One size does not fit all - the challenges of international campaigns Article icon

One Helen Dunne reviews a lively morning discussion


We operate in 104 countries, and we’re opening two new locations a day as well. The big issue that we have is global versus local. How consistent can you be when you’re going into countries like Nepal and Botswana? We all want consistency – consistency of message, consistency of look, consistency of measurement. But what I find is that a local country manager will say You, in your ivory tower, have no idea what it’s like in Vietnam. We’re very different. And to some extent, they’re absolutely right. I don’t know what the news cycle is like in Vietnam, I don’t know what the issues are. I don’t know what the government’s doing. But what I do know is that for businesses – the business that I work for and the businesses that I have worked for – the product is consistent.

A Regus workplace is the same whether it’s in Bogata or Birmingham. That’s what our clients want. And so our audiences are not quite as different as they may have been 20 years ago or as our country managers think that they actually are. They’re looking internally. They’re not thinking about all the other countries.

A lot of this has been driven by 24/7 media news cycle. Everywhere is local. That has caused a lot of pain for PR people. It used to be days, then it was hours, then it was minutes and now it is seconds. Because of that, the world is more homogenous. Audiences are not quite as different.

To what extent do you allow local countries to have freedom? I don’t think there is a right answer. I think every business is different but the way that we approach it is to have very clear frameworks, very clear boundaries about what you can and cannot do and then to allow local adaptation on an as-needs basis. It depends on the skills of people in those countries.

It also depends on what resources I have as a group function in the different countries. And time zones are a big issue. The sun never sets on Regus is one of the things that we say in the business, but it’s true. Therefore, our ability to control is limited. You have to provide freedom at a local level.

Language is a huge issue, even if you hire the best translators. You can never be 100 per cent sure that they will ever be able to speak English as well as you can.

All journalists are the same. They want great content. They want great stories that people will read and that will increase their circulation, their viewers or their blog hits. And so it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, great stories work and great ideas work but there are local differences.

We were opening a number of new facilities in the United Arab Emirates about 18 months ago. We appointed a local agency who seemed very confident about the number of journalists they could get to attend an opening. I’m fond of payment-by-results and strict metrics, so I set quite an aggressive bonus target for the agency. The local Sheikh who actually owned one of the buildings, came and opened it for us. Every single journalist turned up. Later, I said to the country manager It’s amazing that we got all these journalists to turn up. He replied The Sheikh also owns all the news media. There are those little nuances about the structure of a country, whether it’s democratic or becoming more democratic, or whether it is developed or developing. And so while at the heart there’s no difference, every country is different.

The first thing we do when we open a new country is find a local PR agency that has been recommended to us. We want somebody who is actually on the ground in Kathmandu in Nepal, say, who knows the local media, who knows the local Mr Fix-It and who knows the mayor. You have to be aware of those challenges in the markets and be aware of local issues.

A lot of companies treat Africa like it is one country. There is nothing that annoys a journalist in Lagos more than being called up by a PR agency in Nairobi or Johannesburg. You have to have somebody on the local ground if you want cut-through and to reach people. It’s just a no-brainer.

In Regus, we set the story and then we allow our local people to go away and implement it. But we define the framework. We define exactly what the measurement needs to be, what the output and impact is that we need. And then they can work out how they need to achieve that. Whether they’re going to go after social media, or bloggers, or local media or national media or even if they want to go into the international media.


SABMiller is a FTSE top ten company. We like to talk about ourselves as the most local of the global brewers. We don’t have a monobrand that you will find everywhere. We actually operate in 80 countries with more than 200 local brands and we’ve grown quite rapidly by acquisition. We’re now at the stage of Where is the consistency and what do we want to be known for locally?

In Tanzania, we’re Tanzania Breweries with Kilimanjaro beer. We don’t want to change that. Why would you? That’s the real strength: being local and being part of local. I’ve worked for other global companies where you go into countries and you think Here we come. We’re going to bring prosperity and jobs? and everyone says Well, we don’t want you. Who are you coming here and benefiting other countries?

