10 ways PR aids international expansion

It is well known to all of us by now that we have a very clear role to play in any business development, market expansion, mergers and acquisitions and even project management. However, what is perhaps less known is the important role we can (and should play) for our clients (and Government departments) who want to expand their business/fund allocation and trade relations internationally.

I’ll address the Government side in a follow-up post. For the moment let’s concentrate on the business support we can provide for international expansion.

Whether we agree with Brexit or not, like it or not, it’s happening. And once our formal ‘goodbye’ to the EU and its single market becomes law, then all the usual European trading partners of your clients will become – at least from a taxation and customs view point – more difficult to do business with.

In business, cost and hassle are always an issue. While our line of work is mostly dependant on networks (who we know, who we have drinks/coffee with etc.), the business world functions on very different rules: cost of doing business, return on investment, staff time and administrative hurdles.

‘Made in Britain’ will not be as attention-grabbing for the EU companies as it was before, unless the ease of doing business with British companies remains the same and the financial impact for the trading partner is similar (certainly not higher) than it is now.

On the positive side, the world is a big place – the European Union exit, with its Member States being pretty close to the UK as opposed to Mexico for instance, should not be seen as the Armaggedon but as your chance to shine, use your best tools and techniques to inform and advice and, most importantly, help your clients tell their story in a manner that perfectly resonates with their target market.

How do you do that? It’s simpler than you think:

1: Do not jump and try to sign up a local PR agency without doing your homework first: relations and networks can be very costly if you think they’ll save you – you need to understand all the powers at play and the actual standing these local agencies have with the local Client / partner, the local community, the media, and other potential business leads. I got burnt several times by satellite offices of large PR agencies. Seek to understand what that market / customer pool relates to, talks and cares about. You should know what tools and techniques to use. If not, I’ll be happy to address these separately, in a blogpost dedicated to research and analysis.

2: Talk to your Client’s in-country reps/partner/customers – understand from them what PR/Comms/marketing services they use, why they use them and how successful they have been.

3: Do not think that what matters in UK should matter anywhere else – nothing further than the truth. There are countries which I am not going to name here who translate success only in column inches. As long as they are in the papers (with positive stories – paid or earned), it means that their customer base or potential partner/trade partner is reputable and successful.

4: Seek to organise an informal media roundtable with the local/national/regional journalists and hear directly from them what they would like to get from you, when and how often.

5: There are countries where contractual rules (and I faced this twice) between your Client and theirs prevent any form of external communication from taking place, including any sort of media contact. Make sure that you ask your Client to provide you with a redacted copy of their contract and … read it. Like, really read it.

6: Make sure that you meet and chat with some local PR agencies/people and seek their views on the market, communications and engagement styles etc. Just don’t meet them altogether – meet them in turn: you’ll be surprised at the end of this little exercise … often, their views on strategy and tactics will be dichotomic, with limited common approaches. However, using your knowledge, experience and your own understanding/research of the local market, you’ll be able to make the best choice for your Client.

7: If you subcontract a local partner, go beyond checking their credentials (which is a must) and make sure they come with no strings attached (politically biased, controversial, corrupt). As we’ve recently seen, the mere association with a controversial PR agency/consultant can be costly for any Client since, by association, that Client may be perceived as being less than ethical, shall we say.

8: Learn your brief by heart and be ready to represent your Client better than they’d represent themselves – if you don’t believe in the product or service they have to sell, you won’t be able to ‘sell’ it to others.

9: Don’t be afraid to, literally, get dirty – research trips in the locations where your Client’s products may be sold or services provided are invaluable. Talk to the people, ideally learn several phrases in the local language (reasons are purely psychological and related to our unconscious attachment to those who speak like us or try to) and see for yourself what and how they consume their information and which devices they use. Then, for instance, if your locally selected PR agency/consultant tell you that, for example, that particular target group consumes information from social media channels, yet your primary research has indicated that they like to look at printed shiny pictures, you know you’ve been given the wrong advice.

10: Forget everything you know in terms tools and tactics – you need to start from scratch, observe, and tailor everything to what that market/stakeholder segment relates to, whether it is or not in your ‘PR book’.

Picture credit: Ruthie

Ella Minty

Founding Chartered PR Practitioner, CIPR and IoD mentor, published author and university lecturer, Ella has almost 20 years of high level government and international organisations experience in corporate reputation, leadership and crisis management, across business disciplines and governments, including investment markets, lender organisations, national and international media, NGOs and affected communities. She is a 2014 Service Award Winner of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Assessor of CIPR’s Chartered Practitioner Scheme, and an elected member of the CIPR Council (2017-2019). She handled some of the most prominent international crisis of recent times, she developed the Leadership Development Programme for MENA young engineers and she has also been an adviser to several governments on their national branding strategies. Her list of clients includes McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Total, British Petroleum, Shell, Centrica, Averda, US Energy Freedom, Private Investment Development Group, the European Commission, the House of Commons, the Renaissance Foundation and many others. She is also a member of McKinsey’s Executive Panel.

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