By Connie Haag (born in Germany, native German speaker who has lived in all three DACH countries).
When it comes to PR, each country and culture has a different dynamic. Even if they are united by a common language, as in the English-speaking world, countries remain separated by clear cultural variations that affect disciplines such as communications. This is also very true of DACH: encompassing Germany, Austria and Switzerland (D — Deutschland (Germany), A — Austria, CH — Confœderatio Helvetica), this region is united by the use of the German language (although in Switzerland French and Italian are also official languages). Even where countries are geographically as close as they are in the case of DACH, communications cultures remain nationally distinct. Therefore, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all recipe for PR in DACH. As a result, local PR agents, with cultural and linguistic insights, are critical when expanding your PR strategy into this region.
So, what are the key local characteristics that companies with their eyes on DACH should keep in mind? Is Germany the world champion of efficiency rather than humour? Is Switzerland, land of the cuckoo clock, obsessed with punctuality? Do Austrian business leaders rank first in terms of taking pride in dressing well and appropriately to the situation? Cultural clichés are such because they are indeed quite widespread. If we keep the banter lighthearted, these can be quite amusing. But when it comes to PR, you must delve deeper into the culture of each DACH target market if you are to have a good chance at success with your communications strategy expansion.
As someone born in Germany and a native German speaker who has lived in all three DACH countries, I am sharing my insights below into key aspects of the three DACH identities and values to get you started.
Media landscape peculiarities
Unlike the UK, where the majority of publications are based in London, Germany does not have a single, defining media hub, making the media landscape extremely decentralised. Take the IT market for example: although Munich, with its many IT news organisations, might be your best bet to host a press event or in-person interviews, sometimes Berlin, Frankfurt or Cologne are just as good a choice for IT events. Also, Germany still boasts one of the highest numbers of newspapers and magazines in Western Europe, with over 300 daily newspapers alone.
The Swiss newspaper market however is much smaller and split between German- and French-language outlets (the former having more titles than the latter), alongside a few papers catering for local Italian speakers.
With regard to Austria, the editorial landscape here more closely resembles the one in the UK, with a clear concentration of publications in Vienna.
Despite all these differences however, it can be said that throughout DACH, the importance of print journalism is undeniable, especially in Germany. As a result, there is a certain old-school prestige attached to coverage in print media, which is considered knowledgeable and trustworthy, unlike some of the online media.
My key takeaway here is that regardless of local levels of centralisation (high in Austria, low in Germany and mixed in multilingual Switzerland), the one thing that unites DACH is the continued emphasis on print journalism in an online world. In fact, the more experienced journalists, editors and freelancers are often found working for credible print magazines or newspapers that have been around for decades.
Titles and etiquette
The majority of German and Austrian people have the utmost respect for official titles and formal recognition. You need to be quite close to someone in order to be informal with them. When addressing a business contact, be it by phone, email or in a face-to-face meeting, it is important to refer to them as Herr (Mr) or Frau (Ms) and/or to use their job title alongside their last name. Good morning Frau Dr Davies. My name is Frau Connie Haag... In addition, you might have noticed that many people in DACH list their qualifications on their business cards and in their emails. It is important that you do not miss out these titles when you are addressing someone who took care to include them in their business information. There are of course exceptions to this rule but better safe than sorry.
Email communications with someone from DACH carries a certain risk if you are not aware of the local customs because you can appear too colloquial and informal. In Germany, Switzerland and Austria alike people tend to equate colloquialism and informality with a lack of professionalism. The majority see no benefit in a relaxed tone or first-name usage to them, there is no middle ground. However, your relationship with a particular editor or sales exec will eventually move to the informal tone after an extended period of time.
Small talk is not a German thing
Germans do not exactly hate light, informal conversations but, as a rule, they are not very good conversation starters. Initial exchanges are likely to involve an awkward silence, especially in a face-to-face business setting, but also online. To help avoid that, a safe bet is to talk about sport. As elsewhere, leave religion and politics on the doorstep do not introduce the subjects of food allergies, climate change or income tax issues either! But for a safe bet, choose sport - Germans love sport! They like football (soccer) best, but they also adore, and often play, tennis. In any conversation with German members of the media, be it on the phone or in person, you can rely on football as a great ice breaker. The Swiss are not as good at football and neither are the Austrians but they all enjoy it and they can talk about it. If you prefer, you can talk about winter sports you will find similar levels of enthusiasm, especially among the Swiss and Austrians for obvious reasons!
Gifts and expenses – not always welcome in DACH
Corporate gift-giving is not common in DACH. Bribery prevention legislation and the growing recognition of the importance of ethics in the conduct of all business, mean that, in this region, you run a significant risk if you introduce gift-giving to the tactics of your PR strategy. Do not try to present an editor with a special bottle of wine, or even a flight to an event you are present at. It is likely to be seen as trying to influence this person and could result in embarrassment or possibly a short lecture. In general, it is best avoided altogether.
I hope you enjoyed part 1 of my Insights for successful PR in the DACH region. Watch this space for part 2!