So we have the positive side of being local, but then how do we connect to people? How do we have that common thread that is going to be valuable for the business? Clearly, within the business, it is things like standards of quality, standards of employment, having common systems and practices and actually being efficient. But it’s also things like having sustainable development, so we’re talking about helping to improve livelihoods and helping to build the communities where we work. How do we actually connect those dots up?

We launched a global campaign on our new sustainable development ambition, Prosper, earlier this year. We helped the local countries by providing multimedia platforms for them, providing template press releases so they could adapt locally, and giving them ideas, but then they all executed it locally. The local adaptation point is really important. Some people had events for employees and their children. Others had events with local politicians or non-governmental organisations. They did whatever was relevant for their community and it translated locally. Good ideas can start at the centre and then work locally. But we’re mindful of not having We’ve had another great idea at the centre and we’ll just push that down the pipe to the countries because they will hate that.

Internal relationships are incredibly important. They have to see There’s something in it for me. There’s a benefit and you’re helping me rather than just saying here’s some more work for me to do. So from a sort of big, in-house, global perspective, I think the critical element for getting something to work locally is to get your internal teams on board first.

[Local employees relate to whom they’re employed by]. But there are some shared things that come from the parent company, and in particular, shared values. You can go to Uganda or you can go to places in Latin America and people have the values in reception. They are quite proud of having those shared values. In fact, we’re just rolling out a refreshed vision, purpose statement and values, which will go through the organisation. There is that linkage and that identity. We’re all seeking to achieve the same goals.

If anyone has been to South Africa, they will probably have seen Castle beer. It’s ubiquitous. Does SABMiller want to dominate the world with the Castle brand? No. [SABMiller grew globally in post-apartheid South Africa through acquisition.] The answer was Where are the good breweries and companies that we can acquire that have a good foothold in their local markets, that resonate well with local people, that have got that cultural heritage element that is adapted to local taste? rather than just push one local brand and try to make that work in other markets.

Peroni has a different brand image in Italy. Peroni Nastro Azzurro, which is the beer we sell here, is associated with high Italian style and culture. In Italy, it’s one of the family of Peroni brands. It doesn’t have that same cache of being right up there as super-smart. It only works in markets where people identify Italy with culture, style, coolness.

In a former life, I worked for Rio Tinto, the mining company, and we were in lots of different places. And it was really important to understand politics and the political bias. For example, everybody knows that the media in China is generally pretty controlled by the state, but that actually varies according to who you’re dealing with. We found that one of the things that worked was relationship building. If we had people on the ground who would actually talk to local journalists and develop those relationships so that they had that better understanding and met senior people, that made a huge difference.

Mongolia, for example, is a fledgling democracy and its media is mostly owned by politicians. They did not have independent standards of journalism. You could pay for good editorial coverage. You could pay for bad editorial coverage about people you didn’t like or your competitors. We had to look at ways to work around this. Social media was really on the rise in Mongolia, and so there was an awful lot that we could do. Our Facebook Page had more people following it than the biggest national newspaper. There’s lots of ways of actually thinking How can we get our message across in different ways?


We were working for a company called Kern that makes precision scales. But the market’s massively commoditised.

Nobody cares about brand names. It’s not the Hoover of vacuum cleaners. They buy [Kern scales] because they measure to a certain degree. The challenge is to be recognised against other products. So when Kern said We want to be known all over the world, we want to have a story that can be told everywhere, it was one of those occasions where you think This is a very dull product for most people. They have no emotional attachment. It just helps them do their job a little bit better.

It was the simplicity of knowing that there needs to be some kind of a global narrative that will resonate – a story that links back to an emotional centre, or if not that, a rational centre that people all over the world will recognise.

