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Coming to America

A number of media companies – like Pearson, News Corp., and technology publisher IDG – own outlets across a number of countries. As businesses, the different media outlets may operate along similar lines. But journalists operate differently from country to country.

American media are geared to cover American companies, which are based on American laws and culture. Take the time to get acquainted with the cultural and business values of Americans. It will better equip you to understand American journalists. And be sure you take the long view – showcase your long-term commitment to the American market – or the reporters will dismiss you as irrelevant.

A UK reporter may respond to news by saying, “excellent” or “brilliant,” but that does not mean the reporter is really interested. Communications professionals who are conducting programs in countries must know the rules of the road before embarking inside another country's media – to spare themselves of explaining to the client afterwards that the reporter did not really mean “brilliant” in the traditional sense of the word.

Over the years, we’ve helped support dozens of international companies and organizations in the US, the world’s largest market. Our clients and experience includes:

  • Canada: Vortex Aquatics, UNIT4 Business Services (North American subsidiary), Lumenpulse, Longview Solutions, Research in Motion (RIM)
  • United Kingdom: Clareville Communications, IMEX, Spacebit
  • France: Seqens Group
  • Germany: German Convention Bureau, Micropsi Industries, Panoratio
  • Switzerland: Mind Maze
  • Australia: Prota Therapeutics
  • India: Reveleus, Mantas
  • Israel: Copia Agro, Gilat Satelite, Nexense, Weizmann Institute of Science, Technion
  • The Netherlands: UNIT4 Group, Royal Phillips
  • Russia: Luxoft
  • Sweden: Adra Match

The challenges

  • The U.S. market is larger, more segmented and specialized. The most important thing to remember is that you must be relevant, which means you must establish local credibility. You must have a story that reflects your commitment to the U.S. market and U.S. business trends, and is backed up by relevant proof points and local anecdotes. And the most important element is local customer references. The market – especially the media – insists on U.S. customer references.

    In fact, the top three most important factors for technology media to write a story are:

  • Local customers.
  • Local customers.
  • Local customers.

    The media won't be interested in products or services until they are available in the U.S. Even for technology widely used by shoppers in U.K. supermarkets, U.S. reporters were interested "only when the technology is available in this country." When the product was finally available – in one supermarket in Cleveland – we were able to secure placements in USA Today, The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine (which called it one of the retail industry's significant advances), ABC "World News Tonight" and NBC "Dateline."

  • The U.S. media's interest in local customers is not unusual, of course. The media in most countries want local customers. After South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, there was a huge thirst for international (mostly U.K. and U.S.) expertise. But that soon palled, and businesspeople and the media began asking what the relevance of global solutions was to their particular circumstances. These days, South Africans are keen to hear about applications that are relevant to them, and about local case studies and success stories. The challenge for companies entering a new country is signing that first set of customers so it can have strong local references.

  • In terms of establishing a U.S. presence, international companies need to have more than a sales office – this holds true for sales offices of U.S. companies, too. For example, a San Jose-based reporter might be interested in a U.S. company's local R&D facility but not in a sales office.

    Additionally, the U.S. media's lack of interest can extend to publicly held companies that are not listed in U.S. markets – sometimes it can be easier to secure interest in a private company. For instance, we found it was a lot easier to generate publicity for a publicly held Canadian company once the company listed on NASDAQ; afterwards, because a lot of business publications cover investment (or in this economy, divestment) opportunities, we were able to generate significantly more coverage for our client.

    One way to make headway in this large market is to focus on business issues rather than products. The reporter wants to know that your company is committed to the U.S. market. You can do this by tailoring your message to reflect the business environment of the U.S., and what your company has to offer. A CEO or a C-level executive is best suited to deliver this issues-focused approach. By taking an unconventional stand, your executive will stand out from the crowd and establish some thought-leadership on the topic.

