By Connie Haag (born in Germany, native German speaker who has lived in all three DACH countries).
In part one of this blog post we talked about insights into key cultural aspects in the three DACH countries, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and how these affect local PR. Today we look at some more peculiarities that are important to bear in mind when planning to expand your PR activities in these German-speaking countries.
Germans are remarkably risk averse. You could argue that avoiding risk is a default attitude that runs deeply into every aspect of private and business life here. Many Germans tend to have insurance for practically EVERYTHING. That might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s true. As a result, even small levels of uncertainty in PR communications must be avoided.
Awareness of this cultural trait is critical to ensure success when it comes to negotiations and sharing information. In that respect, Switzerland’s risk aversion strongly resembles that of Germany’s, and manifests itself in the requirement for precision in language and in life. Avoiding misunderstandings means that a clear and descriptive style of writing is vital. In Austria, almost no one has patience for complexity. Product information needs to be provided in bite-sized, simple formats while still including all the crucial details. In DACH, the need for precision and clarity is underscored by a language that has sixteen ways to say ‘the’!
For example, if some technical information on your website is not entirely clear to a DACH editor, market analyst or sales exec, this will be a source of real irritation. So much so that they might move away from your website and go to a competitor’s. The same goes for ambiguous email content. It is far more likely that editors will delete the email and move onto more straightforward information. Ambiguous messaging will make your approach appear like a nuisance, a waste of the readers’ time and, possibly, money. Consistently clear and comprehensive messaging is paramount when dealing with German editors and journalists.
The peculiarities of the DACH cultures leave us with the question of what might be considered to be ‘ambiguous’ in this region and could backfire when reaching out to and engaging with key media, execs and market experts in the region. Here are some triggers:
1. Competitive edge when pitching
Both Germans and Swiss tend to base their definition of success on individual achievement rather than that of their team. Both nationalities aim for individual perfection. They will collaborate when presented with clear goals and deadlines but mostly only when the task at hand is given to individuals within the larger group. As a result, the media in Germany and Switzerland prefer to deal with the same, trusted PR contact for any given vendor. A successful PR pitch will therefore depend on the level of trust and credibility the sender has earned in the eyes of the recipient. Pitching a story, issuing a press release, organising a briefing, following up an email – each of these should be done as part of a well thought-out strategy. The language of choice must be German pitching German editors in English is one of the most common mistakes US-based PR teams can make, and it won’t lead to the desired results. Take again PR in the technology industry as an example: although the global language of IT is English, German outlets rarely publish English (or bi-lingual) content. In addition, relationships grow stronger if editors are consistently supported by the same PR contact for a given vendor throughout the campaign, and this contact should be a native German speaker. Finally, it is important for companies to understand that, as is the norm across Europe and the USA, not every pitch will result in high coverage numbers, especially with tier one press. Sometimes pitching needs to be seen as a relationship-building exercise. Doing PR in DACH is a matter of patience.
2. Directness of communications
People across DACH have another trait in common: they are blunt. To them, this way of communicating is perfectly normal and inoffensive. To a visitor they can appear borderline rude but they really do not mean to be. Remember, these people value clarity above all else. In DACH, information, especially when important, should be shared using clear, to-the-point language, without analogies or roundabout references. As a result, in DACH people do not necessarily recognise (let alone respond to) verbal or written subtleties such as hints, ‘between-the-lines’ comments and other non-direct requests. This can easily lead to the key message being missed. Therefore, the recommended communication style when doing PR in the DACH region is plain and simple, transparent and unambiguous.
3. Hollow marketing language
The line between content marketing and factual information is a clear one, and anyone who seeks a healthy relationship with members of the DACH media must respect this line. PR is all about relationships and trust it should not be mixed with marketing. To build trust with the DACH media, PR professionals should share content that is clear, concise, accurate, and consistent at all times. If the content is marketing-led, it should be labelled as such. If it is PR, it should not be marketing by another name. In today's climate of fake news, this distinction is more important than ever.
Embargoed briefings never go down well in DACH. German-speaking editors share the fear that the news might go over the wire somewhere in the English-speaking world before they are allowed to publish their own articles. That is a risk they will always strive to avoid. So, a pitch with the trigger word 'embargo' might be instantly deleted. Remember the strong aversion to risk I mentioned above. Members of the DACH media are not very interested in pre-briefings either. Instead, a better strategy is to wait and send the actual release, in German, once it can be shared in its entirety, and published at their leisure.
5. Vague timing
Swiss and German members of the media are not alone in viewing time as a valuable commodity. However, they are much more easily offended than their colleagues in other regions by delays of any kind. Interviews must start at the agreed time. Content should be delivered by the deadline. If the timing of a project is vague and if launch dates get pushed out, editors get irritated and sometimes even annoyed. They have a hard time relaxing around the volatility of complex schedules, even if the complexity seems perfectly reasonable in the USA or other parts of Europe. It is therefore critical to minimise the background noise of shifting timetables, and to only go to the press with a date and time set in stone.
And to finish: a word on humour
The good news: although it may come as a surprise Germany is not devoid of humour. That said, the Germans and the Swiss are not good at irony. That goes for the media as well, even though one might expect a more global, laid-back stance in this environment. As we all know, the funniest aspects of humour rely on irony. However, this should be avoided at all costs if you are addressing a DACH native. There is nothing more embarrassing than a joke that falls flat. Instead, use self-deprecation, the surreal, witty wordplay-style, or simple childlike humour when joking with German members of the media. Save irony or black comedy for a non-German PR contact.
Having said all that, this does not apply to Austria! If in DACH Germany has the best football players, and Switzerland the best chocolate, Austria has the best sense of humour hands down!