Communication Challenges for Organizations with International Scope

November 14, 2014

By: Darío Cutín

Companies and institutions from Latin American countries with an international presence, or with expansion plans, face major communication challenges that need to be adequately addressed, as they can impact the results of their global ventures.

However, organizations often rely on communications to act as a magic wand that allows them to obtain immediate and unconditional endorsement by audiences in different places in support of their objectives.

To avoid disappointments, institutions need to consider that at the international level their interactions involve audiences with different expectations, references and experiences. These differences are responsible, for example, for the uneven levels of awareness, recognition, acceptance and preference received by organizations or brands in different markets.

Private or public sector institutions should not aim for full consistency in image and reputation in multiple territories. “The Authenticity Gap” study, conducted annually by FleishmanHillard and Lepere Analytics, found that there is no global consistency in brand and reputation, after analyzing expectations and perceptions in twenty different sectors and industries.

How to address these challenges? Realistically, institutions can aspire to get as close as possible to a common general pattern in image and international reputation, including acceptable levels of variation between markets. To achieve this, the recommendation is to focus on the identification and understanding of their audiences; planning based on an informed and accurate situation analysis; committing to act and communicate with transparency; and developing consistent messages and communication processes that include mechanisms for engagement and dialogue.

Road to Success
First, organizations need to accurately identify and understand their international stakeholders, as well as the main factors influencing the interpretations of their narratives: the different interests, expectations and priorities of the audiences, their practices and communication styles. Other ingredients to ponder are the organizations’ country of origin image effect, frameworks and cultural habits, languages with its many variations, as well as the political, economic and social contexts of each market. These variables can result in different connotations to messages, affecting the understanding and effectiveness of communications.

If institutions understand that the perceptions of their foreign audiences differ significantly from market to market, the decision-making of international communications requires qualitative and quantitative research. These are essential for organizations to identify the peculiarities of the expectations and perceptions of different audiences, at least in the most relevant markets for their trade or business. With the advancement of the communications program, continuity of the research will be needed, and will most likely need to be supplemented with frequent monitoring and evaluation of multiple key performance indicators to track how audiences receive, understand and evaluate the organizations, their mission, solutions, messages and brands.

Based on knowledge of the profiles and perspectives of the stakeholders, strategic communication plans will seek to achieve specific objectives through appropriate messages and strategies. International communication solutions will have to respond to the characteristics of the different international audiences, but keep the balance between markets, building on the identity of organizations.

When setting priorities, organizations must remember that communication cannot distort reality. For what they do and say, and even for its omissions, institutions and their leaders leave a lasting impression. Consequently, if they want to be seen a certain way, they must behave according to what they want in terms of image.

Every company or institution needs to be responsible and careful in defining what it is, what it wants to achieve, what priorities it has and how it behaves in all its international operations. It is imperative to maintain consistency in actions, messages and communications. Although it adapts to different environments, the organization requires that its core values and principles guide consistently both their decisions and institutional practices such as interactions with employees, customers, consumers, regulators, opinion leaders and other public in every place of the world where it operates.

Finally, with the acceleration in the flow of news and ubiquity of media and social networks, which can export in minutes a “local” situation to a regional or even global level, international communication plans need to combine processes to disseminate messages as well as feedback and engagement mechanisms.

Nowadays, the success of communications involves establishing genuine and relevant dialogues with different stakeholders. Many organizations are still betting almost exclusively in one-way, advertising-based models of controlled and paid messages (which work for some situations), and forget to promote conversation and engagement with their key stakeholders.

What is the role of communicators in this model? Committed to transparency and credibility, they should be involved as early as possible in the organizational planning process to help their institutions, in a strategic and informed way, to define and share their behavior with the public opinion, and build lasting relationships. Thus, they will contribute to the magic of communication, which does not depend on a wand, but in achieving fruitful dialogues with the various stakeholders, based on coherent actions, to bring perceptions closer to expectations.

Dario Cutin is Partner; Managing Director, Client Services, Latin America at FleishmanHillard Miami. You can reach him at dario.cutin@fleishman.com.