Marketing Zen has always been a company dedicated to the idea of a global village. As a digital agency with employees joining the virtual office from many different countries, we're keenly aware of the fact that the internet has both altered traditional boundaries and revealed how connected we really are. Whether it's a PvP game that brings together adolescent boys from Russia and the United States or silk kurtas that motivate a collaboration between French boutiques and Indian fashion designers, there are new exchanges and networks forming every day. With these new opportunities come new challenges. Our own work with clients like Nixplay in Hong Kong, 64TEQ in the UK, and Pivot International, with offices around the world, has been a kind of laboratory for us, one in which we've been able to develop a set of best practices for working with international clients and foreign markets.
1) Master the logistics.
Between differences in time zones and executives with heavy travel schedules, setting up calls to check-in, measure progress, or coordinate efforts can become a struggle. We've found it wisest to address these issues at the beginning and to be gracious and flexible. With the Hong Kong-based Nixplay, we have a standing date once a week at 8 PM. As a team, it's a concession we're happy to make and one that allows us to sustain consistent contact.
2) Arrange for back-up.
In the case that your primary contact is traveling or has a sick child (which changes priorities quickly in all cultures), make sure you have a secondary contact who is in the loop and can speak in their stead. Sometimes a golden PR opportunity or an ideal investor or investment has a small window, and when there are already barriers of time and space in place, it's best not to take any chances.
On this note, it's worth mentioning another kind of back-up -- a second pair of eyes. You may have already internalized differences in spelling (flavor/flavour) and word usage (queue/line), but variations in a sense of humor, propriety, and convention may be harder to memorize and track. These subtle differences don't necessarily require a local partner agency who can translate, but it might be helpful to have someone on your client's team who can review your content and policies and advise according to the tastes and preferences of their peers.
3) Don't shy away from differences. One size does not alway fit all.
In our work with Pivot International, we chose to create two distinct blogs, one for their US site and one for their UK site. In the short run, it might have been easier to replicate the content, but in the long run, we would have struggled to find vibrant, relevant posts that suited both. Had we tried to implement a one-size-fits-all policy, we would have missed chances to harness current events and trends to raise brand awareness. A big news story that would have been a compelling way to draw attention to a feature of the company in the US might not have registered at all in the UK.
And this doesn't just apply to blogs; paying attention to differences and adjusting accordingly can apply to everything from employee contracts to product modification (think McDonald's Japanese offering of the "Teriyaki Mac").
4) When it comes to politics, keep it classy.
As a client remarked to me recently, even your dog wants to talk politics these days. Our weariness aside, it's not practical to forbid political talk any more than it is realistic to keep our passion and ethics out of our business. At our best, we use our ethics and passion to show up in compassionate, constructive ways. That said, especially when working internationally, my team and I make it a point to avoid being impetuous or judgmental when dealing with clients (or the customers of clients) who have differing views. Instead, our attitude and what I'd recommend to others is to stay open to learning and dialogue while acknowledging that in any given exchange, there are a host of diverse interests at work.
5) Don't stop learning.
One of the biggest joys of working with international clients is the encounter with new ways of seeing and being in the world. Though this same newness can be intimidating or awkward, it can also be beautiful and enlightening. Your whole team can grow through the experience, not only in sophistication and skill-set, but in their curiosity and capacity for communication.