As part of a series of blogs that get under the skin of the communications industry in different regions, Tom Berry, Chameleon CEO, interviews Bjoern Eichstaedt, Managing Partner of one of our German partners, Storymaker
TB – Bjoern, what is the most important thing a company from another country needs to know, to be successful in PR in the Germany? What is the master rule to remember?
BE – I think, as in most other countries, there is no such thing as a single master rule, but there are few very important things foreign brands need to know about Germany in order to be successful.
First – and I have to explain this often to clients from other countries – Germany does not have a single media center. While France has Paris, Japan has Tokyo and the UK has London, Germany is a country with important media spread all over the country. The reason for this lies in our history: after the 2nd World War, Germany was separated into four allied sectors: United States, UK, France and the Soviet Union. They all built separate media systems and the capital moved from Berlin to a small city Bonn. Important media centers merged in Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt or Dusseldorf and remain so today. After the reunification of Germany, Berlin became the capital again and reappeared on the media map. So, if you plan an event, a press conference, ora media tour, you won’t be able to meet all the important media by visit just one city. This is especially important in the age of decreasing numbers of editorial staff and reduced travel activities on media side.
A second factor is German journalists and influencers are only really interested in quality stories and are very fact driven – they do not believe in marketing talk. So, we usually need a lot of information and background to really convince them that a story is worth writing. German journalists are also really critical and skeptical. They will not write anything just because you have a good relationship with them. And they will be very direct if they think a topic is uninteresting or a product is crappy. We find that Asian companies in particular are not used to this culture and expect a lot more politeness from the media.
TB – How has external communications in Germany changed over the last few years? What are the most important trends?
BE – As in many countries all over the world, digital transformation is in full swing over here. Print media has had to deal with decreasing circulation numbers although a lot of new titles have appeared on the market. At the same time, digital media channels have had to find new business models and still haven’t answered the question of how to make money. Blogging platforms have become important, digital multipliers are an essential factor in communications and Google search positioning is as important as ever. Visualization of stories has also become very important, with YouTube video bloggers the new kids on the block. So it is more evolutionary than revolutionary – but the whole scene has changed a lot in recent years. We are happy to be able to support classical PR and digital communications for technology companies – since both fields have become absolutely essential over here.
TB – I’m hearing a lot about Germany having a particular focus on security issues – when it comes to technology and technology companies. Does that affect your work?
BE – Yes, very much. We love security in Germany. For our IT customers, especially, this is the number one topic that interests journalists. So for all our IT customers, we need to know where their servers are located, if the data centers are secure, etc. For the “Mittelstand“ – the medium-sized companies that are the backbone of German economy – this is absolutely essential. German engineering is all about patents and ideas, and those companies cannot risk having unsecured IT and data loss. The “cloud“ is still a complex topic for a lot of companies, and the discussions about the data-driven activities of secret services from numerous countries (including our own) have not really helped to build trust in today’s modern IT environment. So yes, security is a top priority topic and all tech companies talking to media and influencers here have to first and foremost provide answers concerning the security standards of their solutions. The same is true for quality standards for hardware or consumer electronics.
TB – How has digital changed your work as an agency?
BE – Digital communications has become an essential factor for us over the last ten years. The main digital touchpoints such as Google, the social networks and online magazines are major aspects of our communication campaigns and are integrated into most of our approaches. Also, our content work has become very digital; we often use video and infographics to accompany text. Bloggers have become contacts on a daily basis and we contact journalists not only through phone and email, but often through Xing (the German LinkedIn – another speciality of our market), Twitter or Facebook. German tech journalists are very active on social networks – while engineering journalists are still very traditional. To be successful in the German communications market, companies need a good mix of digital relations as well as their own digital activities and content to cut through the noise.
TB – Why is it worth investing in PR in Germany?
BE – Germany is the strongest economy in Europe and a very interesting market. But a lot of companies are moving into Germany and competition is becoming harder than in other European markets. Journalists, influencers, multipliers and consumers are very critical and need to be convinced and constantly be fed with interesting information and strong stories. If you make a breakthrough in Germany, Germans tend to be very loyal customers, but, before you get that chance, you really need to convince them.
About Björn: Bjoern Eichstaedt is Managing Partner of Storymaker, a German PR and digital communications agency with offices in Tuebingen, Munich, Berlin and Beijing. At Storymaker Bjoern is responsible for IT PR and Digital Communications customers as well as working on the development of the Japanese customer market. He is married, has one kid and one cat, loves music, movies, food and Japan.