Going global – smart strategies for working with overseas clients

Phil Rainey, Board and Creative Director, Cuckoo Design.

It’s become a cliché to talk about the global village, but it’s one of those clichés which happens to be our old friend – a cliché which became a cliché because it’s true. The ubiquity of digital technology has made it as easy to work with clients and partners thousands of miles away as it is to liaise with the business next door. This throws up as many challenges as it does opportunities, not the least of which is how to offer a service which is ready to cope with a 24 hour rolling global marketplace without actually having to run a 24 hour agency. When you’re dealing with clients as far afield as the USA, Mexico, Hong Kong and Australia it may seem like the only viable solution is to have at least one member of staff chained to their desk through the dark, quiet, early hours of the morning, but there are better ways of doing things. Better for the member of staff concerned, more than anything else, but also better for your business and for the results you achieve.

Working in different parts of the world means investigating, embracing and reflecting a diverse and shifting range of cultures. Any language barrier which gets thrown up is clearly sizeable, but it does have the advantage of being obvious; if the market in which you’re working doesn’t speak English, then you’re going to have to translate (that piece of advice comes for free, by the way), but it’s also a conspicuously ‘foreign’ market, meaning you’re going to be on the lookout for variations in culture, calendar, religion, superstition and even the use of colours and designs. You’ll be making sure, for example, that the superfood health drink logo which you’ve just designed hasn’t accidentally come out in the colour which symbolises death in your target market.

When the part of the global market you’re working with speaks English as a first language, on the other hand, or even as a predominant enough second language for you to utilise it, it can be all too easy to slip into working as if you’re speaking to England itself. All of the possible variations listed above need to be considered and included in the content you produce, and any designs have to be created with the flexibility to work with translations into foreign languages, which means working as well and looking just as good with longer or shorter words and sentences, different alphabets and even text which reads in different directions. The same applies to the visual cues being utilised; take the time to research the predominant photographic style of the country in question, or at least the style which, in that country, would be applied to the topic or subject in question.

To a degree, discussing matters such as the shape, style and language of the finished product is to jump the gun somewhat. The first hurdle to clear is the ability to meet the expectations of clients in other parts of the world. This may mean engaging staff in training to meet the standards and accreditations expected by overseas clients or running CRB checks on all staff in order to meet the procurement requirements in overseas markets. It will also mean staying on top of the latest software developments in territories such as America. Whilst there’s little doubt that the UK leads the way in developing and applying innovative approaches to marketing – approaches which often appeal to global clients keen to differentiate themselves – there is little point having the best ideas without also utilising the tools and frameworks to best deliver them.

This last, being a large scale cultural and working shift, is perhaps the most important part of the equation. The need for a reasonable work life balance clearly negates any thoughts of 24 hour working, but working smarter and more flexibly rather than harder can enable an agency to be on call when needed. Knowledge of the working hours within each client country is clearly vital, as is the willingness to tailor shifts to meet with those hours – 2/10 for some American clients, for example – or to work with staff to handle the likes of conference and Skype calls particularly early or late in the day, with the proviso being that time off in lieu will be granted for the willingness to be flexible.

Flexibility is perhaps the key overarching concept. Flexible working hours, flexible approaches to content and a willingness to innovate in the creation of online collaborative tools will all help the effort to share and collate information and material. The right online hub will create a virtual office, shrinking the gap between your UK base and your global clients. Language, culture, time zones and technology are all things that can get in your way. Embrace the solutions and you’ll find your potential market place expanding many million times over.

Phil Rainey, Board and Creative Director, Cuckoo Design.

Tel: 0161 839 9337

Email: Phil@cuckoodesign.com

Web:www.cuckoodesign.com

Twitter:@cuckoodesign / @philrainey

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