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