PR in the United States: What firms targeting brand presence in the US need to know
The U.S. is often referred to as the land of opportunity. Representing the world’s largest economy since the mid-1800s, the United States is one of the most important markets for economic opportunities for any company with global ambitions. Breaking into the U.S. market for an international company is not always an easy task. There are a few rules of engagement that are unique to the market and organizations with ambitions in the U.S. need to understand them.
The U.S. is Egocentric
As you may have already determined, Americans can be self-aggrandizing both on a personal and professional level. That often translates into a very self-centered approach to business. In other words, no matter how successful your company may be outside of the U.S., it barely holds any weight in the local market. This holds true from a media perspective as well.
Journalists want to speak with your U.S.-based leadership, talk to your U.S.-based customers and hear about your business metrics and financial achievements on U.S.-soil. This can be a tall order for companies who are new to the market, but it is critically important to build credibility and establish relationships with local media.
In fact, the U.S. market is large enough, and fragmented enough that depending upon the type of business, U.S. customers may not be enough but rather truly local customers and story angles may be required. Although many publications are national, broadcast news, cable news and some of the most prominent newspapers are regional. For example, of the top 10 newspapers in the U.S., only three are considered national (USA Today, Wall Street Journal and New York Times) while the others are considered regional or local (New York Post, LA Times, Washington Post, Star Tribune, Newsday, Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe).
Appearance & Reputation Matters
One of the fatal PR and marketing mistakes many companies make when approaching the American market is thinking that if their product is superior, that will be enough to capture the attention of, and win over, prospective clients and the media. Many technology companies have tried, and failed, to enter the U.S. market solely on the premise that their offering is more technologically advanced, provides greater features or functions and value compared to competitive offerings. There is an old saying in American business – “No one ever got fired for buying Blue.” Blue in this case, is a nickname for IBM, the American multinational tech company that was once synonymous with industry leadership. The idea behind this business philosophy is that you won’t get fired for choosing the ‘safe’ solution from a reputable, well-known, established company.
This line of thinking still permeates American media and business today. The U.S. market is still risk-averse and prefers to highlight the tried and true companies they know rather than make a leap of faith on a new market entrant – even if their product is superior.
All this means is that companies entering the market for the first time need to make the investment to build that corporate reputation, to increase brand awareness and to help drive demand through omni-channel marketing. The appearance of investing in the local market and committing to building the business in the U.S. is as important as perfecting the product offering.
This approach is relevant for every aspect of the business from the website to advertising, from products to services, from establishing a U.S. headquarters to having executive leadership in market – it should all convey a localized strategy.
The Media Landscape is Vast and Deep
Although most foreign entities are familiar with the major media outlets in the U.S., they are not necessarily aware of the vast number of industry and special interest outlets that typically have more weight with specialized or niche customer targets. Industry publications on a particular topic can include newspapers, magazines, blogs, digital media, podcasts, radio, television, newsletters and more. There could be a few hundred outlets dedicated to a specific topic – such as, accounting for example. Often these publications may have a smaller circulation but have a dedicated readership that is your exact target audience. These outlets are often easier to penetrate and may have a greater impact on your business because of their laser focus.
Local Knowledge and Experience is a Critical Success Factor
The U.S. market can be very myopic and insular. For companies operating in Europe, this may be a new concept. For example, if a country is part of the European Union, they are often aligned in many of the laws and regulatory requirements governing business operations.
However, the U.S. is literally a lone cowboy – and does not generally conform to common international business norms. In addition, because individual states have tremendous power in the U.S., there are added layers of legal and regulatory management that are hyper localized. For example, there are some types of business operations that are illegal in the New York State but may be legal in California. Moreover, local jurisdictions matter as well. Laws governing business operations in New York City are not the same for New York State.
Having a local partner, with ‘boots on the ground’ that understands the nuances of the local market as well as the specific industry or vertical market that your company plays in is critically important. For example, if your company is in the financial services industry, you may be subject to SEC scrutiny. If your company is in healthcare, the FDA or medical marketing laws may apply to you. Regardless of the industry, understanding cultural norms, the political environment and current events are going to be important in developing an effective marketing and PR strategy for the U.S. market.
Ultimately, success in the U.S. market is attainable. If your organization takes a thoughtful and strategic approach to entering the market, opportunities abound. For any organization seeking to engage in PR in the U.S., finding the right partner – that understands your business, your market and the opportunity – is essential. Companies need to understand that the business and media environment is unique and they will need to adjust their approach to the confines of the market but within those confines, there are tremendous opportunities for businesses to grow and thrive.
Sandra Fathi, is president & founder, Affect and founding member, With Global Alliance