Highlights from this year’s European Song Contest included a Polish Captain Hook look-a-like, the German entry looking like a Pokémon character and the Dutch contestant deciding to take a 10 second pause mid-song. Pan-European PR can be just as confusing.
There are 51 countries in Europe with 23 official languages – so it’s a huge mistake to think that PR operates in the same way across the continent. There are even nuances in different regions within different countries. Whilst we like to operate as one European PR team, there could be prejudices and cultural differences going back centuries that mean it’s not just 23 different languages we’re dealing with; it’s actually more than 50 different cultures.
In recent conversations with brands, the key considerations before launching in a region is available market opportunity and key competition. What must also be considered is what that means from a communication stand point. Is the key competitor in that market founded by someone local? If so, you’ll have a battle on your hands because the media will always have a preference for ‘home grown’ businesses. What’s the USP of the competition in that region and can you better it? If not, you’ll need to be creative in your comms to avoid being branded a ‘me too’ company.
If you’re serious about pan-European PR, then invest. If you want to get the most from your agency investment, try to minimise the number of countries you have on an “as you need it” basis. When it’s completely ad-hoc, you miss out on so many hijacking opportunities and your agency’s “brain time” is diverted to other clients, so when you do want to activate them it’s rarely at the optimum performance levels. You’re better off having a small retainer in each country you have a presence in, even if it means banking some of the time for when you need it.
From a media perspective, a staccato presence can be perceived as a lack of commitment to that region. And that’s assuming they remember you in the first place!
Here are our three most important considerations when considering pan-European PR – there are many more, especially when you dive into each country’s preferences, which we will be covering in a webinar in December. More details on the webinar are at the end of this article.
Know your stage
Not every European capital city is the hub for the country’s media. Taking Germany as an example, there are several important cities. Munich houses technology and some lifestyle titles, Hamburg is home to the main lifestyle publications and Cologne is the number one place for broadcast outlets. This is hugely important when planning events, media tours and face-time with your company’s executives.
Don’t assume that every country’s digital habits are the same. For example, did you know that Spain has a higher Twitter usage than the UK? There are cultural and usage differences too. For example, in Germany people have a more private attitude to sharing personal information online through sites such as Facebook and Twitter, compared to the UK. Also, when it comes to blogging, Germany is less commercial than the UK, where popular blogs have more in common with traditional media websites than the more personal UK blogs.
Timing is everything
Building adequate lead time for translations, localisation and pre-pitching is vital in pan-European PR roll-outs. With media like Twitter and LinkedIn, you risk people seeing the news before the local-language media sites have had time to cover the announcement; and at that point, it is “old news”. We also see time zone issues where a release is distributed at 9am PST, which is late afternoon in Europe. If you haven’t allowed your European agencies to pre-pitch the story, it’s likely that the results won’t be as good as they could be.
Time zones and lead time aren’t the only things to consider. Bank holidays can have a big impact on a PR plan because it isn’t as simple as just ruling out a particular date in the PR plan. UK bank holidays tend to take place on a Monday or a Friday, but in other countries it can happen on any day of the week. For example, if a bank holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday in France, many workers, including journalists, “fait le pont” (bridge the gap) by taking the Monday or Friday off to lengthen their weekend. Also, not all bank holidays are national in Europe. For example, in Germany, Bavaria gets an extra four bank holiday days, which is important if you’re targeting media based in Munich. You also cannot underestimate the media slowdown during the summer months, with many outlets operating with skeleton staff during the month of August.
Your local talent
Avoid the Eurovision style monthly call. “Hello, this is Stockholm calling, what a great event we had this week” – this isn’t the best way to collaborate as a European team, especially when there’s a lot of you. Speaking with each other is a good idea but it’s better done in smaller groups or one-on-one (especially if you’re not conversing in your native language, you need to consider people’s confidence levels).
To share ideas, activity updates and successes consider using other channels, such as instant messenger and project management tools like Basecamp or Trello to get feedback from in-country representatives. English may be the language of business and spoken widely, however, not everyone is confident communicating verbally, so it’s best to allow the team to feedback over email or IM, giving them time and access to tools to help them express what they want to say.
It may seem obvious, but the team on the ground know the ins-and-outs of the media the best. This is especially so when trying something different, since they consume the media every day, so their experience and intuition must be considered.