This is a guest post from Jill Gerig, Account Director at US agency Inkhouse
Global expansion. It’s an intimidating yet exciting time for any company, whether the business is 10 years old with an office in another country or two years old with organic growth happening around the world. Before officially taking your brand abroad, it’s important to consider a couple key items that will be critical to the expansion success overall.
According to Index Ventures, nearly all successful North American tech companies have an average of 30 percent of revenue coming from international markets, usually led by Europe. With that, it’s no surprise that a financial, tech and media hub like London is often a first choice for American companies to expand.
Ensure clear objectives and goals are in place
There’s nothing worse than expanding services to a country just for the sake of doing it. When you make the jump abroad, you have to be able to give stakeholders — prospects, customers, partners and employees — the support and the assets they need to succeed and get things off the ground.
It’s critical when telling your story externally and elevating the brand that your company has accessible, relevant spokespeople, data, news and POVs too. Prematurely entering a new market can also hinder growth. You need to have a clear plan in place or you run the risk of missing opportunities with potential customers, partners or new hires.
It’s important to go into a new market with very clear goals – is it customer acquisition? Is it organic customer growth you’re trying to capitalize on? Be sure that your key stakeholders, and your team on the ground in the new market, are fully aligned. It will be an investment of time and resources to make this possible, but having clear goals in mind will be helpful when looking back a year later to determine the success of a new market. PR programs and marketing efforts can help move the needle for a company in a new market, but clear objectives and goals from a business perspective are critical, not only to focus the effort but to create alignment between marketing, sales and business strategy.
Having a local presence and team are critical elements
It’s one thing to have an executive travel abroad to the new country you’re expanding into, but it’s a lot more impactful when there’s a team on the ground locally to help support. Even better if they speak the local language and understand the cultural norms. Timing is also important when it comes to elevating the brand – you need to invest the time to lay the foundation before you can build a reputable brand. If timing is off, you likely won’t see as much return on the investment.
Everything from customer support to marketing and PR efforts are likely to be more successful when there’s a local team, in the time zone that is familiar with the market. Opposite time zones can present a challenge, so having someone local can help avoid these roadblocks.
If there’s a new office opening in the market, it presents a great location for reporters, partners and other key audiences to come visit and get a sense of the company’s culture and focus areas. There is plenty of tech and business innovation happening in London and co-working spaces may be a sensible option for an American company looking for office space locally – especially if the team is small – you’ll get immersed in the workplace culture and community immediately that way.
It is very important for company spokespeople and representatives to spend time networking and getting to know the local market. Having a native team member can help ensure the company representatives from America are prepared for any unique hurdles that may come up in the market. A partner strategy is also beneficial as you build your network and credibility for the company – it is something we often see our clients building into their international expansion plans.
Getting to know the market and culture nuances (no one ever hated meeting at a pub, right?) are absolutely critical for success. It’s important to spend time investing in this so that the brand and external spokespeople are authentic.
So now is the time to ask yourself: is your company ready?
In the UK, we’ve been quite lucky to enjoy many warm days already this year, and naturally it’s got everyone gearing up for their summer holiday plans (and rightly so!). For our European colleagues too, we know that for many of the countries it’s not uncommon to switch off for an entire month or two over the summer to relax and enjoy – regardless of industry. While it’s an important thing for all of us to take time off and recharge batteries, it can be harder to actually ‘switch off’. One recent study found that Brits feel like they have to travel at least 1,000 miles to get away from their boss, and that more than half of workers will still check their emails when they are on holiday.
There’s never a good time for people to be going on leave, as there’s always work to be done, but it’s vital that we all get a break and there’s steps that can be taken internally to ensure your European PR campaigns still run smoothly despite any team absences. Here are five steps I recommend thinking about when planning your summer campaigns and team resourcing.
For whatever pan-European campaigns you have coming up, it’s important to think about the timing of them and whether they will fit with the European holiday schedule – not just how they fit within other corporate announcements going on. For example, in countries like Italy, many companies start to operate on ‘summer hours’, closing early on Fridays or not opening at all. Or they sometimes shut the entire office for anywhere between two weeks to a month during the summer.
