Making global comms resonate with a localization playbook

PMI’s Bessie Kokalis Pescio shares how internal communicators can make global content relevant everywhere.

With more dispersed workforces than ever before and reorgs happening almost daily, many internal communicators are reckoning with the challenges of reaching employees across the globe for the first time.

For Bessie Kokalis Pescio, VP of global internal communications at Philip Morris International (PMI), this challenge has been addressed with the creation of a localization playbook — a collection of global messaging assets, tips, tools and best practices that helps her internal communications network make global content relevant locally.

“It could be anything from the best way to explain global learnings to how to portray our new initiative on wellbeing and mental health,” Pescio told Ragan. “What’s the best way to make that resonate? What’s important in this country or in this geography? If you’re sitting at the head of an internal comms group, no matter what the size of your organization may be, you’ll need to increasingly rely on the influence of local experts.”

Bessie explained that, while her internal communications network has members who are part of her team headquartered in Switzerland, it also includes communicators in every country around the world. That’s over 90 different markets that they operate in. As such, context around localization is crucial, and one of the biggest barriers for many markets is language.

It started when the internal comms network was asked to translate specific messages into French, Spanish and other languages that are germane to the organization.

“People picked up the baton,” said Pescio. “That’s accelerating the use of these assets. There are strategic ways to use your network to increase the reach and timeliness of the message.”

Here are a few.

Consider local variances and timing.

For those unsure of where to begin, Pescio recommends breaking this strategy down by distinct markets to find variances in approach. “There will be variances based on what’s important for that market and their business,” she said, emphasizing that timing comes into play as every country is operating under its own local schedule for new product launches and other strategic initiatives.

“There’s global timing that cuts across the whole organization, but there may be nuances in timing and milestones that are relevant to a local geography.” At PMI, this may mean local communications around a product launch may take priority over global messages about wellness and health. That may prompt one country to communicate on a topic later, once their local initiative has been completed. In other instances, the best solution is for local markets to just not go as deep with the assets they are provided.

PMI’s global comms team also gives guidance on how long a topic may be relevant for. “Is it an evergreen topic that they can plug in anytime over the course of the year, and can we give them guidance on that?” Pescio may ask, “Or do we say, ‘This is a topic that’s important to be delivered over the next three months?’”

Take local learnings global.

Regional news or issues can be the catalyst for larger conversations. Pescio cited PMI’s DE&I inclusion campaign, which created an emotional connection across global markets following George Floyd’s murder.

“Many geographies were not directly affected by what happened in the United States, but it fostered a shared humanity, understanding and empathy,” she said.

“It allowed us to show that we work in a multinational context, it propelled us to have certain conversations that we wouldn’t expect to be happening. Our mantra is diversity and inclusion, and we want everyone to feel that way.”

Don’t underestimate the strategy that real humans bring to socializing your global message.

The fact that real people are in each local market helps PMI when it comes to translating and socializing the playbook content. “You could, in theory, feed all that into a translator, but you’re missing the human context of being able to find the right nuance,” said Pescio. “That’s why AI is still not replacing our jobs. You can do many great things at a global level, but if someone’s not on the receiving end who’s ready to take it and run with it, it’s not going to work.”

This is something many organizations underestimate. They have great messages that may not get through, and comms may wonder why people aren’t listening. Pescio believes that tactical and resourcing issues can sometimes be the main problem.

“If you can think of creative ways to overcome them, using the network and giving them opportunities to be leaders, to share their skills, give them opportunities to be experts on a variety of topics, everybody wins,” she said, “because they are also growing in their roles by serving as that expert for a couple of 100 people across the organization. It’s visibility and experience that they would not have had previously.”

Keep the markets connected.

In this spirit of prioritizing human interactions, PMI holds an annual strategy session that brings the different markets together. At last autumn’s event, they invited six or seven markets representing the four different geographic regions they work in. It was a treasure trove of information and an opportunity to share best practices.

“You really have to understand what you have out there, learn and understand how to shape it, then get it to work together,” Pescio said. “It’s not only about us in the global function being connected with the markets, but also about the markets being connected with each other.”

To that end, someone in France may have a similar problem to someone in Morocco. And they both speak French. Suddenly, a collaboration opportunity surfaces.

“Playbooks are not going to solve everything,” said Pescio.

“People need that connection now even more. That’s something we as communicators need to think about – not only as the end user but the person in the middle who’s getting the message through. How are we equipping them and connecting with them to get their message out there?”

Justin Joffe is the Editor-in-chief at Ragan Communications. Before joining Ragan, Joffe worked as a freelance journalist and communications writer specializing in the arts and culture, media and technology PR, and ad tech beats. His writing has appeared in several publications including Vulture, Newsweek, Vice, Flaunt, and many more. You can find him on Twitter @joffaloff.

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