Fast-growing companies can’t lean blindly on paid advertising, content marketing, and other ways of lead generation. To grow sustainable, you need a strong brand and a solid reputation– you need PR. But PR isn't one-size-fits-all. An angle that works well in the US, can be ignored entirely in Germany.
As your company prepares to conquer new markets, you and your PR team are left to figure out how your PR efforts will support that expansion. The question is: how do you scale a PR strategy to new markets?
In this article, we sat down with Christa Connell, Head of Public Relations at BUX, Europe’s fastest-growing neobroker, and Fiola Foley, Director of Media Relations at Komoot, an outdoor route planning app. They shared insight on what you need to know to step up your PR game now that your company is scaling.
The right time to enter a new market
There’s no straight answer for when you should start scaling your PR efforts. It really comes down to your business objectives, strategy, and your capacity to expand. Timing is essential. Companies live and die by first impressions, so making a strong one is essential. You don’t want to scale too quickly or recklessly, creating organizational problems that are hard to undo. You also don’t want to be slow, otherwise, you’ll miss out on key opportunities.
Before you begin burning through your PR budget, here are a couple of considerations you should take into account. Take Komoot as an example. Komoot is a route planning and navigation app, home to the largest digital community of outdoor enthusiasts in Europe. They’ve recently translated their entire platform to 5 different languages to adapt to new audiences. Before launching in each of those markets, the team at Komoot asked themselves a very important question: are we ready?
“Launching your brand in a new market is no easy feat”, says Fiola, “before we begin scaling our efforts, we analyze if we are ready to start engaging with journalists, answer their queries, and sustain PR efforts in the long run. The decision also depends on each market and business opportunities that are presented. If it all adds up, we will go ahead and launch. But we won’t go all out with PR unless we are confident that we can achieve our goals through a specific set of tactics.”
How to know when you should expand your PR strategy
If you’re lucky like Komoot, you’ll receive a nudge from users themselves to enter a new market. Fiola explains that Komoot has decided to launch their product in a new market when they register an increase in the number of users from that country. “Germany was our key market right from the start. All of a sudden, we started seeing tons of users in the Netherlands using our app not only for cycling but also for hiking. This led us to believe there was potential here. We hired a community manager and an agency and it all took off. Our openings have been mostly dictated by demand.”
Christa suggests you take the temperature of a new market before entering. This implies doing loads of research and social listening to understand how your industry works abroad. If the concept of your business is well known in the market you are targeting, it will be fairly easier to break into the industry, despite the competition.
In BUX’s case, expansion in Europe has proved to be more challenging, partly because the concept of investing is less accepted or well-known in Europe, than it is in America, for example. BUX is a neobroker, an innovative finance app that allows users to invest in stocks, ETFs and cryptocurrency. “When we first started out a couple of years ago, we were facing an uphill battle in terms of the level of comprehension for what we do”, Christa explains. “As a neobroker, there are certain markets in Europe that aren’t ‘warmed up to’ the idea of investing.” If this is your case, Christa suggests you start out by setting the scene for your launch. “First, you have to build relationships with gatekeepers. For us, this meant finding journalists and thought leaders in the finance space. They are the people that understand what you do, the industry you’re in, and will be able to validate your product or service further down the line,” says Christa. Once you’ve connected with gatekeepers, you can adjust your messaging according to the stories that are being published. This way, your product or service can be positioned as a solution to the problem at stake and can add value to the discussion.
Hiring in-house vs. outsourcing with an agency
Many scale-ups will start to feel some growing pains, especially on an operational level, when entering new markets. You simply can’t execute a global PR strategy on your own. This is why it’s important to decide on your team structure before you take the next leap. The first challenge is understanding how you will grow, says Fiola. Ask yourself: will you scale internationally? Which core markets will you focus on?
Once you have a basic idea of what expanding will look like for your business, the second step consists of mapping out who will be by your side when you start growing. You can either build an in-house team or hire an agency. What’s the best option? The answer is… drumroll please… it depends. There are tons of pros and cons for both strategies– Christa and Fiola both say there’s no need to pick either one route, you can figure it out as you go.
Christa’s advice is to take small steps. “If you’re scaling, you have to make strategic decisions as you go. Only add resources where necessary and don’t burn bridges along the way,” says Christa. BUX currently works with a mix of internal resources and supports certain markets with the help of agencies. “When we launched in our first markets, Germany and Austria, one of the biggest challenges we faced was building relationships with the media. We ultimately decided to partner with an agency to help us with our media relations efforts,” Christa explains.
In Komoot’s case, their strategy has been fluid– morphing to various situations. A couple of years ago, Komoot began to grow its PR team internally. But after the pandemic hit, they questioned whether that growth was sustainable. Komoot opted to work with a mix of PR agencies, including Crank!, LVTPR, Twotone NL, Athletic Affair, and an in-house team. Today, decisions are still taken on a global level, however, each team is able to localize news and adapt the messaging to each audience.
“Working with agencies is important because they bring insight on everything that’s happening in the industry. We recently hired an agency in Spain who has suggested we create content on Twitch since it’s a popular platform in this market. If working with micro-targeting media who are active on platforms like Twitch works in Spain, then we can be more informed about similar opportunities in other markets and in the end all of these experiences help us to scale more confidently”
- Fiola Foley, Director of Media Relations at Komoot
Are you torn between growing your in-house team or hiring an agency? We wrote an article to help you make up your mind.
