Portugal 2020: Investing in communication

Part of the focus of the Portugal 2020 investment and development program is ‘internationalisation’. As an international communicator I’ve been following this program, and the organisations involved, closely during the last year here. I’ve seen great developments. Of course there’s still a lot of work to do, in particular in the area of international communication. So, what can we do, you ask?

“You can invest however much you like on product or technology, without a communication strategy you won’t succeed in the long-term.”

Before I show you a case from my portfolio, let’s consider the relevant elements of international communication. First of all, what does ‘international’ mean for business? Basically, it means: a situation where people, groups or organisations interact with other people, groups or organisations from a different country or culture. I add the dimension ‘culture’ because you need to realise that you’re also dealing with different cultures within a country.

Communication covers every interaction, so awareness of regional or cultural differences is crucial for international success. If you are a Portuguese company or start-up with cross-border ambitions, you need to prepare your communications strategy with this in mind if you want to succeed in the long term. Developing a communications strategy is a challenge, but the effort will pay off. On the other hand, I’ve seen really great initiatives fail because of the lack of a vision (strategy) on communication. You can invest however much you like, without communication you won’t succeed in the long-term.

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International communication in Portugal

Let me start with a recent case*. Trying to attract more foreign quality visitors, this Portuguese restaurant realised it was time to change its marketing communication. In addition to offering a Portuguese menu, it stages differently themed events in the evening. They wanted to capture a new clientele, and the subsequent brief was to sell their Portuguese ambiance to foreign guests, both tourists and business visitors.

“Make sure that all your activities are aligned.”

What kind of actions were necessary? Now I’m not going into detail here, but we worked through these steps:

  • Define the current and future profile of your business?
  • Decide what you want to change. No need to change what’s okay!
  • Profile your current and future customer.
  • Create a realistic planning, based on an equally realistic budget.

From this exercise we took these tag words as a starting point for the development of our new communications approach: Portuguese, international, quality. In fact, we are not just working on creating a communications plan, we’re actually at the level of a business plan! Why? Because we have to make sure that all activities are aligned. Most communicators, I’m sorry to say, stick to a one-side approach. In my projects, cooperation on more levels is needed in order to make the communication effort as effective and durable as possible.

Consistent communication

Right, back to this business. The three key words are still ‘Portuguese, international, quality’, remember? These add up to a vision, a corporate story or whatever you want to call it. I use the concept of the Manifesto. This covers all aspects of the business, including the restaurant, the staff, the products and the services. And, of course, it covers the communication.

Time to start communicating! In cooperation with the owner, a project developer (investor) and a marketing support agency, I’ve developed the following tools in the communications plan:

  • Redesign of the identity based on the current design but more appealing to an international audience;
  • Brand guidelines in line with the freshly developed identity;
  • Online tools (website) and a social media content strategy;
  • Offline tools: from menus to flags and vouchers (print);
  • And, not to forget: the language options (in this case the focus is on English, French and German) for all relevant tools.

Production of communications tools and a list of actions during the year is subject to the plan/planning/budget we decided on. Of course, communication activities need to be flexible (active and reactive), so I’ll update  the customer regularly (in this case monthly) on progress, changes and challenges. Without getting into results yet, the change of direction quickly started paying off, as we wasted no time before the season’s start.

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What do you need as a start-up?

Each project I do is different. Very. I don’t do standard solutions. Because of the many variables a communications professional deals with, they should offer wide-ranging and flexible services on many levels. However, the essence of my services is always the same: getting to know the customer’s needs, their audience and using the best (read: most effective and efficient) tools available for communication, within planning and available budget. No blabla, just plan-do-check-act.

“In my experience, start-ups require an approach that is fast and effective.”

The Portugal 2020 program has resulted in start-ups with mostly international ambitions. Let’s take a look at their communications approach. What does a start-up need? Often, the technical (IT) capabilities are present, as well as a social media foundation. In my experience however, their online activities are not yet fully market-driven.

In my experience, supporting start-ups require an approach that is fast and effective, in line with their high ambitions. Often, we start with a basic training to the team on (international) marketing and communication, followed by hands-on support on creating what is most needed in the start:

  • A short-term communications plan
  • Website – online
  • Social Media strategy and plan
  • Trade fairs and personal contacts
  • Presentations
  • Brochures, hand-outs and other print and display material

The nature of start-ups requires less long-term strategy, but more hands-on approach. Weekly meetings or videoconferences are used to keep up to (full) speed with their quickly changing dynamics. It’s great to be part of it all, pushing future entrepreneurs literally across borders!

Finally: contrary to what many believe, communication is not just about communicating. Because of my international background, for me it’s very much about making communication work, about crossing borders. That’s the challenge! Are you prepared?