  • When targeting the U.S., remember that talking to I.D.C. or the Gartner Group in Europe or Asia does not mean you are covering the U.S. market analysts. You need to build the U.S. market analysts into your communications program. Your approach to them should be one of long-term commitment. Ideally, a local manager should have responsibility for building a long-term relationship by using their reports, assessing their views and ensuring regular contact. Also, be aware that in the U.S., industry analysts "drive" categories; don't try to invent a new one. And make sure the company knows what terminology an analyst firm is using to define the category since different firms use different nomenclature. If possible, try to map the product within a set of U.S. vendors, rather than compare its to the company's home market. This will ensure that it is positioned accurately in their current thinking.
  • All English is not created equal; use the lexicon in the U.S. industry. Executives who give compelling interviews in their native countries should still think about being media trained in the U.S. One Canadian executive used what may be a common expression in Canada – "Don't sell the bear skin before you skin the bear" – but surprised the U.S. reporter interviewing him; there was a pause from the reporter before asking the next question. (We also advise U.S. executives to avoid regional colloquialisms.) Another reason for media training: the issue of competitive claims. For example, German law does not allow executives to make specific competitive claims. However, in the U.S., executives tend to be somewhat aggressive with their competition. Your global executives need to know what the U.S. reporters expect.

    Media training is particularly important if executives have a strong accent and are planning on conducting broadcast interviews. Without having met them, we once set up broadcast interviews for a Belgian-born CEO and the Croatian-born president at two former clients; their accents were very heavy, which made it difficult for viewers to fully understand them – and made for less effective, less compelling interviews. Phone interviews are also difficult for U.S. journalists when the spokespeople have heavy accents.

  • The U.S. technology industry is marketing-driven. U.S. companies tend to spend more on marketing than international companies. The accepted U.S. ratio for spending on R&D vs. marketing is 30% vs. 70%. German companies, however, are said to spend 70% on R&D vs. 30% on marketing. This means that U.S. reporters have a higher tolerance for "marketing lingo" than their journalistic colleagues in Germany, France and the U.K.

    This doesn't mean that a company coming into the U.S. market needs to build the biggest trade show booth or even spend the most on advertising pages, it does however mean that CEO's expectations of what is possible should be grounded in what others are spending for the same or better results. For example, your CEO might not think a U.S. specific page on your home page is necessary, but it is critical to establishing your long-term commitment to the U.S. market – even if your company is focusing on the Latino market, the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S. (Mainstream U.S. companies like Proctor & Gamble and Fleet Bank have recently launched Spanish-language initiatives involving network commercials and a new website, but the approach is very much U.S.-centric.) Also, remember that U.S. reporters are heavily dependent on websites for their research, so they will turn to your site often.

  • For companies offering technology products, proving the validity of the technology is crucial to acceptance and earning market share. No matter how clearly a company backs up its claims, technology buyers require independent, expert verification for most software and hardware; that validation comes in the form of reviews and awards from the highly acclaimed labs of the IT trade press.
  • U.S. technology companies usually have a larger direct sales force and long-term associations with large systems integrators. This means that they are "top of mind" for short lists. It is a given in some instances that they will be considered just by the fact that they are a known commodity.
  • In the economic downturn, people buy from people they know (e.g. “You never get fired for buying IBM.”). What this means is they are already "marbled" into the industry. They have "buddies" from prior positions. They have favors to call in. It takes time to build the "home field" relationships, but it should be a priority for international companies. Look into the local industry associations, chambers of commerce and user groups. These are all outlets for creating local business relationships that will reinforce your long-term commitment to the U.S. market. Also, local state government often have a vested interest in wooing international business to their state, so look into the incentives they may offer.
  • When working on collateral materials and websites for the U.S. market, be sure to explore the local laws. The U.S. has copyright and data protection laws, as well as laws that address environmental issues and competitive claims. Also, when designing collateral materials, websites, etc., keep in mind that design elements and color choice are in part cultural. Design elements that are right for Japan or Brazil, for example, may need to be adjusted to ensure they address the targets in the U.S. market and reflect your global brand.

