Liz, you look after all HBI’s requirements in terms of content creation in English. How long have you been working in marketing communications and how did you get into this field? What were your most exciting career highlights?

I’ve been in marcoms for about 35 years now, starting at a computing magazine in London and moving into the software industry – and to Germany – in the mid-1980s. I moved to France in the mid-90s, working as the country manager for another software company. I stayed in the enterprise software field until late 2002, working for various companies in sales and/or marketing roles. In early 2003, I set up my own content creation and PR business. Running my own business is definitely the most exciting role I’ve had and I’m lucky to always have plenty of work! Aside from that, I loved working in software start-ups with a bunch of like-minded people committed to getting a business off the ground. And I’m a bit of a geek too – I love learning about new technologies and writing about IT and engineering innovations.

You’re English and have lived in France for over 20 years and you spent 10 years in Germany before that. And you’re married to a Bavarian. So you’re an expert par excellence in intercultural communication. How do you think communication differs across European borders?

I think globalization, and the internet, of course, has blurred the differences to some extent – they were much more marked 20 or 30 years ago. But as a general rule, the Brits communicate in a less formal, more friendly style, often with some humor thrown in, while Germans are more formal, perfectionist and technically precise. I’ve worked on several websites where German companies provided the bare technical facts about their products without including the emotional aspect (not hype!) that “sells” the product – that’s important in English-speaking markets. The French are fairly formal and logical too but tend to communicate in a more flamboyant way than the Germans or the Brits. Even in the B2B market, their communication often conveys more passion than technical detail or linguistic perfection. But in general, I think there are fewer differences between these three countries than between Europe and the US.

That’s interesting – what differences are there between communication methods on each side of the pond?

To use the example of PR content: many US companies in the tech industry take a marketing-based approach to it. Their press releases sometimes read like brochures and don’t always back up claims. This is generally accepted by the US trade and business press. In Europe, tech companies are expected to provide fact-based analyses and arguments for what they say their product can do, otherwise, journalists may refuse to write about it. They value proof and critical thinking. For this reason, US PR content needs to be adapted for the European press – not just translated.

And where do you see similarities in the communication culture of British, German and French firms?

There’s definitely a tendency towards conciseness, probably driven by the growth of social media and mobile devices. Many of the companies I work with are starting to keep the text elements in a brochure or website relatively focused and include a lot of imagery. There’s also been a lot more multi-channel activity in all 3 countries. Companies are looking to keep in contact with their customers, business partners and prospects by using several touchpoints, even though the GDPR has made this a little more challenging.

You work with tech companies of all sizes, from start-ups to multinational groups. You’re bound to have a few tips based on your extensive experience. Depending on their size and industry, what should companies generally watch out for when developing their communication and image strategy?

I’ll mention three things – not earth-shatteringly new tips, but things that are often overlooked First: don’t forget the basics. That means focusing on business benefits and USPs first and providing technical details afterward. Second: don’t forget your partners. Many companies spend thousands on an amazing corporate website but neglect their resellers and distributors. Succinct, useful content for them – like sales support kits, sales argument cheat sheets, etc., can keep your partner network happy and make all the difference to your bottom line. And third (one that’s close to my heart): make sure your text content is top quality. Produce really engaging content and banish sloppy writing, grammatical mistakes, bad translations and anything else that makes you look unprofessional. These are surprisingly common.

To wrap up, we’d like to ask you which three words HBI makes you think of spontaneously? And is there anything you always wanted to tell HBI?

(1) Professional, with people who have an excellent grasp of complex technologies and how to explain them. In my experience, surprisingly few PR/marketing agencies have the caliber of staff that HBI has. (2) Open – in the sense of communicative, but also open to new ideas, approaches and methods. (3) Principled – with values like respect for customers and partners, the stability of management and staff, and great team spirit.

And one thing I always wanted to tell HBI: I really enjoy working with you and your customers and have done so for the 15 years we’ve been collaborating! Long may it continue!

Liz, thank you for the interview!

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