Speaking the language: making global comms work – Part 1

I was lucky enough to spend time on four continents in 2019 – for both professional and personal reasons – culminating in several months away from Spark, when I worked in Australia. As I moved between continents and seasons, I noticed much more of the nuance in language, communications and how businesses work.

How many companies refer to the ‘summer of AI’, for example, expecting the messaging to appeal to customers and colleagues around the world? My English spring led into an Australian winter, not summer, and winter lead back into Autumn when I returned to the UK. A summer of AI in Europe would have been the winter of AI in Australia. From language quirks – like the Australian habit of abbreviating everything so a tweet might be indecipherable – to cultural differences – where mentions of the NHS in UK content might fall flat for a US audience.

Learning to adapt

One of the benefits of spending so much of my PR career at Spark has been working with our global partner agencies and clients. We operate as both the ‘hub’ for international PR for some clients, and as a ‘spoke’ in the global PR wheel for others. I’ve seen both sides of the coin – generating content for other agencies to make use of, and localising some of the global content our clients have shared.

From this unique position, one of the key things we’ve learned as an agency is how to adapt. Typically, content is fairly easy to modify. While the overarching company messaging should be universal, language and form need to be much more fluid, allowing them to be localised along with any stats and themes specific to certain regions.

Translating from American to English

Take a release that is being distributed in the UK and the US for example. There are a number of changes that need to be made to the US version to help engage the reader in the UK:

  • The most obvious is to ensure UK spelling and grammar is used throughout
  • Adapt or remove cultural references – the UK’s bank holiday is a public holiday in America, job titles such as director in the UK might correlate to vice president in the US
  • Check the phrasing fits the country – while leverage is used a lot in the US, it’s not as common in the UK
  • Edit to include market specific stats and messages – make sure any stats and messaging are either global or relevant for a UK audience

We’ve found this approach especially relevant for the English-speaking market. Our clients produce some great content which, once it’s been published on a US site, unfortunately isn’t seen as ‘unique content’ by the British press. Rather than try to persuade a journalist that it is unique to the market and therefore acceptable to publish, it is better to use the themes and some of the language to adapt content for the UK press. This can mean using the messaging most relevant to a UK audience, localising the statistics and making sure it has British spelling, while still keeping the core themes in place.

While adapting content is a good start, there’s more to making sure a global communications strategy work. In my next post I’ll look at how to optimise global communications and why collaborating is the best approach.