News value – the international language

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By Linda Forrest

Yesterday, guest blogger Ken Rosen talked about the importance of using the same language as your customers. He referred to not only communication disconnects caused by language barriers, but also how, in order to be successful at customer engagement, you must speak the same language and define both features and benefits in terms that resonate.

How does this approach translate to PR efforts?

We had the good fortune this week again of having the story of a user of the advanced prosthetic technology of our longtime client Touch Bionics go global. The story had all the makings of a great piece – a precocious young man writes a cheeky request to an idol, who in turn pays for his branded bionic hand. This one had story angles to spare: human interest, business, technology, health, science, charity…

Here’s a graphical representation of where the media coverage (at the time of writing, nearing 600 stories and rising) has come from:

(Image: Meltwater)

Seeing coverage in many languages in countries around the world, coverage that came on the back of one English-language news release, begs the question: how important is translation of PR materials into other languages?

There’s no such thing as local news any longer: once a story is out in the world, any media anywhere in the world, in any language can cover it. This week alone, me, a Canadian PR practitioner, has pitched and coordinated media opportunities around the globe for my clients, many of whom also reside elsewhere on the globe. We have often had the conversation with clients that media tours are largely a thing of the past, unless of course you have the many dollars it would take to send your spokespeople to do an analyst brief in New Zealand, a demo in the UK, an interview in the US and so on. The Skypes and GoToMeetings, as well as email and collaboration platforms, of the world negate the requirement to travel to engage with your media and analyst audiences. inmedia‘s Ramp-Up and Roll-Out process is a virtual media and analyst tour of sorts, enabling our clients to have the important briefings, interviews and demos that they need to have without ever leaving home. Where required, we’ve teamed with PR agencies around the globe, issued information in native languages to foreign markets, sent out materials directly and through newswires to foreign markets… Wherever your story needs to be told, it can be told effectively, with the right resources.

In addition to your media kit, the media will visit your website looking for more information on your company. Does that mean that if you’re selling into foreign markets you should have websites in the languages most widely spoken in those markets? This data from a survey conducted by TransPerfect suggests that yes, it is important.

  • 63% of consumers prefer buying from websites written in their native language
  • 64% of companies say they are ‘unsure’ if translated websites will impact sales
  • 19% of executives say website translation is a priority

You can see the distance between the customer and the company is quite vast. Bulldog Reporter shared further insight from that same survey, which questioned nearly 200 executives and consumers in United States, France, Germany, Sweden, Japan and more.

  • More than half said when left to their own devices, they either try to translate material themselves, rely on a browser-based translation application, or terminate their shopping sessions.
  • Nearly 68 percent said they “always” or “sometimes” encounter website translations that are not correct or are confusing because the translations lacked an understanding of the culture.

A very salient point made by a tourism website holds true regardless of the industry:

Multilingual online public relations is crucial simply because people will always use their native language first when searching the internet.

Will those people find you? What if they’re the media hoping to cover you?

But when it comes to media coverage, can the news value of a story supercede the requirement for information in one’s native language? Our Touch Bionics results would suggest yes. But this isn’t always the case. Touch Bionics has the luxury of being a company with compelling stories to both consumer and trade audiences, and their news tends to resonate with a wide swath of people.

What if you have a geographically-centred announcement to make? Many times, we’ve counselled that when these sorts of stories need to be told, it’s best to translate your materials into the mother tongue of the audience, preferably by a translation firm that can communicate effectively while understanding the culture. It’s not just the words that matter, it’s the tone, the approach, and the culture that your materials need to be infused with that the translator must truly understand and consider.

Perhaps your PR firm needs to pair up with local resources in those markets so that nothing gets lost in translation and materials are drafted from scratch, inculcating the required messaging within the context of that market. It’s imperative that your primary PR resources guide the activities and ultimately oversee the project, however, for fear that materials developed and targets pursued don’t align with your overall communications objectives.

In the technology realm, there are additional considerations – many words will not get translated from English as they are the same in both English and the target language. Making the determination as to where to translate and where not to is essential to success. Highly technical jargon will need to be well understood by whomever is preparing your foreign language material as terms – even across English-language markets: lift versus elevator, anyone? – may not be the same and a direct translation will further confuse rather than educate the reader.

The degree to which foreign markets are important to your bottom line, and the news value of your story, will largely determine whether foreign language media materials are a requirement. Every once in a while your company may have a foreign-interest story to tell. With the right resources in place – which may include PR practitioners based in the market in question teaming with your existing marketing team, translation services that know the market and the sector, access to comprehensive media lists and/or newswires that speak to that territory – your international PR efforts are more likely to be successful.

Image: Touch Bionics


  • Bill Chapman

    October 03, 2011 6:47 am

    There is a more radical solution to overcoming language barriers. It lies in making wider use of Esperanto as a second language for us all.

  • Linda Forrest

    October 03, 2011 10:20 am

    Dankon for your suggestion, Bill.


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