PR for startups vs. PR for scale-ups
Doing PR for a startup is entirely different than doing PR for a scale-up. Not only will your objectives be different, but the channels and tactics you use will also change. So before your next growth spurt, Christa’s sound advice is to get organized. “If you want to expand to new markets, you can’t wing it. You'll find that in the beginning, you have a lot of time to plan things. Use this time wisely to start building a base of knowledge. This will not only help your team internally, but it will also help your partners, like agencies, get organized. This base of knowledge should include all of your brand’s information like messaging, values, and strategy. It should also include the list of tools you currently use, the coverage your brand has received in the media, and all helpful manuals, such as crisis communications manuals.
When your organization starts expanding, it’s only natural that your team grows too. This means that roles will shift and responsibilities should be delegated. Fiola admits that sometimes this transformation can be difficult for PR pros at startups that have functioned as a one-woman/man show for a long time. “When you grow, you need to let go of things,” Fiola suggests, “you can’t do everything yourself anymore”. Learning how to take a step back to see the bigger picture is crucial for the survival and success of PR teams at scale-ups.
▲ BUX uses their online newsroom to share media kits with external partners like agencies or other stakeholders.
Localization: finding resonance in each market
One of the most common challenges scale-ups face is adapting a brand’s message internationally without it losing its value. In order to be successful, your message needs to be localized– it needs to be relevant to the market you are entering. Paradoxically, it must maintain your brand’s core message intact.
“PR is successful as it is relevant. The second it's not relevant to the segment or the market, it's just not going to work. To me, the globalization of PR is an oxymoron because PR always has to be local.”
“Europe” is not a country
Cracking the code to success isn’t always easy. “Localization is a big consideration when it comes to scaling, especially in Europe”, Christa warns. “I notice that a lot of American brands that expand to Europe think that launching a product will be easy. They come to find a great disappointment.” In a continent that is so fragmented, it’s important to keep cultural differences in mind. What works in the Netherlands, where the disposable income is high, might not work in other countries like Italy, for example, where the economy looks completely different. Even what works in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, might not work in the French-speaking part of the very same country. German and French journalists will likely ignore your English press release. You have to make those adjustments for each market depending on their culture and language.
Although decisions might be made on a global scale, it’s crucial PR teams stay flexible when it comes to their expectations of a global campaign rollout. For example, this year, Komoot has been working on a global PR campaign that is set to be distributed in each one of their markets. Before hitting the mix of channels, the campaign was discussed in several workshops with country managers and agencies, who are quick to point out potential pitfalls in the campaign. “The idea is to get each country to fill in the sentence ‘Adventure is ___’ in their own language”, says Fiola. “In these meetings with our teams abroad, our Spanish and French colleagues pointed out that it would not make sense for their audiences. The message was then tweaked for their markets and soundproofed again.”
▲ Komoot uses different languages in their online newsroom to cater to the needs of each market they are present in.
Maintaining message consistency
If you’re adapting your global campaign to different markets, beware of straying too far from your value proposition. PR teams at scale-ups find that one of the challenges that come with expansion is maintaining message consistency despite its alterations abroad. You should remain true to what made you successful in the first place without forgetting how people in your target market like to be spoken to.
One way to keep your message aligned with your values, identity, and strategy is to build a campaign that is fairly simplistic. Take Komoot’s ‘Adventure Is’ campaign. “It can be interpreted and adapted to a number of different markets, without taking it too far,” says Fiola. Another way to maintain message consistency is to start off with a solid foundation. If you’re working with agencies or teams abroad, a robust onboarding is a must. This process should include a thorough explanation of a new campaign, toolkits that might come in handy, and most importantly, feedback. “Our teams abroad are very supportive of one another. They never feel alone in decision making and the results of each campaign, even if they fall short, are always discussed. There is always a lesson to be learned and having that space for discussion is always important to Komoot,” Fiola explains.
Stories that get traction
When Fiola and Christa analyzed the stories that have made an impact and landed them coverage, they both agreed that they were based on human experiences.
For BUX, a story that has been successful across markets is a discussion about inclusivity in finance and where women fit in that conversation. Christa explains, “A recent study from the DNB (De Nederlandsche Bank) noted that on paper, women appear to be less financially literate than men. In fact, one-third of this literacy gap can be explained by a lack of confidence. At BUX, we believe we can bridge that gap and bring all of our clients closer to their financial goals by giving them the tools to build their knowledge and confidence.” BUX has found that bringing awareness to inclusivity issues is something that really captivates the attention of both journalists and consumers worldwide. For Komoot, the stories that get the most traction are usually about adventure, because their product is deeply rooted in human experience.
On your mark, get set, go…
One thing’s for sure, scaling your PR efforts is no easy task. With so many considerations at play, preparing your strategy for the next stage of growth can be intimidating. What can help you hit the ground running is a solid plan. You’ve probably already gotten your communication strategy all set up for your current market, but how will you conquer the ones after that? Here’s a resource that will help you get organized by structuring messages, tactics, and channels for the new personas and markets on your horizon.