I have just completed an international marketing campaign that involved working across several countries in four continents. The scale of the piece was particularly substantial, but, somehow surprisingly, the issues that came up were very similar to the ones that I had encountered in previous global projects of minor scope.
I got thinking about the importance of certain things when it comes to successfully planning and executing a marketing project across different countries. How best to roll out international marketing campaigns, and what works and what doesn’t work when managing marketing projects that have global reach.
Here are my top tips for rolling out international marketing campaigns if you’re doing something of the sort anytime soon:
1. Have a good plan – and an even better contingency plan
As with any big project, you will have put together a detailed plan covering budget, timescales and contingency. I urge you to go back to it and increase your estimates both regarding money and time required to cover all eventualities.
A big, global campaign is a minefield when it comes to timings. Time differences, approval chains and delays in the production of campaign assets can cause delays. Cover yourself and allow plenty of time for everything. Local holidays that go under the radar also have the potential to disrupt your plans for the project, so remember to check them (this website is a good place to start).
The same goes for budgets. You don’t want unexpected translation or distribution costs to endanger your project. Make sure to have enough time, resources and flexibility built into your plan to launch as expected.
2. Establish and strengthen those relationships
It’s always good to recap the basics of building great relationships with your colleagues. Get in touch with your international contacts from day one, and work on establishing a good relationship with them, both individually and as a team. Building trust and making yourself available to the international teams is the best way to reduce the chances of things going wrong.
If you’re working with dozens of individuals in different capacities, it can be useful to create a list with everyone’s names and roles by county. It can get confusing very quickly otherwise, especially if they are involved in different aspects of the project, and you have to communicate with each of them simultaneously.
Finally, if you’re dealing mostly with one person only in each local market make sure you have a backup name. It could be their line manager or another senior management team member, but you will know who to contact if your primary contact is suddenly taken ill or leaves the organisation without notice. It’s happened to me, and it could well happen to you.
3. Understand localisation
The good news is that you’ve got a wonderfully consistent set of assets to roll out across all territories. The not-so-good news is that the individual offices are not happy with just translating them into their local language. They want to make changes. What do you do?
There’s a fine line between sticking to an approved corporate message worldwide and rolling out identical campaigns that are of little relevance for the local market. Proceed with caution. Also remember that the standard format of certain assets such as press releases can vary enormously from language to language and even country to country. You need to allow for that.
Give individual countries the chance to localise their assets. Give them clear guidelines. Instruct them on the core messages that cannot be modified. Be very clear as to what they can and cannot change in the original assets.
4) Get to grips with the sign off process
The bigger the project, the more complicated the approval layers, so make sure you understand who needs to be involved at which stage. In most circumstances both local management and senior global management will want to have a say; it’s your job to clarify the chain of sign-offs required and keep the process ticking along.
Assume approval delays as we’ve seen in the first point, and any extra time you get will be a welcome breather. It’s also a good idea to find out ahead of time whether any key individuals who absolutely must give their approval to the project at any one time are planning to be away or unavailable during the project and build that into your planning.
5) Keep on top of version control
Establish from the word go a clear and consistent process for version creation and approval. Email is a danger zone – it’s surprisingly easy to lose track of who sent what when, and which version is the latest one. There are plenty of collaboration tools available out there, free and paid for (you may well be using one already within the organisation) and I cannot recommend them enough to keep your sanity.
Keep track of any changes to the original assets (you could well be asked further down the line who suggested what change) and only share them with the local teams after approval, or things could get messy. Don’t be tempted to send out any documents at the “almost there” stage or you could end up with different versions (in several languages) of the same piece floating about.
6) Communicate, communicate, communicate
As well as establishing healthy relationships with your local contacts (see point 2 above), invest the necessary time in keeping everyone in the loop. Sometimes it’s a good idea to kick things off with a one to one chat with each of your local contacts; it can eat up a substantial amount of time, but it’s worth it, especially if they’re new to the project. You can follow up with regular group emails or calls (you may need to organise them by time zone).
But go further. Put yourself in the shoes of your international colleagues and give them any additional tools that may be useful, such as checklists and Q&A docs. And, if you’re speaking to different individuals in the same country, find out from the start to what extent they’d like to know about the conversations you’re having with each of them – some will be keen to know every detail and others will want to avoid it like the plague.
7) Establish clear limits
In a complex project involving different layers of global and local management, it’s crucial to be transparent. Set clear tasks. Be ruthless with deadlines right from the beginning. Send the necessary reminders to keep everyone on track. More likely than not there will be the odd delay, but you can keep them to a minimum if you’re persistent.
It’s also important to set clear guidelines as to who will do what. The last thing you want is the kind of misunderstandings that can make an organisation look uncoordinated. For example, on the PR front, it’s paramount to determine who will speak to which media. Identifying the spokespeople can be tricky in the case of multi-country regional offices or global publications. Keeping an up-to-date version of any media lists can help enormously.
You might be wondering how the campaign I worked on recently came about in the end. I’m pleased to report it was a success – more so in certain countries than in others, but that’s another story. Getting there was by no means easy, and it required the efforts of many people across many countries. That’s the beauty of international marketing campaigns: they come with added challenge and complexity, largely because of the different interests, strategies, management and marketing agendas involved, but they are also incredibly rewarding.
So breath deeply and good luck with your next project!