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1992: meeting the communication challenge.

1992: Meeting the Communication Challenge

As most commentators have written, 1992 is better described as an evolution, not a revolution. And it will certainly not be accomplished by December 31, 1992, a date that simply will not be a single watershed moment which fundamentally changes the European scene. What 1992 really represents is an evolution toward a single market, an evolution which will reshape the European corporate world and generate tremendous changes in the economies of Europe.

Economic analyses suggest that some industries will be significantly more affected by the changes than others. In sectors such as commodity chemicals, essentially a pan-European scale, the markets are largely national or local. Certain kind sof retail operations, for instance, and many parts of the food industry (e.g., fresh vegetables, dairy, etc.) will not be fundamentally affected by 1992 changes. National tastes will not become homogenized and language barriers will continue to define markets for many services (e.g., health services, advertising, some financial services, etc.).

But for a vast number of sectors what 1992 represents is new competition brought into national markets where competition had previously been limited. For example, for steel, global rationalization. For financial services, ease of establishing cross-border operations. For trucking, deregulation of rates. For beverages, an end to formal and informal barriers to competitors, particularly in alcohol. For prescription drugs, although nationally controlled, particularly in prices, an easier approval process. For household products, computers and autos, further rationalization of industries already operating on a pan-European basis. And for other industries including oil, book publishing, leisure industries and basic chemicals, little change in how they currently produce, distribute and market their products.

While the political focus is on Brussels, there is occurring in Europe a parallel revolution in communication. Important changes and growth are occurring in the European media--even the first glimmers of pan-European communication systems.

European Media

Television is exploding in Europe. In 1988, there were 50 channels in Europe programming about 180,000 hours per year. By 1992, that will double--some 100 channels in Europe with programming needs increasing three-fond to about 500,000 hours per year. Channels are currently expanding at a rate of about 10 per year as the programming needs for those channels continue to grow.

Satellite television also is starting in Europe. Currently, there are some 10,000,000 households of 30,000,000 people who are connected to satellites directly or through cable, principally in the Benelux region. There are a great many satellite ventures, most of which are losing money. Although language will remain a problem for pan-European satellite television, the ability of satellites to carry programming from one station to another will increase the ability of one program (and one message) to move around Europe through the electronic media.

There are already several newspapers covering pan-European news that operate and are delivered on a pan-European basis. All of these are currently written in English and therefore reach a selective--albeit important--audience. In addition, there are a variety of new networks of newspapers being created, with major newspapers from Britain, Spain, Italy and France joining in consortia to share news and stories, not unlike new burgeoning wire services in Europe.

The European national business press is increasing at a rate of some 5-20 percent annually. Currently there are approximately 38 business publications throughout the EEC and this is increasing every year. Beyond the general business press there are currently some 15,000 trade press titles in Europe and that too is growing rapidly. Here again, ties are increasing between these trade magazines so that more news is being carried across the continent within individual industries.

Thanks to changing European media, issues and ideas are being carried across national boundaries with greater speed than ever before. 1992 adds the fact that more of this news becomes relevant to local audiences. In turn, local media are finding themselves more interested in carrying news from other parts of Europe. Their readers are now doing business with distant parts of Europe, and local companies are inevitably becoming increasingly international and pan-European in scope and perspective. For corporations this means a variety of new communication challenges.

Corporate Positioning

Corporations must now begin to worry about the translation of their corporate image across all borders, reaching investors and potential partners who will be reading about them in a great variety of national media. If a company is going to be a desirable investment, or a desirable acquirer, then it is increasingly important that, throughout the European scene, business audiences are receiving a consistent and consistently favorable message.

This is particularly important for American or Japanese corporations. To date, their communications have tended to be marketing driven--high visibility within particular industry segments within particular countries. Many of America's corporate giants are unknown in Europe, either as European or as global entities. In the past, that was not a problem. But with global financial markets and with new needs for strategic alliances in Europe, corporate visibility, corporate images and corporate positioning need to become pan-European and become important.

In addition, burgeoning pan-European markets mean that more suppliers and customers will want to deal with one corporation across Europe. Thus, it becomes important for corporations to move from a multilocal approach to corporate positioning to a multi-national approach. Traditionally, corporations created images that were appropriate and useful to the particular business that they did in a particular country. Increasingly, they must create a common standard of excellence across all countries and create awareness of who they are in Europe, not just in an individual country.

Issues and Crisis Management

In the area of issues, it becomes increasingly clear that national issues can now easily become pan-European issues, that a situation in one country can spread very quickly to another, simply because of the spread of news. Therefore, each national issue must be assessed not just in national terms but also for its European-wide impct. When actions are taken in one country they must be assessed for their possible and inevitable impact in other countries. External communciation and internal communication must be organized so that one part of the corporation does not contradict another part on a particular issue. That requires pan-European issue coordination--something often difficult to do in corporations that have viewed each national operation as a separate, independent and autonomous affiliate.

Government/EEC Relations

In the area of internal communication, 1992 represents enormous challenges. As businesses begin to operate on a pan-European basis, they must begin to deal with a variety of different employee cultures. They must also motivate and encourage their managers to understand the pan-European possibilities. Most managers tend to be national in their orientation, and senior managements must now help lift their sights beyond national borders to begin thinking about the opportunities and pitfalls of operating beyond their familiar turf. As more joint ventures and acquisitions are created, new problems will arise for corporations hoping to keep workers loyal and build management understanding for what a new organization's objectives and purposes are.

