Emerging with Credibility Intact13 years, 10 months ago
Local relevance and evidence that your business is committed for the long term are crucial if you are to conduct PR successfully across emerging markets. By Peter Heydenrych.
Successful PR in emerging countries is about loyalty – demonstrating a meaningful commitment to the people and country from which your organisation profits. Analyse the expectations of the media in emerging countries and they all distill to one main issue: “We’re letting you make money here; what are you doing for us?”
The question dominates most first engagements with media in countries with double-digit growth and low per capita income – how much money, people, intellectual property, social responsibility, infrastructure, are you putting into this country to help it grow? The demand by the press and by extension the reading public is that your organisation must prove it’s in that market for the long run, and not just there today to pillage and plunder.
Such demands that often sound like accusations can push you precariously on to the back foot if you take it personally, but if you bear in mind that most developing countries historically have had some form of colonialism thrust upon them, the suspicion that your organisation is yet another carpet-bagger is one you should take seriously and should strive to allay as soon as possible.
Companies that enter emerging markets armed with extensive research data, risk profiles and a network of relationships to launch their business into certain profitability are already more than halfway to securing media support – that preparation and groundwork in themselves represent a tidy investment and would go a long way to build credibility and convince any journalist that your company is taking his country seriously. But in my experience the global competitive landscape doesn’t allow companies the luxury of time or money to complete this work.
Often a chance opportunity brings that previously unconsidered market onto the radar, and in the pursuit of first-mover advantage the company decides to take a “test- the- water” approach with as little risk and cost attached as possible. And PR, compared to marketing, is considered just such a low-risk and low-cost mechanism to help open that market. While a quick, low-cost media campaign may make perfect business sense it hardly resonates with the call for allegiance which your spokesperson – at his first press conference – may be called upon to answer.
As PR practitioners we’re usually measured on positive media coverage, and here the balancing act begins: to deliver a credible, positive message to the market without compromising your company’s strategy of hedging its bets.
The golden rule is yet another PR no-brainer – give your message local relevance. It applies to every country in the world. In fact, the more developed the country the more local (if one could call it that) it has to be. Demonstrating a knowledge and hopefully an understanding of your target country is the first step towards convincing it your organisation is committed.
In emerging markets, however, local relevance is a serious challenge. Very often the analysts haven’t got there yet with their metrics and research and forecasts. You may find loads on the market for pot-ash byproducts in Germany, but don’t bother looking for something similar for Kazakhstan or Egypt.
Companies that play in the IT and telecommunications spaces have an easier time than organisations trading in commodities, primarily because their distribution mechanisms are in the ether, rather than physical. This means that business intelligence related to these sectors is, almost by default, digitized. Gathering information about the consumer landscape for pot-ash byproducts requires a great deal more legwork than establishing the level of Internet penetration in a developing country.
Arm your spokespeople
Wrap your message in local relevance; arm your spokespeople with local statistics, trends, significant names such as companies and government agencies. Quote high-profile business or political leaders of that country where their statements support your message.
If you don’t have statistics that your company has gleaned and can apply to your target country, find some from your industry, such as the Equator Principals (voluntary steps taken by financial institutions to invest in environmentally sustainable and responsible projects – something your company can hook on to if it has anything to do with sustainable development).
A word of warning here – don’t assume that you can lump countries into groups and apply a set of data collectively. You will alienate – possibly forever – a Nigerian journalist if you talk about trends in Ghana and assume they’re relevant because Nigeria and Ghana are English-speaking near-neighbours on the bulge of Africa. It is a ludicrous demonstration of ignorance that prevails among the educated and uneducated alike.
If you’re meeting Ghanaian journalists talk to them about Ghana, or talk to them about your company in Ghana, or talk to them about the industry your company plays in, in Ghana. Then back it up with facts and figures, customers and partners, quotes from your executives or even leading figures in Ghana that support your message.
Following up is vital, but with heavy ground already covered you can use your typically strapped resources to maintain communication with those journalists with whom your company established a good rapport on the first encounter. Engage directly when your executives are in-country or if you have significant developments to announce. This light but steady stream of positive communication will keep up the momentum of your relationship with the media until your next budget allocation kicks in.
The day a journalist calls you and asks for your comment as an industry leader is the sign that your cred is up, along with the perception that you’re there for the long haul.
Peter Heydenrych, Senior Communications Manager, Emerging Markets, Symantec Corporation, Dubai.mail the author
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