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WGA: Kicking Off an International PR Program? Here’s What You Need to Know

By Sandra Fathi | On August 18, 2020

The media landscape is constantly changing, but while adapting to these shifts and preparing a PR program for launch may drive success within one region, these same efforts may not drive value in another. The With Global Alliance (WGA), Affect’s international PR network partners serving 26 countries worldwide, caught up with Everything-PR to discuss the biggest challenges that international organizations face upon breaking into the PR market. Topics covered include diverse languages and regions, to overcrowded journalist inboxes, shifting media appetites and more. Check out WGA members’ take on the biggest PR challenges from every corner of the globe:

Brazil, Luis Claudio Allan, Founder, FirstCom: Brazil is a large country with diverse media outlets and the PR market is formed by hundreds of agencies, from one-person agencies to multinationals. Journalists receive a tremendous amount of content (press releases, bylines, multimedia etc.) daily from companies with brand awareness deeply established in the country, so it’s hard to conquer editorial spaces in top tier media if the company doesn’t have hard news to announce, specially without hiring a PR agency with a close relationship with key journalists. In general journalists in Brazil prefer to publish exclusive stories and depending on the news it can take some weeks to publish an exclusive, so it’s important to plan an announcement considering that the PR agency will need time to achieve results.

China, Sarah Li, Managing Director, WEdge: When a company first approaches PR in China, there are many initial challenges. It’s critical to understand the Chinese government’s development agenda, the business environment and cultural differences. Organizations need guidance to introduce their expertise and highlight their value in relation to the local market. This part of strategic positioning and storytelling is key to engaging with the local media – having a local angle and content to attract stakeholders. In addition, it’s important to understand the Chinese media focus and how best to communicate with local media.

Germany, Andrea Buzzi, Founder & CEO, Frau Wenk: We see many companies, especially from the U.S., entering Germany with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Most realize after months of hard work and painful rejections, that the largest economy in Europe differs significantly other countries and requires a very specific approach. One of the core strengths of Germany is its reputation for excellence in manufacturing and innovation. We need solid proof that a new technology works, before we implement it, and it has to fit our needs perfectly. Companies entering the German market need to keep this front-of-mind and spend a lot of time and effort gaining trust and proving that their system can deliver. Even though most German journalists and decision makers speak and understand English, it is advantageous to present and explain especially complex technologies in the local language.  Germans also appreciate it when they feel a clear commitment to the market. Ideally, this includes a local contact representative with a reliable network.

India, Minal Drozario, Co-Founder, Ideosphere: In our experience one area which does become a possible challenge is understanding and localizing the story based on the Indian context and sentiments. As India has multiple cultures within one country, it would be an advantage for international brands to have a customizable approach and talking points specific to the India market. Otherwise, there are no huge challenges for international companies to be spoken about in the Indian media. The basics would be timeliness and relevance but I believe that is important across the globe.

Netherlands, Sabine Steen-Lakerveld, Founder, DOK30: The Netherlands is a small country with big ambitions. Our economy is highly globalized and so is our media. For companies entering this market, it is important to combine their level of innovation on a global level with their local presence and contribution to Dutch society and economy – as they will be judged on both. Companies should be prepared to back their stories up with objective facts and figures. The Dutch media in particular is very skeptical about ‘marketing-laced’. This is why we start every partnership with creating a storybook, where we will look for the best stories on all levels and the proof to back them up. If you have done your homework, the Dutch will definitely appreciate the effort. It is important not to use a ‘hit and run’ strategy put in the effort in building lasting relationships. Dutch can distinguish fact finding from relationship building, and both are equally important and often combined.

Russia, Alexander Izryadnov, Co-founder, Vinci Agency: It might seem obvious that a company entering a new market would adapt its approach to reflect the characteristics of the market. But large companies still try to apply unified guidelines, topics and channels they use in other territories irrespective of the market differences. For example, American companies often insist on having a Twitter presence but in Russia no one is using Twitter, rather people use local, large, well-established social networks. In terms of start-ups they are normally so focused on their product development they don’t even think of modifying their PR approach to dovetail with the characteristics of the new market. As such it is always advisable to look in detail at the market and equally important to identify the cultural mores and drivers. This in turn helps identify popular topics, discussion angles, the channels most commonly used, the media landscape and who the major opinion leaders are.

Singapore, Oliver Budgen, Managing Director, Bud Communications: International companies setting up in Southeast Asia all too often fall into the trap of approaching the region as a single market. The reality is that Southeast Asia is far more fragmented than many realize. Sustainable growth requires local insight and finding partners who understand the landscape and how to penetrate the highly competitive tech space. In comparison to North America and Europe, many tech sectors are in a comparatively nascent stage and sustainable growth depends on a comms strategy that emphasizes education over product pushing and helping audiences to make sense of complex challenges. That being said, the increasing uncertainty of Hong Kong is placing greater significance on Singapore as Asia’s most stable regional hub for international businesses. We’re seeing more businesses redistribute their teams and focus to Singapore as a result.

South Africa, Samantha Hogg, Owner, MD GinjaNinja PR: South Africa is a small market, but an important one as it is a springboard into Africa.  Our budgets are not large enough to often warrant much attention, but yet we are needed if a network wants a global footprint. While we share a continent, other African countries work very differently to South Africa, charging in U.S. dollars and making the costs almost prohibitive. Often, the solution is to invest in South Africa, where the strategies and content can be generated, and a network is set up into African countries for dissemination and media relations. It is a challenging continent with many issues, but PR remains one of the tools that can make a difference.

United Kingdom, Debbie Zaman, CEO & Founder, With PR: As an agency, With works right across Europe. Often companies see the continent as one entity but with many languages, and differing levels of economic success as well as tech infrastructure, it couldn’t be more diverse. Conversely, companies coming into Europe may just decide to focus on the U.K. as their hub. The tech market in the U.K. in particular is highly competitive, highly sophisticated and uniquely British. Storytelling here is different than in Asia or the U.S. and navigating these complexities can be more challenging than anticipated. The press will want your business to have a British angle, and opening an office here won’t really cut it.

United States, Sandra Fathi, Founder & President, Affect: In many ways, the U.S. is the land of opportunity but it is also the land of competition. Many companies entering the American market see it as a critical step in growing their customer base. Some may have significant success in their home markets and believe that it will automatically translate to success in the U.S. However, in order to stand out from a PR perspective, companies often need a unique and compelling story, proven success with U.S. customers and a keen understanding of local interests and culture. Even when approaching tech press or top tier business media, there are certain expectations that international firms may not be prepared for – sharing financial information, providing U.S. customer references, having a senior spokesperson in market and garnering third-party endorsements through certifications, awards and investing in analyst relations.

Sandra Fathi

Sandra Fathi has spent the last 20 years helping technology, healthcare and professional services companies achieve their goals. As President and Founder of Affect, a public relations, marketing and social media agency, Sandra has successfully led the company with consistent growth since the agency’s inception in 2002. Sandra is also active in the communications industry and professional community. She has been a board member of the PR Council and has served as Chair of PRSA’s Tri-State District, President of PRSA-NY and President of the PRSA Technology Section. Adding to her accolades, Sandra has been recognized as one of PRNews’ Top Women in PR, a PRNews PR Professional of the Year finalist, and a Bulldog PR Agency Professional of the Year.