How macroeconomic data can help your PR planning in Brazil

2012 March 01 | :

Suzane Veloso offers an insider’s view on how one of the world’s leading digital media companies communicates effectively across Brazil and more widely throughout Latin America as a whole.

Journalists from the North and Northeast of Brazil visiting Terra in November 2011.

The acronym BRIC, grouping the world’s leading emerging markets, appeared around eleven years ago. Its very first letter refers to a country that covers an area equal to almost half of all South America – enough land to encompass UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Germany and many other European countries combined.

At that time, the country which shares a border with 10 others, was already on the rise, thanks to the political and economic stability reached in the previous decade. Back then we did not notice an international thrill. Yet all of a sudden it seems that millions of eyes are turning curiously towards us, towards Brazil.

Currently we are one of the top highest GDPs in the world. Among the BRICs, we also present the highest Growth Environment Score – an index created by the same Goldman Sachs’s economist who created the acronym, Jim O’Neill.

These and many more indices feed the good Brazilian vibes: the country now has the lowest unemployment rate since 2002 (4.7% as at December 2011) and  a large foreign capital inflow to its Stock market (in January 2012, R$ 3.505 billion). A new middle class has been aroused and is eager to buy, from yogurt to air tickets.

Of course the country still has huge obstacles to overcome. The ‘favelas’ around every Brazilian metropolis are a living proof of that. But Brazil seems to be on the right path to solve its problems – according to a poll conducted in the first days of 2012, 59% of the population rated the Government as excellent or good.

Excitement and praise

Abroad, the excitement seems to pop up everywhere. The Wall Street Journal writes about Brazilian tourists spending more money in New York than ever – bringing a breath of fresh air to an environment so affected by the global crisis: they are, as the headline goes, "the real spenders". The fashion industry dotes on Brazilian models, a long list headed by Gisele Bündchen. Designers praise the work of the Campana brothers.

The huge reserves of petroleum discovered along the Brazilian coast attract companies and money from all over the world. InBev and Havaianas are examples of companies and brands born in Brazil and top ranked everywhere. The FIFA 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil. The 2016 Olympic Games – guess what? – will also be held in Brazil.

And the music goes on and on...

The New York Times publishes what Brazilians have already noticed in their daily life: there is a flood of foreigners arriving in São Paulo, Rio, Belo Horizonte, in search of jobs and business opportunities. According to the Brazilian Ministry of Labor and Employment, there was a 19.4% increase in the number of work visas granted to foreigners in the first half of 2011, in comparison to figures presented in 2010.

As far as I know, there are no statistics showing if a significant number of PR executives have moved into the country as well, but certainly major PR firms have done so: by themselves, through partnerships, through acquisitions, following their clients.

But narrowing the focus, what does it really take to be an effective public relations executive in Brazil? To begin with, you have to learn how to deal with the huge distance, as well as the huge differences between, at least, five internal regions – as if they were countries themselves, sharing the same language but with different cultural, behavioral and economic aspects.

The power of São Paulo

The point is, this reality can be easily overshadowed by the power and glamour of one state alone: São Paulo. Considering that 33.5% of Brazilian GDP is generated in São Paulo, it would be nothing if not tempting to put all your focus on it, more precisely on its capital, also São Paulo, that one giant metropolitan area which is, according to British magazine The Banker the fifth most attractive financial center in the world for investments in emerging markets, behind only Hong Kong, Singapore, London and New York.

There is an ocean of PR opportunities in never-sleeping São Paulo. However, if you check the data carefully, you will see that there are also enormous PR opportunities in those other Brazilian ‘countries’, especially in the North, Northeast and Midwest.
According to recent data released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the two regions with the most significant economic growth in Brazil today are not the powerful Southeast or the steady South, but the Midwest (2.5%), which is known as the country’s agricultural center, and the Northeast (1%), a traditional tourism hub. For PR practitioners, the number of addressable consumers in these areas amounts to over 67 million – an Eldorado for any brand!

The opportunity is clear to anyone who has at least glimpsed the extensive research undertaken in the last few years. It is hard work but it is worth every single mile you will have to fly up and down, East to West. Believe me!

And that was exactly what I said to my new boss 18 months ago, when I arrived at Terra’s headquarters in São Paulo, with the task of restructuring the corporate communications department of the #1 digital media company in Latin America.

Terra is achieving coverage far more widely across Brazil’s states.

Redrawing the map

A company that is among the top 32 such operations in the entire world, Terra boasts a monthly audience of more than 80 million people in 18 countries. What I proposed was that, instead of only working with the official map that outlines where Terra is present, we work on a redrawn map with 22 ‘countries’, including the five regions of Brazil. At that very first moment, we made a conscious decision to target specific projects to each of these regions, as if they were countries.

In fact, the blooming of these new, growing Brazilian "countries" is not new. In 2010, the National Newspaper Association (ANJ) revealed that 544 newspapers tittles were read across those regions.

In terms of digital media, a national survey run by PNAD in 2009 revealed that, while access to the Internet increased 15% nationwide, growth in the North (25%), Northeast (24%) and Midwest (20%) regions was considerably higher.

When considering data we should take into account the general Brazilian characteristic as early adopters as well as a national passion for the online world. In 2011, Brazil had 58 million people accessing the internet through broadband, 70% more than in 2010. The passion runs even deeper when it comes to social networks: As at last December, Facebook had grown 192% in comparison to December 2010. Now it has 35 million people connected in the country!

So we went to the field one year ago, as a first step of the plan to underscore the company’s influence and innovations throughout those various regions. For the plan was – and is – dependent not only upon data, but also upon evidence that helps us to map the untapped PR opportunities Brazil’s interior offers.

From Northeastern Fortaleza to Rain Forest gateway Manaus; from colonial São Luís to impressive Campo Grande; flying over the vast floodplains around Cuiaba, near the Bolivian border, to historical Salvador, I visited newsrooms and universities, talked to researchers and advertising professionals, and listened to many, many young people.

Back in São Paulo, my team and I rolled up sleeves and began to work with two goals. With half of the team mainly focusing on Latin America, while the other half focuses on Brazil, we divided this last one into two. Part of the time would be dedicated to increasing and qualifying the presence of Terra in the most relevant media outlets in São Paulo and the other cities in the Southeast and the South, where it usually showed up the more. The other significant amount of time would be spent on the North, Northeast and Midwest.

Improved media presence

Our outreach efforts have already generated results. Terra’s presence in the Brazilian media increased 80%. At the same time the interest among the press in São Paulo and in the other three cities Terra used to appear in the most kept on growing. The same happened in the rest of the country. And finally our presence became nationwide: by December 2011 there was widespread coverage about us, with articles about Terra being published by media outlets in 14 of the 27 Brazilian states, a strong return on our investment.

The lesson we took is that it is simply impossible for a PR practitioner to approach Brazil as one homogenous country. Accordingly, there is no ‘one size fits all’ formula. Research must be leveraged, along with technology and cultural insights, to customize the appropriate PR strategies for the intended audience. It’s a vital lesson not only for current PR executives, but also for academics who study the media and their students, who will become the next generation of PR executives.

With a country like Brazil, that is both vast and changing rapidly across all regions, the best PR efforts should pay close attention to the available data to shorten distances and to seize the enormous opportunity to be found across all of Brazil’s 8.5 million square kilometers.