If you look at television, at things like X Factor or the Got Talents around the world, the reason why they work so successfully internationally is because, at their very core, is the story of the thing that’s going on. It’s a triumph over adversity in the case of singing talent shows. The talent is recognising the cultural individuality of the state, and nationalism, so Britain’s Got Talent is great because we celebrate being British. Uzbekistan’s Got Talent, the same reason. You don’t, generally speaking, see one translate to the other nation. We don’t watch Uzbekistan’s Got Talent over here; it’s our own version. But at its core, the narrative remains the same.

The client told us that each scales had to be calibrated locally otherwise the effect of gravity would mean that they were wrong. We thought That’s interesting. How can we use that to demonstrate how good the product is but in a way that is universal and friendly?

The answer was a gnome. We arrived at the idea of a sitting a gnome on top of a scales. In the UK, that’s funny. People go Oh, garden gnome. Great! What’s it doing? Travelling the world? We’ve all heard of the 1960s Travelling Gnome prank when somebody stole garden gnomes from people’s gardens and shipped them all over the world. But we had to test the idea to see if would work overseas. What do the Japanese think about something like a garden gnome? How does that resonate? What is a garden gnome to the people of Germany? Oddly, everybody around the world recognises garden gnomes. They’re popular everywhere.

The gnome is not directly related to the product, but yet became part of it. People recognised it and said I understand that. It’s culturally relevant to me, and they would investigate and look into it. We shipped it around the world. We knew it was a universal narrative and we were able to create a form of de facto press kit that could be quite simply used locally where we were sending this gnome to be measured. We weighed him in different places. Scientists and schools got involved, and added their name and weight to a list of places. We said Go and take a photograph of the gnome on the scales near a national monument. Then you had a photo that could work in the press. It was very prescriptive. In terms of the press release, it was Add name here. Amend here. The Gnome Experiment travelled around the world, and local people activated our story but made sure they could add in their little elements.

In many cases, we have to translate things locally using translation services. One core issue that always emerges is making sure the translation and the story actually make sense. So if we’ve got a great idea here in London, and if there’s not a local narrative that works, that may be a first failing. But if you translate, and get that wrong, that’s a second failing and that’s going to really impact on you.

You’ve got to really be careful about how your story is being told locally if you don’t have the ability to use local talent to help you make sure that it’s relevant.

Make sure you have cultural relevance. McDonald’s is a good example. You go into a McDonald’s in India and you don’t have a Big Mac, you’ve got a Maharajah burger. It’s got a different product base. It’s got different contents. But it’s the same story and the same narrative. You still recognise it as McDonald’s. And that’s the real key. In comms, we need to make sure that we look and feel the same but we need to recognise that that we can’t always say the same thing in every location, unless it really is a universal narrative.

Local media is built on local stories. It’s not built on international stories. The Belfast Telegraph is not filled with global news. It’s filled with stories that work well for the people of Belfast, so you’ll see more about a car crashing into a roundabout or a person running away with shopping from the local Co-op. If you’ve got a global story or announcement, it’s fine to work out of London and work with the foreign media associates that are based in London and tell your story through them. We can reach the China Daily by speaking to the China Daily foreign correspondent in London. If our story is big enough and interesting enough, we don’t need to invest in going to China or working with someone in China. But if we have a local thing, such as a new office setting up in a region, we would have to engage locally.

The online media is led out of the UK and the US. Generally speaking, if you’ve got something told in the UK, it’s going to get into the US media if it’s relevant; it’s going to go globally in the English language media if it’s interesting; and it’s going to get picked up locally and translated into other languages, and maybe even run in national press. You might not even know that national newspapers or the gossip columns in Germany’s Bild are running your story about gadget hats that take selfies, but they are because they’ve picked it up in the local media over here.

One of the issues we’ve encountered recently in online media is paying for the comments to be switched on or off on an article. If you look to Kazakhstan, for example, they tend to believe that their media is fairly independent. They think it’s fairly middle ground. The comments sections are not. They are the vitriolic embodiment of all your competitors saying how s*** you are. The media will charge a hefty sum to switch off the comments on a single article. It’s not just the fact you can get stories, but it’s also the conversations. We need to be watching local conversations and feeding them as much as we are looking to try to get the media to write about our clients.