Media Relations

In media relations, the new, more rapid flow of information around Europe means that one must truly conceptualize an international audience for each message. Corporate executives must be trained to think about a pan-European audience when they speak to the media. Media relations specialists must begin to create contacts in countries and with publications that may not be delivered at corporate headquarters or may be in a language which senior management does not understand. Each European country has its own, highly influential business press--if media relations is driven solely by the nature of a corporation's local presence (e.g., a small factory in France), important investor and customer audiences will be missed.

Marketing Communication

Since 1992 is about new markets and more competitors, there are no greater challenges and opportunities than in marketing communication. Theorists talk about pan-European brand positioning, and in some goods--particularly with some luxury items--this is happening with great success. Research does show that one can identify in Europe distinct market segments based on lifestyle values and needs. Certain types of people have as much in common with similar types in other countries as they do with their national brethren, creating a clear potential for pan-European marketing programs.

Equally interesting is the ability to take a tired national brand--British cornflakes--and make it a hot import item in another country--like France, where cornflakes have replaced croissants among the sophisticated trend setters. Similarly, pasta, the most basic of food in Italy, is all the rage in northern Europe.

Most common will probably be a subtle mix of standardization and localization--positioning brands and categories in roughly similar ways so that manufacturing, packaging, distribution and communication can achieve efficiencies of scale--but always recognizing those subtle differences that make each European culture unique.

Looking to the Future

Today, most corporations operating in Europe have organized their communications for the past, not for the future. The traditional multi-local structure of companies has generally created nationally based communication departments which tend not to deal with one another and which often view outside advice as interference. Marketing communication is generally compartmentalized from issue management, since, classically, issues could be dealt with through "old boy" networks and did not have to interface with marketing strategies. Internal communication is usually organized for distributing top-down information which allows senior management to command. The emphasis is not on information sharing but on information giving. And, in general, communication departments have a secondary status--their job being simply to tell the world what management has decided rather than to help management use communication as a strategic tool.

The corporate winners by the year 2000 are likely to have recognized the communication implications of 1992 and evolved very different communication systems. Rather than European communication fiefdoms, corporations will develop pan-European networks--common programs and strategies shared by national departments, each of which has a commitment to a pan-European strategy and an understanding of local needs which allow them to tailor the strategy to work in the local environment. Structures will tend to be organic rather than compartmentalized. As information and ideas are shared, a good idea in one market can be tried in another. Corporate information flows will be in several directions--top down for motivation, bottom up for learning and lateral for both.

Each corporation must now begin to develop its own 1992 communication strategies which will be the bridge between today's communication approaches and tomorrow's. These will be what move a corporation from nationally based, compartmentalized thinking to pan-European, organic thinking. They will be what transform a corporation from a narrow focus on narrow national markets to a broad, creative focus on marketing and corporate communication across the borders.

How to create such a strategy?

Step One: Create the 1992 Vision

First, one must start with a vision of where the corporation wants to be in the Single Market. A group of corporate thinkers should try to develop such a vision--to brainstorm the question: As Europe becomes a Single Market, what must we become?

The brainstorming is not an effort to formulate a 1992 business strategy. Rather it is built around the concept of a mission or goal--where the company wants to be in the Single Market--how it will operate in Europe and how it will operate globally. That vision must then be translated into a desired image--how does the corporation want to be perceived by its key audiences and where does it want to be versus its competitors? The 1992 vision is the framework for identifying the corporation's communication needs. The vision clarifies how communication must be used internally and externally--to motivate, to explain, to market, to position and to affect public policy.

Step Two: Communication Systems

Assessment

Once the 1992 communication needs have been identified, an assessment must be made. Where are the corporation's European communication resources today? How are they deployed? And how well does intracompany information flow across European boundaries?

All the corporate communication systems must be assessed. Are there marketing experts ready to address pan-national possibilities? Can the corporation deal effectively with all of Europe's major business media, financial and power centers? Can issues or crises be effectively managed across borders? Are the internal communication systems working to create pan-European thinking or are they still a series of national fiefdoms?

Step Three: Creating 1992 Communication

Strategies

In the end, a straightforward process exists for identifying exactly what a corporation's 1992 communication strategy should be. It is an interactive process which makes a creative comparison of the results of the previous two steps. What does the corporation need and what does the corporation have? From that analysis, one can see what must be done and define the internal, external and organizational programs needed to achieve a 1992 vision.

In the end, one can argue that 1992 has communication at its core. The legislative program itself will push forward unevenly and sporadically over the next decade creating in its wake vast changes in the way Europeans do business. But as competitive changes sweep across national boundaries, the winners will be the companies that see a pan-European possibility and act upon that vision. Seeing that possibility, communicating it to an organization, mobilizing a joint venture or a restructured corporate organization to operate on that basis, marketing and managing issues across borders, creating a positioning strategy which makes a company a valued investment and business partner--all of these are essential strategies to success in the single market. Again, the challenge of 1992 is change--and operating in an environment of change requires effective communication programs that reach out in new directions and pull a company forward toward its future.
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes a related article on Quebec's opportunities in 1992 by Francois Senecal-Tremblay
Author:Lindheim, James B.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Words:2265
Previous Article:Communicating outside our borders.
Next Article:How to build cross-cultural bridges.
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