Expanding your business to foreign countries can be daunting for any entrepreneur.
There are so many hoops to jump through: new distributors, legal requirements, different marketing channels, new competitors to monitor. Crossing borders also often entails appealing to different sensibilities, worldviews and cultures.
Spokespeople are typically aces at managing affairs in their own country and milieu. However, when dealing with a foreign audience, many factors can transform the rules of the game. So, where do you start?
Here are 10 tips to guide you:
1. Focus your resources.
Many companies claim to be “global” from the get-go, but successfully expanding beyond your country of origin takes no small amount of strategy—and resources.
Being in too many markets at the same time will reduce your effectiveness. Focus on a country where you can make a substantive difference, rather than spreading your budget too thin. What good does it do to say you work in 50 countries if you receive negative reviews in most of them?
Once you get traction in one place, you can consider expanding nearby.
2. Avoid a culture clash.
Every time you enter a new country, you are approaching a different culture. People may speak your language for the sake of business, but rest assured they live, speak and think in a different way in private. This affects your business, and it affects (or should affect) the way you communicate.
What do you know about humor in this culture? How do they tell jokes or create metaphors? Are there topics they deem offensive or taboo?
3. Get to know the market—and the people.
Most of us have been subjected to hard-sell techniques designed to make you feel an urgent need for something or a feeling of being left out. In a new market, these tactics might not fly.
Your new market might respond poorly to harsh or edgy marketing messaging. Prioritize the translation and localization of your communication and marketing materials. Involve local people who know the culture and who can point you in the right direction.
Neil Payne, a cultural consultant, offers this advice:
The most important point, from a cross-cultural perspective, is how to write in a way that engages the readers in that society or culture. Some cultures may prefer colorful and inspirational writing, others factual and objective. Some may be motivated by language that incorporates a religious or moral tone, others by a money-orientated or materialistic one.
4. Create connections.
PR planning, priorities and platforms vary by country. Scour the local PR scene to get hints about what’s different from your country of origin. Get estimates, meet people, and ask questions.
Can you rely on freelancers? Does it make sense to hire an agency, or would in-house staff be the way to go? Who’s going to take care of the PR strategy, and how well do they know your niche industry? Which key performance indicators will you focus on, and why?
The basic questions are still the same, but the setup and execution might be drastically different.
5. Be ready for the next crisis.
The question here is not if, but when. Being prepared for fallout is crucial wherever you are, but responding to an issue abroad takes even more nuanced preparation and execution.
For instance, European and U.S. practitioners handle crises differently. Americans often see European statements as insufficiently transparent or forthright, whereas European communicators usually view measured responses as more appealing to their constituents.
A smart crisis communication response would look completely different in Japan, China, Germany or India.
If you plan to expand, take time to craft a regionally appropriate crisis response plan.
6. Be transparent—whenever it’s appropriate.
Honesty is universal. Everyone appreciates the truth. However, executives in some countries might not be keen to talk about internal problems with PR professionals.
Marketing professional Bill Decker advises:
In the United States, a CEO may confide quickly in their PR departments, explaining the company’s problems candidly. Overseas, many executives might not talk about those problems with PR professionals, as Europeans aren’t used to having to defend themselves in their media. Research, therefore, will take more time and greater finesse than in the United States.
7. Make yourself relevant.
What’s newsworthy in your new country?
Newsworthiness, narratives and effective storytelling vary from place to place. What makes for a home run in Nebraska might not work in Nanjing.
Put yourself in your (new) customers’ shoes, and take time to understand what’s relevant to them. What matters to your audience? How do they prefer to consume information?
Tell stories that local people will find compelling, valuable and irresistible.
8. Are you on island time?
Punctuality might be crucial for the Swiss, but if you’re in Nigeria, Fiji or Brazil, meeting times are “flexible.” Brush up on how your host country views time, meetings and scheduled social interactions, and be prepared to adapt accordingly.
9. Manage your public face.
Not everything can be delegated. Many journalists would rather talk to your CEO or one of the founders, rather than to the PR guy. Your executives should understand how to give interviews in the proper cultural context.
Don’t expect good results if you just translate a news release and ship it to foreign countries.
10. Dive in; don’t drive in.
Good intentions won’t make you an asset in the local economy. The onus is on you to make yourself welcome and part of the scene. Dive into the local culture; don’t try to force your way of doing things.
As Lou Hoffmann, founder of The Hoffman Agency, says:
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.
How have you approached these issues of going global? How did you set up your international PR strategy? Please post your thoughts in the comments section.
A version of this post first appeared on pr.co.