If you are planning to conquer Europe, make sure you have a winning strategy

I regularly talk to prospects who are keen to land onto the radars of the influencers based here in the Old Continent. Inevitably they want guidance or at least reassurance as to when they should take the leap. They have appointed a country manager in Germany or the UK to build a local channel strategy – is now the right time to start talking to the press? They don’t have a presence in EMEA yet but they are planning to start selling in Northern Europe within three to six months – is it too early to approach the media? And then there are the ones who ask for a proposal that covers the whole of Europe! Never mind that they haven’t even discussed whether, when they do start targeting Northern Europe, they are going to go for Scandinavia or the Nordics…

It’s time to slow down this train and take a closer look at what’s on board before we let it pick up speed again (or not).

In my experience a cookie cutter approach to a communications strategy is never a good thing but as anything but a generalisation would require many more words than you are likely to have the time (and/or the inclination) to read, I will paint a picture with broad lines and say that you can have the green light at different stages of your company’s development but each will achieve different outcomes.

For example if your company has no presence on this side of the Atlantic but you have a really interesting story in terms of technology you can start reaching out to the local media, as well as bloggers and analysts, but you should look at this as a seeding exercise. Chances are you will not get a lot of ink, at least not from the press, but the more technical bloggers for example might give you some airtime if they feel that their readers will benefit from learning about your products, even though they won’t be available in their countries for a few months or even a year. As for European-based industry analyst firms such as Bloor, Freeform Dynamics and Quocirca, they might take a briefing but remember that their diaries get booked up weeks, if not months, in advance, so get in there early. With regard to the larger houses such as 451 Research, Gartner and IDC, if you haven’t already spoken to their European-based analysts through your relationship with their US colleagues, you could add them to your outreach list. If you start such a programme, when you do have a presence on this side of the pond your targets will already be familiar with your company and its offerings, will have a better understanding of both and this will be reflected in their write ups.

However remember that from the moment you introduce your organisation to these influencers you will be under scrutiny and the clock will be ticking: if you tell them that you plan to expand into the UK or the Benelux or France in six months and you don’t, your targets will wonder why and some of the more sceptical ones will assume things are not going well (even if your CEO has in fact decided to expand with a much bigger presence, in Asia, first for example). The same goes if you do appoint a country manager to run and develop your company’s local presence: if you make a song and dance about this and share the news that you plan to sign up three/four/five/etc. channel partners within a quarter and have x number of publicly-referenceable installations (anonymous ones are as good as a chocolate teapot for PR purposes) before the year’s out and then fail to deliver on the above, you might as well have kept quiet about it. Actually that would have been better because you only get one chance at making a good first impression, as the saying goes, and you’ve blown it.

So what’s the ideal scenario? IMO a US-based organisation looking to kick off a PR/AR/social media strategy in EMEA should do so once it is confident that it can name a couple of channel partners (if it sells indirectly, which most companies tend to do here, at least at the start) and at least one customer, all based in the country where the targets are located. This means that if your organisation is actively recruiting a regional head you could start approaching the local media, analysts and bloggers to introduce them to your technology and products, and then follow up after a few months with the news around the country head, resellers and customers. You will be showing that you are serious about your presence in the region and that you are getting results. Of course if you already have a local channel and users then you can get going too.

The same approach is valid when you expand from a European country to another – don’t think that you can simply use the fact that you have a presence across the border to generate interest. You need to show that you have feet on the ground and that some people in that country/region have chosen to part with some hard cash to deploy your solution.

The exception to the above is when you have targets who either publish in English and therefore have readers scattered around the world, such as Marco Broeken, Andrea Mauro, Enrico Signoretti, Jean-Jacques Maleval, etc, or who happen to be based in a given country but are part of an international team e.g. analysts such as Carla Arend and Valdis Filks. In this case you can absolutely include them in your outreach even if you do not have a presence where they are based. There are also a couple of channel publications that cover the whole of Europe and these too can be included in your strategy.

And what about local spokespeople? Well initially you can rely on US-based ones but, eventually, and ideally within a year from the launch of the European comms strategy, you should have local executives that you can put forward. It’s still a good idea for more senior US ones to come over to meet with the press, bloggers and analysts every six months or so but a local face will make your story much stronger, especially in France and Germany.

And then there is the discussion about what tactics work best in each country (but for that I’ll refer you to our previous post here), what times of year to avoid, who to speak to first, whether to create regional sections on the website, etc. But I have to go – I need to call a contact about launching their European presence at an event in Frankfurt…

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