this cultural factor. I think it was one of mistakes that Uber made, which resulted in its de facto ban in Denmark. Instead of a dialog Uber was trying to force its way to legalisation, ignoring unions, basically being disruptive in a non-acceptable way, explains Jakob Kemp Hessellund from Kemp & Kjær.
Magda Gorak recalls a different story of fail from the Polish market.
– When several years ago eBay announced starting operations in Poland, there was a lot of excitement. This launch was awaited by both buyers and sellers, hoping for access to a rich international online market. But it ended up with a serious crisis, which has compromised eBay’s plan of expansion and even empowered its local competitor. The Polish version of the eBay platform turned out to not to be ready – half functional and badly translated, and support hardly existed. “If they treat us as a third world country – then screw them” was one of less emotional comments from outraged users, says Magda Gorak from Profeina.
Don’t take attention for granted
– The easy days, when it was enough to be a startup to get media interest and coverage, are over – sadly. The peak of interest is behind us, so to get attention there has to be more in your story. As with any other business, you need to find an interesting angle, says Jakob Kemp Hessellund from Kemp & Kjær.
His opinion is broadly shared across, from London to Paris to Warsaw.
How to find an interesting angle? Anthony Courtat advises looking for an added value for readers:
– As technology is often difficult to explain, it is important to show how users can benefit from it, how it solves problems. It is always good to have a local case study or local testimonial, especially for b2b services. Journalists will be more happy to talk about your product with your client than to listen to your sales pitch.
– Press releases, although they have their place for announcing big news, should be approached with caution. There are just too many releases out there that don’t have much to say. Only ever approach media with a really strong story or pitch. Think about why they might want to talk to you. A good way to do this is to think about what you’d like to read, watch or listen to. It probably isn’t a product pitch for a company, adds Kate Hartley from Carrot Communications.
Also Martin Ruist advises to issue press releases with caution.
– Avoid newswires and a “spray and pray” approach to journalists. Mass press releases will only work if you have a really strong brand or something extremely interesting to say. Swedish journalists expect much shorter press releases than those usually issued by corporate press offices.
And one more thing…
Don’t overdo with bragging. It refers especially to companies from the US, which definitely use too much superlative adjectives and phrases such as cutting edge, revolutionary, game changing etc.
Overusing such words will result in irritated readers. You can be absolutely sure that journalists will not use them in their articles. So don’t bother to use them, unless: You have something really, really revolutionary!
Do you need to press coverage in Denmark? Write Jakob.