Many of us have organized educational events that featured key opinion leaders from around the globe. We understand the appeal of bringing in experts from new regions to speak to a domestic audience. But what happens when we are ready to take our event overseas? How do we market a U.S.-based event orto an international audience? Here are five tips to help you make the most of your international event.
- Globalize the planning process
While physicians outside of the United States certainly have an appreciation for our style of medicine, it's important to remember that what works here won't necessarily work there. Technology, hospital administrative systems, university-based research approaches, and linguistic and cultural differences will all influence how your program is perceived. One great way to overcome these barriers is to integrate a local advisory board and faculty into your program. Local key opinion leaders can also be pivotal to raising awareness of your event and drawing participation.
- Watch your language
Catchy phrases, puns, plays on words, or metaphors that are creative and memorable in English won't necessarily connect with your target audience. Be careful to use correct grammar and avoid language that can't be taken literally. If you plan to produce your materials in other languages, be twice as careful to use direct and simple language, as this will be easier to accurately translate.
- Filter your images
Symbols have vastly different meanings from one culture to another. Be aware that a hand gesture or a symbol that is friendly and inviting in one culture can be offensive in another. (For example, the American hand gesture for “OK” is offensive in Brazil.) Conversely, symbols that don't necessarily have a strong meaning in American culture can be a powerful way to convey your key messages elsewhere. The peach is a symbol of health and vitality in China, for instance. By involving team members from the local culture, you can not only avoid public embarrassment, but you might even hit on a powerful focal point for your marketing campaign.
- Translate your marketing tactics
Every culture connects with key messages in a different way. Take the time to discover how physicians learn about events and education before you invest in your marketing tactics. You might be surprised at what you learn. One event we held in Mexico City was a huge success because we promoted it through a direct mail campaign, even though the postal system is somewhat unreliable in Mexico and direct mail has not really taken off as a marketing tactic. We opted for a compromise: sending postcards via courier to targeted physicians inviting them to a half-day symposium on key advances in clinical medicine, featuring faculty from the United States. This type of direct mail “invitation” was a novel concept for physicians, and they really took the time to read our postcards. In fact, more than 125 of them brought the actual postcard to the event with them!
- Mind your manners
The social aspect of events and education can be much more culturally important outside of the United States. You may find it challenging to stay within guidelines for meal expenditures. Also, pay careful attention to meal times. In Europe, if you plan a working lunch or allocate less than an hour for meals, you will be viewed as tactless. In Mexico, remember that people eat lunch around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. If you try to schedule lunch at noon, people might perceive it as just a coffee break.
By fully embracing the culture of the country where you are holding your event, you will open up a world of experiences for your faculty, visitors, and staff. Take a step back and challenge your own thinking, and you'll find that international events and education can be one of the most rewarding aspects of your career.
Jennifer Goodwin is president of The Goodwin Group International, LLC, a medical communications company in Arlington, Mass. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.