Advancing the Profession and the Professional

Six Ways to Be a Better International PR Pro

Around these parts, we like to think the world revolves around Silicon Valley, don’t we? I mean, isn’t everyone getting onto Path? And is there anyone out there who doesn’t pine to be the Mayor of their local latte place on FourSquare? And surely (SURELY!) no discerning professional on Planet Earth still carries a Blackberry as their phone of choice, do they?

Well, take a seat. It turns out the rest of the world isn’t quite like Silicon Valley after all. I was reminded of that this week when I spent four days with 30 reporters from Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Peru at Cisco’s annual Latin America customer conference in Mexico. And guess what? Most of that 30 had never heard of Path and they couldn’t give a hoot about FourSquare. Oh, and it turns out the number one smart phone brand in Peru is….yup, you guessed it, the Blackberry.

So, how’s a PR pro to gather all the insights they need to become a master of managing international PR campaigns? Well, try this list on for starters. Why not add your own thoughts too:

  1. Suppress your inner geek – With just a small handful of exceptions, most countries have no, or barely any, specialist technology publications. In the vast majority of cases, your audience will be a technology reporter at a business or general news publication who covers everything from cyber security to gaming. Are you preparing your spokesperson to deliver that story without all the jargon? You’d better be.
  2. Ask: “What works?” – While our pragmatic American press will happily hop on a conference calls or a video meeting, in many cultures that type of impersonal approach won’t wash. The Mexican media, for example, love to get out of their offices to meet face-to-face. Cisco’s  PR manager in Mexico has hosted press briefings  everywhere from a café to a movie theater. Make sure you know what will work in the markets your targeting.
  3. Ask: “What and who matters?” –  The 80,000 downloads of your Android App may be news of seismic proportions here in the Valley, but in other parts of the world topics such as elections, Government IT strategies, global competitiveness, education and job creation are probably higher on the agenda of those generalist business and technology reporters you’re going to be talking to. Do you have anything relevant to say to them about those subjects? Do your homework on the big issues – and the industries – that dominate the media before you go.
  4. Don’t expect a coverage summary by the end of the week. Here’s a shocker: in most parts of Latin America trade periodicals are still published monthly, and in print! In India, the physical newspaper is also still as much a staple of daily life as the skinny, triple-shot macchiato is in yours. We’ve grown so used to instant, digital gratification here that it’s easy to forget that elsewhere media success is still be a slow burn or a matter of clipping that story from the ‘paper.
  5. Think like a Politician – No, I’m not talking about launching a withering attack on your competition. I’m talking about that old maxim: all politics is local. It’s true for PR too. Don’t even think of agreeing to extend your client’s PR program internationally until they have at least a permanent, local face for the company. Better still, line up customers, partners and resellers to provide multiple local angles. Those US customers aren’t going to interest the French media one bit.
  6. A ‘Google Translate’ version of your press release isn’t enough.   One thing will stop your international PR program in its tracks faster than anything else: a reliance on US, English-language materials. Obviously your press materials need to be localized and made business-relevant (see above) but you won’t look local unless you have the whole package: a Web site, PowerPoint presentations, case studies, white papers, a social media presence. Translate them all, or better still, create content locally. (Nobody said international PR was easy!)
  7. Ask for feedback, often.  A lot of tech companies are headquartered here in the Valley, and it’s pretty easy for us to forget that international team members may be a little intimated by ‘those corporate guys in the US’. Make sure you proactively break down the barriers. Don’t let a ‘them and us’ dynamic foster.  Tap the minds of your team and your agencies locally and regularly. Many minds coming together will make doing international PR much easier than attempting to get it all right from here in the Valley.

What else am I missing? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, or perhaps your horror stories!

David McCulloch was born in The Netherlands, grew up in England, lives in Silicon Valley, and is responsible for Cisco’s PR in Canada, Latin America and the US.

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