Haris Ahmed – Chicago | Engaging Local PR Firms in Emerging Markets

Haris Ahmed Chicago: Federal Agencies and PR as a Strategic Expense

This is the blog of Haris Ahmed. A Chicago resident, he is the founder, chair, and CEO of Pragmatium Consulting Group, Inc., a management consulting company that focuses on executive training, public relations, and change management. Today, he considers the PR needs of companies that are expanding into new markets, and discusses why employing in-house PR is no longer sufficient for organizations of a certain scale and reach.

While globalization, as a concept, is nothing new, many companies and organizations still perform PR as if they were still operating out of a small downtown office. These businesses treat PR as something to be confined within the group to preserve the original meaning of its press statements and company vision. While such an approach might work for niche businesses, the global nature of today’s business environment requires something that can adapt to any kind of culture.

Does anyone remember the story of the Chevrolet Nova? The case of the Nova might not be directly connected to public relations, but it shows how cultural sensitivity matters when a company is expanding to new markets. In a nutshell, Chevrolet was introducing a new muscle car, originally named the Chevy II. In 1972, General Motors started producing and selling the car, now re-branded “Nova”, in Latin America. However, as the story goes, the Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries. It was only when GM realized that “Nova” meant “no go” in Spanish and renamed the model that sales increased.

The story of the Nova might be apocryphal, but it does illustrate the differences between doing business in the U.S. and doing business outside the country. First, the language barrier must be addressed. Most in-house PR firms do not possess the linguistic capability to break into countries such as Korea, Japan, or China. As such, they might have to depend on foreign talent to translate their press releases and other campaign material into the vernacular.

However, things do get lost in translation, and even if an organization’s efforts are sincere, they might be misinterpreted or overlooked by local media outlets. PR teams need media contacts to gain coverage for their product launches and other events, and in-house PR teams often lack contacts in the markets where the business is expanding. In contrast, local PR firms have an extensive network of media contacts.

Local PR agencies also have the capability to turn the company’s message into something that resonates both with the media and the public. They do so by “putting an ear to the ground”; that is, by determining the local market’s readiness for the products and services of the company. Once they get a feel of the public’s perception of the company and its products, they are then able to craft a PR strategy that will reach the most people and depict the company in a positive light, depending on what’s seen as positive in the local market.

Businesses who are planning to expand to new markets can benefit from the expertise of external practitioners, such as Haris Ahmed. Chicago might be the headquarters of Pragmatium Consulting, but the firm has already proven that it has the expertise required for global expansion efforts.



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