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The value of getting your international communications translated… correctly!

When I was recently consulting for the language service provider,Conversis, I was proud to have made the introduction to PRCA and ICCO that lead to the two organisationsbecoming partnersin February 2016.  I was in quite an unusual position, working closely with the language industry but having come from a PR and Comms background and so was immediately struck by the lack of importance and attention many brands and organisations gave to localising their content, but also how, in many cases, they also didn’t take account of cultural context in their communications.

Conversis’ CEO Gary Muddyman said at the time that “Whilst we now work in a global market, it is just as important as ever to understand how to deliver your message to a local audience in a way that is culturally correct.”  This is backed up by Common Sense Advisorywho recently showed that 85% of international consumers prefer native language webpages when researching prepurchaseSo in fact, we’re talking about an impact on your SEO strategy as well as your communications campaigns.

However, sometimes it’s better to hear it from people who are actually working in International PR themselves and Julia André is one such practitioner who can talk from experience when it comes to understanding different cultures.  Julia was born in Germany but now lives in Catalonia/Spain and has been leading International PR teams for several thriving US tech companies in the course of the past seven years.  According to Julia, “It’s crucial to not only be a good manager of international PR or comms activities and gain great coverage pieces and build up strong media and influencer relations, but also get into the markets the most appropriate, authentic and professional way – and that goes only via a profound knowledge of local style, language, culture and last but not least, people.” 

For really quick and successful local market entries, for example, Julia says that it’s important to collaborate with local senior professionals. “If a foreign company starts with bad localised press releases, bylined articles or pitches with non-relevant topics, you’ve killed it already” she said.

From an integrated comms/marketing perspective, Julia’s view is that at most, only one in four campaign ideas that come out of a US HQ are suitable for international markets and that the scattergun approach just doesn’t work.  There were certainly examples of this when I previously researched the topic for a post I wrote for PRmoment.  At that time, I spoke to two PR consultants who shared the challenges they had personally faced when trying work on international communications campaigns. 

Karolina Davison is Swedish but has lived and worked in the US and is now based in the UK.  One of her clients, that has significant global presence, asked her to translate and distribute a press release to the Swedish media, where the brief instructed her to ‘Translate, but do not change the legally-approved content in any way.’  However, Karolina felt that her chances of getting any coverage were limited if she wasn’t able to rewrite the copy of the release, as it was written in the style of a corporate announcement but not specific to the Nordics.   She felt that “translation can be a wasted exercise if not combined with localisation”. She said that “whilst it might be completely acceptable in the US to use poetic adjectives to describe a company’s mission and the habits of its clients, in Sweden you stay close to the facts and refrain from using ‘flowery’ words or ‘lofty’ exaggerations”, giving examples such as American consumers are ‘passionate’ about a product whereas Swedes are ‘appreciative’. 

Another example in that original post referred to the challenges of understanding and adapting to cultural nuances and was shared by Jon Meakin, International PR Director at Grayling.  Jon talked about a pan-European Christmas campaign that Grayling were running for a global client with a US HQ, where the client insisted on referring to the Christmas period as the ‘Holiday Season’. Of course, in Europe, you’ll find numerous differences in the ways in which Christmas is celebrated and so Jon explained that “a template approach just won’t work”, using the example that in Spain, gifts are not exchanged until Twelfth Night.

For Julia André though, it’s quite simple: “Just spend one second putting yourself into the shoes of the audience, be it a journalist or a target person/consumer: if you receive messages that sound odd, translated or even silly, you very probably won’t give the person or company sending it a second chance.”

If you want to learn more about what’s involved in actually managing the translation, localisation and transcreation process, then please do book onto one of the webinars I run for the PRCA.  Here’s what Sophie Bannsiter, Account Director of Talk Production kindly said about it:

“The transcreation webinar was so informative, filled with really practical tips that can be applied to translation work. It also gave a really good understanding of the process and timelines. I would recommend this course for anyone working with multiple markets, even if you are not directly responsible for the translation”