Contact

For more information, please visit the website alfred-jansen.com, contact me via e-mail at alfred@alfred-jansen.com, connect on social media, or simply call me: +351 936 814 043.

*I’ve adapted the case in order to protect my client.

The ultimate communicator

What I notice on social media, in particular on the ones aimed at professionals (like LinkedIn), is that we’ve lost our sense of creativity. That’s strange, as we have never communicated as much as we do now. As I told a Portuguese friend today, in my area of work (communication) these days everyone seems to be a “storyteller” or a “coach” or whatever title is available to show how “creative” and “important” they are. Really? Let me take a look at the ultimate communicator.

I’m not going to be popular saying this, but on most social media conformity is the norm, as is bragging, and creativity is to be handled with extreme care. On the face of it, this makes sense: you don’t want to lose business, so just say what others prefer to hear. That is why, dear social copy-pasters, I prefer to create authentic content. First of all, because I love my work. Secondly, I believe it is vital to present yourself (as a person or a business) as you are: unique. And it’s part of my long-term approach as a communicator. Bragging is definitely a short-term thing.

The history of the ultimate communicator: the court jester

Let me make a side-step. A former German colleague told me something about me some time ago. A quality he had noticed in my attitude towards customers and management. He called it “Narrenfreiheit” which is one of those very particular and quite poetic and historically significant German words that require explanation rather than translation.

The word “Narrenfreiheit” relates to the rise of the earliest jesters (because that is what “Narr” in German means), with court jesters being described in literature from the time (royal) courts existed. I’m going to cut the historic part of this story short and tell you what I concluded from all the rather intriguing tales of jesters at various courts.

The role and position of the court jester

Court jesters were (and still are) generally seen as fools, not being taken seriously by courtiers and public. At court, their Majesties would generally be unapproachable on serious matters – one could easily risk losing his head by approaching the sovereign in an unbecoming manner. The court jester proved to be quite a useful middleman. The majesty knew they were missing out on a lot of information because they were feared.  The court jester was used as a link to reality. Most members of court were not trustworthy and mostly politically engaged. Not the jester.

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So, it turns out that the court jester wasn’t just the fool providing good laughs and entertainment. He was the invisible link between the Head of State and his servants as far as information and communication were concerned. Quite notably, the jester was trusted by both the majesty and his people. Surely, no-one would accuse a fool of bad intentions?

As history has shown, the court jester was quite the communicator, you might call him the facilitator in the medieval information flow and as such way more influential than his title suggested.

It’s all about “Narrenfreiheit”. The jester knew how to earn trust. He was a clever person with many more talents than met the eye. In fact, the eyes were often fooled by his appearance and behaviour, suggesting him to be an outsider. In actual fact, he was not. He was the ultimate insider.

I am a professional jester

Let’s make a leap to today. The court jester doesn’t exist anymore in the capacity we know from the history books and Wikipedia. What a shame! I would advocate reinstating the jester role at organisations in a leading communications position.

Compared to the middle ages, the media landscape has changed quite a lot, with communication now at the centre of many “trust issues”. Whatever happened to ‘Be good and tell it’ as the main principle for public relations and communications professionals?

As I stated in the beginning, we desperately need less conformism and more authenticity.

The freedom to do and speak out has increased but it has also become more impersonal and conformist. Today the social media adage seems ‘Do whatever gets you the most likes and brag about it’. Those with the loudest voices are getting the most attention. Did I hear you think “Trump” again?

Fooling around, or not?

I’ve made a fool of myself. How? Quite simply, I allowed myself to operate independently within my realm, the communications profession. How do I do that or, in other words, what does the profile of my ultimate communications position look like?

To start with, a modern court jester has real stories to tell. But he is also a very keen listener, open to all voices that are relevant. He is not judgmental and has good insight into what the priorities of all concerned groups or individuals are. He speaks languages and understands cultures. He is loyal and trustworthy. He connects people and knows how to be at the right spot at the right time. And finally, he doesn’t care if he is regarded a fool. He likes his job which doesn’t (always) include singing and dancing like in the old days… His tricks of the trade will be more technical and (social) media related, I would think.

Seriously qualified

Translated to a formal position within an organisation, this would require serious qualifications, I’m sure. Does a modern jester brag about it? Of course not, he is never in the foreground. That would only damage his independent and unique position, his “Narrenfreiheit”. Danny Kaye in the 50s comedy musical “The Court Jester”, puts it like this: ‘It’s a secret, Sire. Which has never before been revealed to anybody in the world.’

Check the video! Danny Kaye in the 50s musical hit, “The Court Jester”, tells the court how his character became a court jester:

‘I made a fool of myself’. Which isn’t that bad after all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wohtuqCv5A8.

Please contact me if you (dis)agree.