This can mean they need more time than usual to complete tasks, or that it simply isn’t the right time to be breaking news to journalists anyway. Which makes another good point about trust – if one of your European teams or agencies suggest you don’t make an announcement when you’ve planned it since all the journalists are on holiday, it’s best to trust their local knowledge if you want to see results.
With these differing holiday schedules in mind, take a step back and prioritise which tasks and campaigns will drive the best results and are most important to have done during the summer. There’ll no doubt be some tasks that can wait, and others that are more urgent, but it’s best to avoid burdening people on holiday unless it’s critical.
Localisation is important to keep in mind here too. You might have decided it’s important to put out an announcement in France during the peak holiday season there, but before you do – ask yourself: do I have something specific to say about the French region in this announcement? And will there be a local spokesperson available to comment on this announcement in France when I need it? If the answer to these questions is no, it’s almost certainly not worth the effort and better to delay it. The French media are highly focused on local angles, and it will be difficult to get results without that.
With the instant communication that the internet and push-notifications give us, it’s becoming less and less acceptable to have an entire office switch off or be uncontactable – even just overnight. You always need an emergency contact to hand, ready to cover. Whether it’s summer or not, it’s a good idea to look at your company’s leave calendar at the start of every month to assess people’s availability and see when your supporting team members will be on annual leave. That way you can ensure everything you need from them is done before they go so there are no dramas during their break, and make a plan on who is going to cover for that person while they are off.
If you know your whole European account team will be off for a particular amount of time this summer, ask them now who you can speak to about any emergencies during that time. Within your own team, if it’s a bigger UK holiday like Christmas and everyone’s going to be on leave, work together to make an emergency rota. For instance, we try to share the responsibility by having one person as emergency contact each day, alternating between senior people in the team for the time that everyone’s off (typically one week).
Whether it’s the usual summer break, or St Martin/Catherine/Nicholas Days, Sinterklaas or Christmas, Yom Kippur, Hanukah, Ramadan, Walpurgis Night or Midsummer’s Evening or a pre-wedding/honeymoon celebration (Royal or not), or if your colleague is just exhausted or near burn out, there are times when it’s very important to support your co-workers (locally and abroad) and give them a complete break. A work digital detox. Be kind to those around you, and perhaps even lead by example.
Daimler received praise a few years ago after instilling a blunt out-of-office auto-reply for its staff emails, where the recipient was told that the message would be deleted while the person was on holiday. That kind of approach won’t work for everyone – especially in the PR industry – but there’s plenty of alternative ways your company can encourage staff to switch off – like using Android for Work, which can separate your business and personal apps on your device.
Instilling these kinds of norms in your company takes the pressure off anyone who believes they have to continue to work while on holiday, and also means you have consistent expectations across the team. If you can’t make it a company-wide change, why not set an example within your own team with an out of office message that shows you yourself won’t be reading any emails on your break either – here’s some of my favourites! I rather like No 7 and No 17.
While planning your team and agencies’ whereabouts, remember to also think about when you will have your rest and recovery too. It’s important to look after yourself as well as those around you and have faith in knowing that – if you prepare accordingly – things will still go to plan while you’re having a break. No-one is indispensable, so give other people an opportunity to step up to the plate. Some people have no issue stepping back from work while on holiday, but if you feel like you have to keep an eye on emails, start paying attention to how often you’re refreshing your Mail app so you can recognise and change that behaviour. If you can’t switch off entirely, try to set yourself some rules while away, such as no phone time between certain hours of the day, leaving your work phone in the hotel safe (or better yet – at home entirely!) or that you’ll only refresh your inbox once a day.
Ultimately the main thing to remember throughout all of this is that you need your teams to have a relaxing holiday and come back to work refreshed – not depressed about the hundreds of emails in their inbox on return. Your people will perform best when they feel listened to and cared for by their employer or client, and it makes sense to plan your campaign schedule around when people will be able to fulfil it properly.
Holidays are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the differences in European approaches to PR campaigning. To find out more, take a look at our European PR checklist to see how your current efforts score against best practice, and how you can better optimise your efforts.
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