Looking to theoverseas stage

In the current economic climate, seeking work abroad has never made more sense. But is it that simple? asks Carron Edmonds

We have all seen them: the foreign design concepts that make even the most open-minded creatives cringe.

Of course, we have to be reasonable about it. Just because they make us squirm does not mean they will elicit the same response from domestic consumers. In fact, quite the opposite.

If you have ever spent time abroad talking to customers about their country’s creativity, you will often find that, no matter where you are, you can have an animated discussion about design that will often result in you backing down and reluctantly agreeing that yes, their hideous branding is perfect for the market.

But where do you draw the line? At what point do you intervene to suggest that using soft porn to publicise a passport might not be the most appropriate way of going about things?

It helps if your clients trust you. We have found that because we have worked with ours for many years, they have faith in our judgement, both in a creative and a service sense.

So when we first considered moving into international design, we knew we had those key elements in place right from the start. But working abroad really isn’t that simple.

Yes, we were knowledgeable about the audiences; we understood the consumer trends and had an insight into the market drivers.

But we had not banked on the other ‘challenges’ we would face.

We found that although creativity was never a problem with international clients, we had to make sure that we channelled our creativity in the right direction. It is all about achieving the right balance between what the client had asked for, what works culturally, and what you consider to be an excellent piece of design work.

Of course, it takes time to get this right, and for every country and client it is different, but marrying cultural sensitivities and creativity is one of the keys to international design success.

Achieve this by spending as much time as possible with the client. Visit their home market, undertake research into trends and analyse successful brands for inspiration and insight.

Time is another obstacle that often stands in the way of success. Juggling a number of different accounts in the UK is tough enough in this fast-paced industry, but throw in clients from Asia, Australia and the US – all with the same high expectations – and it becomes a completely different ball game.

Operating across countless different zones and ensuring service levels are optimum in each is never going to be a walk in the park. But it is one of the most important tasks to master. Clients need to feel like they are supported 24/7 by their consultancy, so consider working to a flexi-time rota where possible, making sure that there is always someone at the other end of the phone if time zones are an issue.

Hand-in-hand with time comes expectation. When there are cultural differences there will inevitably be disparities between what is wanted of a design group from one country to the next.

A single, agreed strategy is therefore key from the outset to ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

As much as it goes against everything we stand for, from a ‘creative’ point of view, it is absolutely essential to agree on practices and procedures to ensure that everyone involved is on board from the outset.

Basic as it may seem, draw up one single document – proposal or otherwise – detailing exactly what you have agreed and what you will deliver. It will certainly make life easier in the long run.

Working abroad is a tough challenge to undertake. While it is possible to do – and can certainly deliver great results – opening offices in the markets where you operate is one solution to make life easier.

However, buying a consultancy that already exists in the market and simply renaming under your established brand is not enough.

You must have a hand in the business from day one, investing time in recruitment to ensure that the business is aligned with your own values to make sure the output does your company justice.

If you do not, your reputation will suffer and rebuilding it will be harder than the challenge of working abroad in the first place.

That said, in spite of its challenges, operating internationally is one of the most rewarding elements of our business and has certainly made us a more open-minded agency as a result.

Carron Edmonds is managing director, Maverick Advertising & Design

Tips for international success

• Marry up cultural sensitivities and creativity by spending as much time as possible with the client. Visit its home market, undertake research into trends and analyse successful brands

• Master juggling accounts across countless different time zones and ensure service levels are optimum in each

• Agree a single strategy from the outset

• Consider opening offices in the markets where you operate to make life easier

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