It pays to widen the gene pool

We may live on an island, but our ability to communicate and trade with the rest of the world has never been more potent. In this new global-scale economy, recruiting talent from abroad is a necessity for British consultancies, particularly the independen

Recruiting from abroad can give your consultancy the multicultural know-how and foreign brand experience that could help win new business, says Mark Rae

We may live on an island, but our ability to communicate and trade with the rest of the world has never been more potent. In this new global-scale economy, recruiting talent from abroad is a necessity for British consultancies, particularly the independents. When competing with the networks and their army of regional hubs, a mix of multicultural know-how and foreign brand experience can only be a good thing.

British creative talent has a good profile abroad, but we’re a little guilty of a parochial, inward-facing attitude and perhaps ignorant of the cultural nuances of the fastest-growing economies in the world, which are now neither overtly Westernised nor democratic. If we are going to continue to export our strategic and creative talent, our approach has to change. Having grown used to dealing with economies, markets and cultures similar to our own, we’ve developed a kind of shorthand in which business models, consumer groups and key business drivers tend to look the same.

At Brandhouse, as our international client remit grows, it has become our policy to employ ‘global citizens’. We don’t necessarily define this as being born in another country, since anyone who has travelled extensively, lived abroad and absorbed different cultures along the way will undoubtedly have something to add to the mix. People with these backgrounds tend to be more open-minded, curious and receptive to change.

Cultural variety in a team spices things up and creates a natural dynamism which is productive. Opposing viewpoints and tensions lead to exciting ideas and unusual solutions to the brand challenges we face daily. Furthermore, creative quality is enhanced by mixing up the teams. Creativity knows no boundaries, physical or otherwise, and opening up our eyes to foreign talent leads to exciting, cutting-edge design and a new way of thinking.

It may sound surprising, but very often client teams responsible for European brands do not have a diverse cultural background, or the instinct to look at the broader perspective which may be crucial for successful international branding. A consultancy with the employee infrastructure in place to offer this is a valuable partner.

And it’s not just international brands that benefit from international talent. British brands which seek to extend their reach overseas can learn a thing or two from viewing the market through foreign eyes. The shorthand mentioned earlier comes into play here and, with it, assumptions about positioning, innovation and brand messages – sometimes rethinking a brand’s strategy from grassroots level upwards is necessary to succeed abroad. True, people’s emotions and motivations are the same the world over, but in telling a brand’s story, it’s the cultural subtleties that matter. Even more important is to avoid patronising and often outdated cultural stereotypes.

There are also more practical advantages. A multilingual office is well placed to service clients in a global economy and may provide the deciding factor for winning new business, especially among clients where English is not a first or preferred language.

Then there’s the issue of cultural relevancy and language interpretation. Campaigns that are rolled out across several markets rely on consistency and sense-checking: we all know about branding blunders – a car company unwittingly launching a car named after a body part, for example.

While many design groups are waking up to the benefits of creating international teams, it isn’t the easiest path to tread. In the UK, we’re lucky that bureaucracy doesn’t hinder us too much. The US struggles with red tape and elusive working permits which make it hard to recruit globally. Look at any large US company and you’ll see an almost exclusively indigenous workforce. On the flip side of the coin, the Netherlands is a fine example of a country focused on building multicultural teams – Dutch consultancies regularly employ people from all over Europe and, as a result, many international companies have set up a base there.

The birth and continued growth of the Internet has opened up borders faster and more effectively than any politician ever could. The reality of this new world is global – and global recruitment gives us the tools to make the most of it.

Mark Rae is business development director of Brandhouse

Going Global 

• Recruit ‘global citizens’ – those who have lived and travelled abroad, as well as those born overseas
• Be aware that clients often don’t have a diverse cultural background, so it’s valuable to them if you do
• Foreign languages are important – having a multilingual office may be the deciding factor in winning new business

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