This way and that – a guide through the jungle of International PR

When talking to marketers and PR professionals in industry, we hear an audible sigh when the words international PR are mentioned. It is a lot of work, it costs a lot of money and it is so complicated. Are there any shortcuts, people ask. Well, there are no shortcuts but help is at hand. Running the Business Centre for the international Public Relations Network (PRN) I would like to share a few insights.

One frequent question is: Why does PR on an international scale seem so complicated when we continually hear that the world is so small and that cultural habits are converging to a large extent? The simple answer is that although on the surface the world seems a smaller place, the sensibilities of a national audience are still very particular. The world is, as ever, a very large place and in this geographical expanse of land are countries that are all completely different from one another. This can be illustrated by the fact for example that although Germany, Austria and Switzerland are all German-speaking countries, this is where the similarity begins and ends. Public relations means relating to the public, if the public is different everywhere, so thus is public relations.

One December morning a while ago, Sympra received a call from the Marketing Director of a leading food company. He had been landed with the task of planning an international campaign in 11 different countries and had a timeframe of 7 weeks (including the Christmas and New Year period). He had to plan not only the complete presence of the company at the Fair but also interest foreign journalists and invite them to visit his company’s stand as well as get media coverage all over Europe. His materials to date included a basic press kit in English. His mood was naturally bleak. How was he going to manage? Sympra and the Public Relations Network shouldered his workload and here are some Do and Don’t tips we shared with him.

Don’t just have a translation agency translate your press release and then send it abroad. This never works. Journalists everywhere are inundated with news pieces from everywhere. The chance that your message is going to be picked up is slim to non-existent. Journalists open mails from people they know, they speak to sources they trust and they publish a topic of interest in a language that is suited to their target audience and not just a translation of a piece targeted at another market with a couple of local facts.

Do keep your news local and make sure that it really is news. To give a banal example: In Spain it is not news that a German company has opened, restructured itself or changed its name, even if this company also has a subsidiary in Spain. If it does not impact the Spanish market, it is not news to the Spanish. It is news however if this company is providing jobs in the country. Once you have your news, you need to have it translated into the local language. This translation now needs to be verified. Please do remember, translators are translators – they are not writers and they do not know what journalists in your target country are looking for. This brings me onto my next point:

Do work with a local agency you can trust. An agency has a team of writers that know what their journalist colleagues want. These communication experts have been working with journalists and your key publications for years and can not only turn a mediocre translation into a journalistic piece for the media but they can also more often than not, due to their age old contacts with journalists and editors, get your piece into the publications you need. Of course, there is never any 100% guarantee and a good agency will never give you a guarantee as press freedom still remains one of the cornerstones of our democracy, but if they think it is newsworthy, they know what they are talking about!

Do listen to your agency. What works in one country does not necessarily work in another. This is a crucial point as it challenges all our knowledge of what we have learnt about PR in our country. Sometimes, we have to let go of preconceived ideas and listen to the experts in the target country…they know what they are doing as they are on the frontline of communication.

Being intensively involved in the setting up of an international PR network and hand-picking member agencies around the world, we are well-versed in communication abroad. And it is not easy. Although the agencies we have selected are like-minded communication experts, we still make sure that our partner has understood what is required. The bigger networks often don’t know their partners abroad and work with them from job to job so they have to learn to communicate with their partners while working for the client. Thankfully, we have been through this process – we know that we won’t get French journalists to a breakfast meeting because our French PR colleagues are not keen on this either. Fine delicacies but we are pleased that we have learnt these things before working on a job for our clients – saving time and a lot of energy!

The international PR jungle is a vast and varied one and there are traps where you least expect them but there are guides to get you through and they are certainly worth investing in.

If you are interested in learning more about how international public relations works in practice, visit the event Commerce meets international communication at the Town Hall in Stuttgart (Rathaus Stuttgart) on 24th March from 11.00 am – 2.00 pm, entrance is free. For more information click here.

Bild: iStockphoto

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Well done, Vineeta. Tellin' it like it is


Great post Vineeta. I assume your example couldn't be more true particularly for European companies. The European countries are so close to one another that it could be tempting to think that the markets are similar and therefore all is needed is for the same media release to be translated in many languages. Realistically, it's all about 'localising' the story to make it relevant and newsworthy to the particular country, region and even town!