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How do you develop pan-European communication? ... verrry carefully!

Since the beginning of recorded history, communicating across borders has been difficult. In Europe, mainly, it involved clubs, pointy sticks and slingshots. Later, of course, tanks, heavy artillery and mustard gas were used to carry messages. They were effective, but expensive.

Recently, cross-border communication has become a subject of renewed interest. That's because a large chunk of Europe is scheduled to become one market in 1992.

The 12 European Economic Community (EEC) countries and their 320 million inhabitants alone represent the world's single richest market. The EEC is surrounded by the countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) i.e. Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia. In addition, the liberalization of Eastern Europe will add substantially to the size of this already huge market-that is if you're willing to accept zlotys, rubles and who knows what else.

In my view, the best way to successfully communicate across borders in Europe is to avoid making six classic mistakes-the ones we've made and unfortunately still make. I know the following is going to bend a few noses out of joint, but the article wouldn't be worthwhile if it didn't destroy some illusions.

Mistake 1-Reliance on an Agency Network

A sure path to disaster. In my experience, networks lead to considerable expense, poor quality and long delays. They don't work for advertising or public relations except possibly when high consumer budgets like Coca-Cola or General Motors are involved. Networks were designed by guys in expensive suits so they can jet all over Europe for billable meetings.

Years ago, when I worked for a large agency, we had a new business gimmick that almost always worked. Every European office manager would telex our potential new client saying something like: "Boniour from Paris. We are ready to be your agency in France." Getting telexes from nine or 10 cities at once was very flattering and very impressive to a communication manager with a nickel-and-dime budget.

it was also very likely the last time in his life he'd ever hear from any of these people. In truth, it was difficult enough even to get the managers to send the telexes on time, let alone cooperate on a communication program.

The fact is an agency office is a profit center. Unless an account is big enough, it will get very little attention. These people are under intense pressure to make bags of money. They're not going to assign experienced senior people to an account that belongs to another office. As a result, if you're lucky, you get the mail-room person looking after your activities in Paris.

In fact, since the invention of the telephone, most things such as media recommendations, language adaptations, mailings and even calling editors can be done centrally. If you need to do work in several countries, do it centrally or work on a project basis with the right local agency in each country.

Mistake 2-Europeans Know a Lot about International Communication

It seems obvious. Before launching a campaign, you should ask representatives from each country their opinions. But the important thing to remember is-having asked their opinions, you should ignore them.

Local communication managers are too often chauvinists, looking out for their own turf. They see their job as finding reasons to kill an international campaign and protect their local budgets.

However, the worst enemies of effective pan-European communication are national distributors. Distributors of course are always involved in an intricate dance with the principal company. Usually, it's communication that gets its toes stepped on.

The UK distributor, for instance, will automatically say that a program created in France can't possibly work in his market because of the difference in situation, language, cultural attitudes, phases of the moon. What he means is his logo isn't big enough or he's unhappy with the cost sharing. Distributors are not interested in long-term strategies-they want quick short-term results-after all, they might not be around for the long-term.

It's probably true that a campaign created to run only in France might not work in the UK or in Germany. But if experienced professionals, who know Europe, design a campaign to work internationally-it does not matter where it originates. Designed right, it should work everywhere.

A good creative concept will not depend on language.

However, it will depend on how it's adapted. Always use professional writers for all your language adaptations. just because the mail room boy is Danish doesn't mean he can write effective copy.

Mistake 3-God American Programs will Work in Europe

The most important reason that American communication programs don't cross the Atlantic is surprisingly simple. They weren't designed to cross the Atlantic. They are usually conceived to meet a different situation and a different set of objectives.

For example, a company whose name is a household word in the US will rarely be in the same position in the European market. Or even if it is, the product may be perceived differently or used differently.

Years ago we had a client in the home furnishing market. The company had a 60 percent market share in the US. But in most European countries it was barely known, typically ranking fifth or sixth. This company would send communication managers over to Europe who were accustomed to the leverage with media and with distributors of a broad leader. They would always trot out blockbuster visuals of US home interiors. They cost a fortune, so why not use them in Europe?

Obviously homes are quite different in European countries and budgets are different. The result often meant reducing a TV campaign or doublepage, four-color spreads in general consumer magazines to quarter-page, black-and-white trade ads featuring the wrong type of homes. It never worked. This company has in fact never lived up to its European potential.

Mistake 4-Germans Love Missspelled Headlines

The best conceived strategy will fail if the details go wrong. And details in cross-border campaigns mean language adaptations. \Wen you have to adapt text into a language that is not your mother tongue, there is only one correct reaction. FEAR. You are now walking through a minefield and the potential dangers are unspeakable. I found out the hard way that transposing two letters could turn a German disk brake into a vagina.

Multiple-language projects are often sent to printers using flaps or overlays for languages. It's the economical way to do it-it's also the source of disastrous errors, especially in captions, addresses and headlines.

We once almost sent brochures to Sweden with Finnish covers and Norwegian interiors. The only solution is run scared, assume the worst and check everything as often as possible at every stage of production using as many native speakers as possible. And then check again.

Mistake 5-The Buck Stops Here

In fact, the buck never stops. It's a perpetual motion machine and it's constantly shifting. As a result, trying to keep a dollar budget for international activities can be like riding a roller coaster in an earthquake. The dollar can vary by as much as 20 percent in a year and often does.

The safest way to budget in Europe is in one of the currencies in the European Monetary System (EMS), better known as the snake. These currencies include the German mark, Dutch guilder, Italian lira and the French franc. They are tied together within a band of about two percent. Of course, the British pound and the dollar are not part of the snake and can move swiftly out of these limits, especially when it's most embarrassing for you. There is no easy answer, but maintaining some reserve and keeping a ticket on a flight to Brazil would not be a bad idea.

Mistake 6-Time Is on Your Side

We all know Parkinson's law that a job will expand to consume the time available. In Europe, it usually takes longer than that. Some reasons are obvious-approvals take longer because people in each country will have to approve their national versions ... and change things. However, there are other factors at work to delay the best laid plans. First, Europeans have many more holidays than North Americans and they're not the same in every country. For example, virtually nobody works in France in August. Belgians also usually take a month off but that normally is July. And it is my experience that it is hopeless to get anything done in the UK or Germany between Christmas and New Year.

On top of the days off for holidays, there are, of course, the bridging days. When a holiday falls on a Thursday, you can't expect people to work on the Friday. Likewise with holidays that fall on Tuesday. Moreover, Europeans usually have at least four weeks annual vacation and it always takes place when you most need their help.

It is not only possible to do good work across borders, it's vital for companies who want to be successful in the emerging European markets. Despite the potential for mistakes on a truly global scale, effective international communication is challenging and interesting.

However, communicators accustomed to a single-language market will need to be just a little more creative, organized and patient while watching out for the fellows in pinstriped suits.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Liss, Richard
Publication:Communication World
Date:Aug 1, 1990
Words:1527
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