Bringing a U.S. brand over to Europe can be daunting. The continent features 44 countries, 24 official languages and a lot of historically complicated relationships.
One of the most uncertain of these currently is the UK’s new post-Brexit position in relation to the EU, but there are many more that a newcomer should be aware of. Even the famously liberal Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, don’t share an unconditionally mutual love. Europe’s history has also created very different attitudes toward matters like security and privacy. In Germany, for example, there is still a strong mistrust of online payments.
When approaching a new European market, therefore, it’s wise to consider each country individually. In PR terms, many U.S. organizations sensibly test the water initially by sending out news releases in English, either on newswires or to a roughly researched list of European journalists.
For the right type of announcement, this can work. English is still the predominant language here, and if a U.S. story has an obvious relevance to Europe, it stands a good chance of being picked up. For most of us, however, “big stories” don’t happen all that often and our aim is to build a media presence that lasts longer than a single news hit. Treating a set of very different countries as a single unit, and communicating with them all in a single language, should be reserved for special occasions only.
The U.K., France and Germany are often the “landing” spots for U.S. companies, particularly in the tech sector. London and Paris are often the starting point for the U.K. and France, but increasingly cities such as Manchester, Marseille and Lyon are also attracting newcomers. In Germany, there is a greater distinction between sectors and region, such as Frankfurt for finance, Munich for technology and Berlin for rapidly growing startups.
Language matters. Even U.K. English is different from its U.S. cousin in more ways than spelling. The U.K. approach to communication is generally more skeptical and less enthusiastic. Brevity is essential and carefully judged humour (that's the British spelling here, of course) acceptable.
In France, using the correct language is essential. Personally I still have a small panic every time I’m introduced to a French client about whether we are on “tu” or “vous” terms. Issuing communications in French is a must, as is having a local spokesperson.
In Germany, journalists are often generously accepting of the use of English, but it’s still far better to communicate in German. Again, communications materials need to be adapted to meet local needs. While a U.K. customer or journalist might require a short and to-the-point style, in Germany it’s important to contain all the necessary detail to back up your story. Substance is more important than style.
Wherever you start your European adventure, find a local agency that can guide you round the potential pitfalls and help you to grow in your new territory. And make the most of the opportunity to experience a range of different cultures in a highly concentrated space!