Lesson learned – again
I have been working for more than a decade now in international PR agencies – so it’s time for a post in English, isn’t it. During my time I have been responsible for handling international accounts and running projects in a number of countries. The kind of project ranged from a three-country-campaign for a faucet and bathroom producing company in Germany to a 12-country campaign for an international DIY-tool producer close to Stuttgart. Today I’m responsible for communications of a marketing and sales support campaign in ten markets for a Swiss sanitary company. And these ten markets are more than different in terms of market maturity, messaging and positioning. But all are running one campaign with a pre-defined set of messages, goals and settings. And anybody who has run such a campaign knows how challenging it is to have everyone singing the same song even though the language and even the tempo of the song may differ from country to country.
These campaigns may all be very different but they all require some common golden rules. Rules that are proved every day I’m executing the project. To be honest these rules are more or less the same that I learnt at the beginning of my career at Brodeur Communications (today Ketchum Pleon) as an International Account Manager. In this post I want to concentrate on the three major basic rules: they may not be groundbreaking rules but they are the key to success. What is more I’ve learnt that not too many PR consultants are willing or able to execute international campaigns like these. So I’m more than happy to discuss them with you and to learn about your best practices, feedback, examples, fails or whatsoever. Comment or mail to Olaf Grewe.
1) Do not assume – Even in the biggest companies with huge teams and very creative and impressive people leading the teams, some essential things get lost – always. They are lost due to a jam-packed agenda, lost due to some missing details and so on. All these very understandable reasons have one effect in common: some countries are not as well informed as others. Or they have a confused idea about the plans. Or, even worse, some countries are absolutely not fine with the big idea generated in Headquarters or with the choice of the executing agency. So do not assume that , just because you have sent out an email with the details, that everybody is informed and happy with the campaign.
And do not assume, that your colleagues in the local countries work the same way as you do. Yes, they are highly professional and do know what to do and when. But they may not know how to handle your client and, as important, they may not realise that you and the client expect them to work in a particular way.
So always crosscheck, talk, ask, listen and inform your clients, your market representatives very carefully and frequently. It will take a lot of time – most of your time – but it’s worth every second. It is difficult to over-communicate in an international campaign. And, above all, invest time at the start to identify and solve problems. If you do not, expect them to arise later and cost far more in terms of time, money and goodwill to resolve.
Especially in multi-country campaigns it is key to success if everybody respects the hierarchy. It’s about being aware that with many more people involved in a multi-country campaign the potential to either confuse or upset increases exponentially. So always be sure – and don’t assume - that you and your colleagues use the right lines of communication. Don’t allow people to find out what’s being said through the wrong channels etc. Otherwise your project will crash.
2) Pick up the phone – Oh dear, doing calls in a foreign language! I can’t speak English as well as a native speaker, my writing is ok but far from perfect. However, it’s my task – and most of the time an honour – to talk to my colleagues and clients in all the different markets. It might be Korea or a Ketchum office in Los Angeles. Whenever possible I visit or see them. I get to know their faces, to look into their eyes, to see what they’re thinking. Picking up the phone or video conferencing (Skype is fine for this) and trying to speak some sentences in English to your contact person is key to success. Try it out, it works: it builds the rapport with colleagues in other countries quicker than anything - and it improves your English dramatically.
3) Be precise and pushy – As mentioned above not all markets will accept your plans or even know about the details or the plan itself. I’m not a big friend of process ppt-slides, nor a fan of overdone action plans. But I’ve learned the value of working with these project management tools as they saved my live many times. Use your skills in managing the process to impose order on what can be a too informal activity. Tell your client what exactly you are planning, tell him what you expect from him and when. And please, please, please, check if he has done what you asked him to do. And: Invest this time up front (more than you would with a local only campaign) to get everyone on board.
In my experience he or she is happy being pushed even they seem to be embarrassed at a first glance. It’s your duty to run the campaign and you are paid for this – hopefully. Ask your colleagues to stick to your rules and timings. Describe the tasks (what, when, where, why etc.) as descriptive as possible. The client contact is usually under enormous pressure to meet his or her targets, often in areas with which you are not involved: they will always welcome someone who takes the worry and stress away from them and builds the trust on which all good consulting relationships are based.
P.S.: Thank you Mike Copland, Ketchum Pleon London, for being a teacher in International Account Management and your efforts.