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European PR - one size does not fit all

Valerie Sontot, A3 Communications France


When a US-based client tells us that they want to expand their PR programme to Europe and we put a plan together they are often baffled by the diversity that is to be found across our continent. With 50 countries, even if we are all Europeans, the way communications and the media work are very different from region to region and therefore so should your approach to PR! The goal to make everyone happy, from the country managers, to the local channel partners, to the regional press, is a great vision but a very tricky one to achieve if regional differences are not catered for.

The European media landscape has changed drastically over the past five/ten years: editorial teams have shrunk and to save on printing costs many magazines have gone online only (except for many of the consumer tech titles) Sweden and Spain retain some of the largest teams whereas in the UK for example it’s not unusual to find outlets that have one person running the editorial side of things, sometimes with the help of freelancers. One of the results of this evolution is that a smaller number of reporters have to churn out the same, or even more, content, making the competition for their attention much greater, especially in countries such as Germany, the UK and Scandinavia where vendors tend to run PR programmes first. The focus is now on publishing news and publishing them fast, giving the press less time than ever to write and check details and facts. So a good idea is to have at least the basic information such as company overview, key announcements and regional executives’ biogs available in various languages. And this also means that you can forget press conferences it’s one-to-ones in person or, even more frequently, over the phone, although in France you can still get away with a small group briefing over lunch or dinner (just don’t rush through it).

When it comes to tactics many people will say that press releases are not very ‘fashionable’ anymore but I believe that at least here in Europe they are still one of the most efficient ways to communicate news to the media, although general global/corporate announcements tend to generate limited interest in this part of the world unless they include a local angle such as regional numbers of some sort, or even better, local customers. Social media is all very well but in Europe it’s only really taken off (properly) in the UK so far (with the exception of Xing in Germany) that’s not to say that in a couple of years its use won’t increase across the channel but right now traditional PR is still the way to go on the continent. Press releases are key to pique the interest of the European press in the DACH (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) region they should be technical, in the UK they shouldn’t be longer than a page and a half, in Poland they should be in Polish and ideally they should have some regional reference in each market. Two more criteria will affect your ability to get ink in my opinion: the number of relevant publications (for example in the Benelux there are few titles dedicated to enterprise IT in each country whereas in Germany there are quite a few) and your relationship with your channel partners! In Eastern Europe in fact it often makes more sense to rely on your resellers to distribute news because they often have an existing relationship with the local press.

Another tool that works well in Europe is written comment (as long as it is neutral and doesn’t promote a specific vendor) and it can take the form of an interview, a letter to the editor, an industry overview or feedback on a published article. Only a few outlets still take white papers and these have to be educational rather than promotional mostly they are accepted in the UK and Germany.

The need to issue materials in the native language must of course also be borne in mind and remember not to just translate but to transcreate. Even if English is spoken and understood across EMEA, the press in many countries likes to do business in its native language some examples here are Finland, Russia and Eastern Europe. By the same token, having a local spokesperson is crucial because they are more likely to be clued up on local market dynamics, local business customs and of course the cultural aspect of the country/region in question, than an executive based in the US for example.

La Dolce vita!
Across the EU area alone there are approximately 50 national public holidays of which more than 60% apply to just one or two countries. There is a myth that says that the French are always on holiday... well I’d like to defend my country and set the record straight: in reality Italy, Russia and Sweden all enjoy more days off than we do. But it is true that with the famous “RTT” (réduction du temps de travail i.e. time off in lieu) the French can have up to 30 days off a year on top of their standard annual leave (depending on employer’s policy)... and that’s before the long week-ends. This can have a significant impact on the chances of a reporter replying to your email (many don’t check emails on holiday) and/or your announcement getting covered so always check regional calendars before scheduling the distribution of a key release.

Expanding a PR programme to cover one or more European countries is not just a case of translating content regional differences in terms of what makes a story interesting, how the press likes to work and cultural customs to name but a few should all be part of the plan. A common message is of course key but a certain degree of local flavour should certainly be encouraged in order to promote a successful outcome.


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