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December 29, 2006

FOREIGN EXCHANGE: Taking your event overseas ? The agency angle

There are two major parts to transferring an event abroad: the first is logistical and the second is messaging. “With logistical and technical aspects, the key is to do your homework,” says Julian Pullan, joint UK managing director at Jack Morton Worldwide. “Understanding the legal framework for health and safety, knowing which local suppliers are appropriate, understanding which venues work and so on: these are all essential for delivering any event or experience, so if you’re working abroad you need to make sure you’ve covered all these ‘known unknowns’.”

Transferring creative and messaging aspects of events and experiences can be a much more difficult thing to pin down, demanding a thorough knowledge of the culture and the society of your audience. “If you don’t have that you risk failing to communicate effectively – or worse, actually offending the people you’re trying to engage,” says Pullan.

Global vision
As brands become more global so does communication and a real understanding of specific cultural and social issues within key markets is becoming ever more important to delivering meaningful communication. This is particularly true for experiential or event communication, which depends on engaging audiences on both an emotional and intellectual level.

“Designing any event or experiential campaign means understanding the audience. It also means understanding their cultural influences and preferences. That way your creative treatments will be more effective,” continues Pullan. “As with all communication the message needs to be communicated in the way that is most likely to engage the delegates and thereby build brands and business success. So the process that is used to design an event for a UK audience is the same one that is required for an overseas audience.  Pre-event audience research is fundamental. If the event is for an overseas audience then that same understanding must be acquired for the different audience nationalities.”

There are many different cultural preferences that will impact on the design of an event.  Pullan believes these can be roughly broken down into three categories:

  • Interactivity
    Here Puallan cites the example of internal communications: “In the UK, internal audiences increasingly engage in opportunities to question their senior management directly,” he says. “In China and the Far East, by contrast, employees feel deeply uncomfortable about questioning their senior managers: the risk of ‘face’ being lost is too great, even when the ‘face’ in question is not the individual’s own. So an interactive, discursive design will not play well in Asia.  The use of keypads with anonymous feedback is a good technique in that market.”
  • Humour
    “There is a belief that humour doesn’t work with multinational audiences,” says Pullan. “This isn’t true. You just have to remember how many sitcoms are successful around the world and you’ll realise humour can be global.  However, sometimes you need to ‘signpost’ things clearly so that audiences know they are ‘allowed’ to laugh.  Visual humour works well particularly when the audience have differing language capabilities.”
  • Visual Design
    “In some parts of the world colour is very significant,” explains Pullan. “In China red stands for good luck, whereas in South Africa it’s the colour of mourning.  It’s important to be aware of these types of considerations.

Get the knowledge
To be most effective, Pullan advises that companies work with partners who understand and have experience of the different audiences. “You should ideally work with an agency that has a good worldwide knowledge of both multi-cultural communication and of producing events in different countries,” he says. “If you are simply transporting an exclusively UK audience overseas then you can work with a local UK agency and use local ground handlers.  If you are creating an event for different nationalities then of course an agency like Jack Morton Worldwide is ideal as they will provide a creative and production team comprised of individuals from their worldwide offices thereby ensuring appropriate messaging and flawless on the ground delivery.”

However, Pullan is keen to point out that it is important not to let cultural unfamiliarity frighten you away from creative ideas that you believe in. “Just because people haven’t seen something before doesn’t mean they won’t like it – innovation and originality is often exactly what you need to bring brands and messages alive. Just make sure you research it,” he concludes.

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