This is an edited version of the article which originally appeared on Eastwick.com as Breaking Boundaries: When East Meets West
Since moving from Hong Kong to the US, one of my biggest observations is that there’s a mutual love-hate relationship between Asian companies and Silicon Valley. Asian companies love the Silicon Valley brand and ecosystem, and Silicon Valley loves Asia’s ginormous, ever-growing, market potential.
Where the hate comes in – well, it’s hard. Expanding internationally is not a one-size-fits-all type of ordeal, especially when it comes to finding that right story for the right audiences in a specific market, and getting the kind of attention you want for your business. Too often when companies first start to build a presence overseas, publicity efforts backfire due to political, socioeconomic or cultural reasons.
In today’s increasingly interconnected world, entrepreneurs need to be cultural entrepreneurs in order to stay competitive. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people, the community, and the audience. Culture inevitably plays a huge, if not predominant, role in shaping what an effective communications strategy looks like.
With over 20 years of experience in Silicon Valley, Eastwick has helped countless big and small tech companies disrupt their markets, and connect them to key audiences who fuel business growth. As the Asian tech market grows, we are also seeing an increasing number of companies from Asia-Pacific coming to Eastwick seeking to secure their spotlight in the US. Below are some tips, which from my experience are quintessential for Asian companies to succeed in telling their stories the US.
Here’s my advice for CMOs and heads of communications from Asian companies planning to make a splash in the US:
1) Study the US media landscape
So your boss says, “Let’s start doing PR in the US.” Before you start jumping into tactics laying out a press release pipeline, devising ways to get your company into the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, what events and awards to apply for, make sure you maintain an ongoing dialogue with the senior executive team of your company to understand exactly why they want to employ PR in the US. Launching a PR program with the sole intention of demand generation is very different from trying to raise the profile and brand awareness for your company.
From my experience working with APAC markets, the US media scene is much more complex and diverse than it is in APAC, not in terms of the number of media outlets, but in terms of how journalism is practiced. Because the US is still the biggest tech market in the world, especially here in Silicon Valley, the world turns to US press to get the latest news and trends about the global tech landscape. It takes a lot more resources for a communications professional to identify the right targets and conduct a well-executed strategic communications program that aligns with your business goals than it typically takes in Asia. In the US, quality champs quantity. Without well-defined goals, you’ll end up burning your PR and Marketing budget a lot quicker than you anticipate, without achieving what you’re supposed to.
2) Show sincere interest in the market
Your business may be hugely successful in Asia, with a business model that has helped the company survive multiple financial crises, and securing a steady stream of positive press coverage. Unfortunately that does not mean you can duplicate the same successes in the US. Relevance is key. For example, positioning your company in the US as a market leader because you achieved a certain milestone in Korea, would not resonate well with the audience here. It may work perfectly fine in Korea, but people simply care more about things that are immediately relevant – What does it have to do with me? Why should I care? How does this company benefit me? These are questions every reader wants to know, and hence what journalists write about.
It is utterly important to understand the kinds of conversations happening among your US audience that your company can tap into. The perks of the same company and technology in China that Chinese media embraces, are most likely completely different from what engages the American audience. Make sure you localize (not just translate) your company’s communications strategy and content when you enter a new market so it appeals to your target audience. For example, Big Data is buzzing hot in the US, but marketers avoid it at all costs in Japan. A good way to start is by finding a local spokesperson to demonstrate your commitment in bringing your business to the US; it also makes more logistical sense when you start media activities.
3) Be a storyteller
In Asia, the role of PR is considered more like the brand defender, and news messenger, than an interactive communicator. A typical announcement would entail “this is who we are, this is what we do, this is how we do it,” and then there’s crisis communications. In the US, the media and your company’s stakeholders (investors, analysts alike) expect you, as a communicator, to tell them a story, convince them why your company is interesting, why it’s disruptive, why their readers would want to read about it. They expect you to find them the angle that would appeal, not just present them with hard facts and have them figure it out.
4) Ask the right people for help
If you’re not sure how to shape your communications strategy in the US, a smart thing to do would be to seek local experts for help. There are hundreds of large and small communications firms, as well as individual consultants, in the US, so how do you pick the right one for your company? Of course, you would want to find someone who has deep knowledge and expertise in tech, who can quickly understand what your company does, see what’s unique about the technology, and has a sharp journalistic sense of what would resonate with the US audience.
One of the biggest challenges many companies face entering the US from Asia is the difficulty to find an agency that can not only provide counsel on all things American, but also understands the complexities involved at the intersection of East meets West, what to avoid (such as socio-political-economic sensitivities), and how to translate that into a communications strategy that brings business benefits to both the company’s US and local operations.
5) Continue to test the market
Do not feel discouraged if your first communications program in the US does not become an immediate media sensation. As with most marketing activities, it takes time to test the waters, and establish your brand presence and persona in the US. The first phase of entering a new market is relationship building – the same principle you use for business development applies for public relations.
Don’t be disappointed if you do a media briefing, and the reporter doesn’t write. Just as you won’t expect a new business lead to turn into a new customer right away, reporters, especially tech reporters, are bombarded with hundreds of story ideas every day. The fact that he/she would spend time listening to what your company does mean there is initial interest, and that your company is now on his/her radar. Try to read a lot; and while the grand vision of your company should remain consistent, you can always tailor the focus of your story until one hits.
Sharon Chan – Guest Contributor
Sharon Chan is a Senior Associate at Eastwick Communications, a tech-focused strategic communications firm based in Silicon Valley. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Sharon is passionate about bridging the communications gap between US and Asia. Prior to joining Eastwick, Sharon spent a few years doing PR and integrated marketing at CNN International’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong. Contact her at email@example.com
Photo by: BobMacInnes