Brazil isn?t for beginners: 5 communication tips for gringos
I arrived in Brazil three years ago after a career in communications in the UK and France, to manage the Brazilian office of Speyside, a consultancy specialized in advising multinationals on their communication strategies in emerging markets. This was at a time when Brazil had become an Eldorado for international investors: Europe and America were in crisis, and Brazil was posting close to 10% annual growth rates. As a result, many multinationals had piled into the country, with M&A, Greenfield investments, and other expansion plans. Many of them also brought their "developed market" notions of corporate communications with them ? only to find out that they don?t always work in Brazil.
It isn?t so much that the rules of media relations in Brazil are fundamentally that different ? it all boils down to having a good story, and knowing how to tell it ? but the cultural barriers are sometimes almost inexplicably high. In this sense, much of our work at Speyside involves doing what I call "cultural psychotherapy" for multinationals, often acting as mediators between corporate communication teams sitting in London or New York, frustrated by the lack of results of their communications strategies, and their colleagues in S?o Paulo or Rio, frustrated that the foreigners don?t understand the subtleties of the local market.
We?ve distilled the lessons of those psychotherapy sessions into 5 best-practice tips, aimed at teaching "gringos" how to successfully communicate in Brazil:
1. Brazilianize your story: don?t be surprised if local journalists don?t care that you?re a global leader in your field or that you have the latest cutting-edge technology ? if you don?t have a Brazilian angle for your story, and can?t demonstrate real commitment to the country, then you might as well be invisible. A Portuguese-speaking spokesperson, and hard facts on your local activities, will also help get media attention.
2. Tread with care: Tom Jobim used to joke that "Brazil isn?t for beginners", and it?s easy to become extremely frustrated with the country?s labyrinthine bureaucracy, trade protectionism, and crippling tax regime. The Brazilian government and media commentators don?t take kindly to foreigners trying to give their country lessons though, and many a multinational has seen its reputation damaged from the backlash of having vented its frustrations in public. You have to be smarter than that.
3. Adjust your watch: Brazil isn?t on the same time-zone, and I don?t just mean this literally: time works differently in Brazil. Journalists will often arrive late at meetings, and whatever you think is an urgent piece of information probably isn?t: it?s not uncommon for corporate news to be covered days, weeks or even months after they were originally announced.
4. Expect the unexpected: the best communication strategies in Brazil are those that leave a margin for error. Journalists might not show up, your event venue may be the victim of a sudden electricity black-out, your commercial partners may decide to pre-announce a business deal, your spokespeople could get stuck in traffic or have their flights cancelled. I?ve experienced all this, and worse, first hand: back-up planning and a knack for improvisation is absolutely crucial.
5. Relax, and have faith: Brazilian professionals don?t have the same culture of strategic planning and reporting that is common in developed markets. They aren?t used to endlessly tweaking key messages and Q&As, and it may take time for them to get used to your methods. That doesn?t mean they don?t get results or know how to handle the local media though, and it?s important to listen to their advice. To paraphrase a recent declaration by Brazil?s deputy minister of sports: Brazil has a culture of getting things done at the last minute, and while preparations may look chaotic they generally turn out fine in the end.
- Vice President - Brazil
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As published in Mundo do Marketing.