The Media

  • There are several types of media to be targeted:
    • National newspapers: which means USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. USA Today is geared for the road warrior executive, and is available is most business hotels throughout the country. The Journal has the advantage over the Times of more space devoted to business; on the East Coast, the Times may be more important but the opposite is true on the West Coast.

      Two other dailies have a national reach and a national focus: Financial Times and Investor's Business Daily. Of course, the former actually has a global reach and focus, and is a strong competitor to the Journal for global executives, but the more U.S. focused executives read the Journal. IBD has a small but loyal readership. There are national weekly newspapers, like The Star and the National Enquirer, but those are tabloids sold in supermarkets and cover the latest celebrity news and gossip.

    In comparison, there are 11 national titles in the U.K., and they each have an unusually high readership levels – but readership levels are on the decline. Unlike most U.S. newspapers (with some notable tabloid exceptions, like the New York Post), U.K. newspapers have what The Economist calls a "a culture of irreverence," while German papers are perceived to be "tame and stodgy."

    In dealing with the U.S. national newspapers, an international executive would do well to have worked with the British media, which are notoriously skeptical and aggressive and will jump on any perceived weakness. The U.S. national media pride themselves on uncovering the truth, and will go for the kill if they think they have a scoop.

    • Local newspapers: which means papers that generally cover a city, like the New York Daily News. There are some papers that cover a larger region, like the Boston Globe, which views its area of influence as all of New England, from Connecticut to Maine. These papers are primarily interested in local businesses, locally available products and services and local customer references.
    • Consumer/general interest publications: which can have weekly or monthly deadlines. Many of these are service-oriented publications, which means they look for self-help news – and, of course, celebrity profiles.
    • Trade publications: even very small industries are generally served by two publications – the established magazine and the upstart that figured it could do the job better.
  • If the company is small or midsize, reporters will want to talk with C-level executives – CEO, CFO, COO, etc., and don’t like talking to VPs of Marketing or Communications. U.S. reporters prefer executives with operational and P&L responsibilities.
  • U.S. reporters don’t like leaving their offices for press conferences unless the news is significant. If they do attend, they like to schedule time afterwards for one-on-one interviews to get quotes different from what other reporters have. This is different from reporters in the France, who like to go to events, or in China. Also, when conducting telephone press conferences, remember that, unlike China that has only one time zone for the entire country, the U.S. has several time zones; holding a telephone press conference in New York City at 9 a.m. before the markets open will mean that most West Coast-based reporters, for whom it is 6 a.m., will not participate.
  • What's do U.S. reporters consider to be news?
    • Deals worth more than $200 million. However media will be interested if it’s a hot company or industry sector (i.e., Amazon could make an investment of $50 million)
    • Developments in key sectors. For example, telecom equipment is closely watched by business reporters – and are likely to have a specific beat reporter – than SaaSs or SOAs.
    • Depends on who’s affected. Consumer-relevant news – about DSL in the homes – will get more than attention in business press than news about B2B or back-office bank technology.
    • Financial results.
    • Turnaround stories (from layoffs to record profits).
    • New or unusual corporate strategies.
    • Revolutionary product or service.
    • Significant merger/acquisition.
    • Major partnership particularly in conjunction with significant revenue figure.
    • Significant Customer wins – particularly in conjunction with significant revenue figure.
  • Reporters at top-tier U.S. business publications do not accept gifts or free travel from companies they cover. While it may be common practice to fly reporters from Canada or Europe to fly to the U.S. for important meetings, reporters at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, and many others will not accept the offer for even an inexpensive lunch, much less an extensive trip to visit, say, a lab or a user conference.
  • Top-tier U.S. media tend to be somewhat serious in their approach and stingy with their time. The Italian approach of combining family with business doesn't work, and neither does an approach that works well in France, which is having an event with no news value just for fun and relationship-building.
    • In fact, Business Week editor-in-chief Stephen Shepard recently told reporters and editors to stop going to lunches or dinners with executives outside the office. Instead, they are supposed to reserve the in-house dining facility.

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