Ever since the age of Mad Men, PR professionals have continued the paradigm of working with a roster of agencies that are geographically located close by, or in the same city. The modus operandi involves having face to face meetings, having them on call to solve problems and deal with local suppliers. Is that coming to an end?
Many of you might say, why yes, in fact I work with agencies in other states and speak to them via Skype rather than in person. More and more of us are hiring agencies that might be a plane ride away, because those agencies have local knowledge for specific campaigns, access to specific decision makers, or simply charge lower fees. In an ever more connected world, we are not averse to Skype meetings, video conferences and webinars.
Some companies have taken the possibilities of cross-border working to an extreme. As a PR and marketing consultant, I often recommend new ways of working that, albeit not tried-and-tested, might offer my client the possibility to more effectively meet their business goals. In this context, I am currently working with Nova Austral, a salmon farmer that is based in Porvenir, Chile, in the country’s 12th Region, otherwise known as the Magellan and Antarctic Region of Chile. To put this in context, the company’s operations are based 1,370 miles away from the country’s capital city Santiago, which is about the same distance between New York and Houston, Texas. Not only is there a long distance, it is also virtually impossible to reach Porvenir by land from Santiago, unless you drive through neighbouring Argentina.
The salmon industry is one of Chile’s most important industries, and is ranked second to copper in terms of volume and sales of exports to countries like the USA, Japan, Brazil and Russia. Given the importance of exporting goods from Chile, it might seem surprising that only 9.5% of the population are capable of holding a conversation in English. This becomes a huge obstacle when Chilean companies need to develop sales and marketing strategies and campaigns to capture foreign clients in non-Spanish speaking countries.
This is one of the reasons why, at the moment of deciding to launch a new, environmentally friendly salmon product that would target clients in the USA and Europe, we decided to look beyond the available agencies in Chile. Not to mention the need to think from the perspective of the end client, rather than the Chilean salmon farmer. As our creative director in Denmark reminded us, sometimes it helps to have a foreigner’s perspective on what is unique and special about a product or service that is targeting clients overseas. Chileans all know that their country is one of extremes: with the driest deserts in the world, some of the most fertile valleys, active volcanoes and the coldest of regions literally at the end of the world, Tierra del Fuego.
Last week we discussed the brand development for our new salmon product via Skype. Participants on the call included the Board’s President in Norway, our creative agency in Denmark, myself in Santiago, the company’s CEO and CFO in Puerto Montt and a Sales Director in Japan. There have certainly been logistical challenges to working internationally, including time zone differences and disturbances in internet connection. However, there has been a multicultural and rich diversity to the project that I am sure will produce a more engaging and attractive brand.
Working across country and language borders certainly has its advantages. I’d like to share these tips for fellow professionals contemplating working in this way:
- Use as many of the different types of technology available that enable you to keep high levels of communication with your team. I tend to mix phone calls via Whatsapp, video calls via Skype, follow-up emails and occasional face to face meetings for special workshops or group work. I also use applications to share and comment on documents and websites that explain time zone differences (and suggest optimum times for meetings).
- Be rigorous in keeping to agreed time frames. When teams are mainly remote, there is more tendency to let deadlines slide. A remote project manager has to be even more insistent on obtaining approval and on keeping the team on track.
- Be clear about the working language of the team, to ensure consistency of working documents and presentations.
In summary, don’t be afraid to experiment if you think it can benefit the commercial and marketing objectives of your project. You may also gain a lot from working across borders, and the different perspectives people may offer. As science author and media theorist Steven Johnson wrote, “Individuals have better ideas if they're connected to rich, diverse networks of other individuals. If you put yourself in an environment with lots of different perspectives, you yourself are going to have better, sharper, more original ideas.”