Postcard from Brazil – PR Week

By November 10, 2015PR Strategy

PR Week recently published this article by me about how the Brazilian marketing comms market is facing up to the country’s well documented political and economic challenges ahead of the Olympics. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below.

Brazil is going through a turbulent political and economic period but it is still exceptionally strong creatively, says Alasdair Townsend, managing partner of Sherlock Communications.

Chat with the average Brazilian and you could be forgiven for thinking the country was entering a state of terminal decline amid recession, corruption scandals and, to some extent the root of all of these, political uncertainty.

Like other Latin Americans, Brazilians are emotional thinkers and positives and negatives tend to become exaggerated. Talk with older heads and you get a more measured perspective, with most expecting the political picture to clarify after next year’s municipal elections and a turnaround within two years.

The fundamental factors that make Brazil an attractive long-term investment have not changed and, as an agency, we are continuing to see demand from the consumer goods, technology, education and healthcare sectors in particular – to say nothing of the planning already starting ahead of next year’s Olympics.

For comms professionals, there’s no doubt that these are challenging times, but it’s wrong to judge on emotion instead of facts.

Like all recessions, this one is bringing as many opportunities as challenges. It also has the potential to bring a maturation in business practices which could have a profound impact on the communications landscape.

Brazilian agencies have always been exceptionally strong creatively, as a glance at any Cannes Lions will show, yet this creativity could be euphemistically described as more “unfettered” than in other markets. Brazilian business practices and timelines mean that strategic planning and measurement don’t receive the same focus they would in London or New York, for example. Something that frequently poses a challenge to international brands operating in the market.

Part of the problem is that internal corporate hierarchies mean that there is resistance to sharing between departments and unclear reporting lines or dialogue with senior management. A problem often further compounded in multinationals, with budgets and communications frameworks determined outside Brazil.

“Communications” budgets also often fall under the purview of professionals from other disciplines, such as HR or even GR, and an agency can find itself with a roster of clients that each have a different job title. In this context, outmoded metrics (the AVE is still alive and well in Brazil) continue to be produced.

Procurement departments and executives are placing an increasing emphasis on efficiencies but, at the same time, squeezing budgets, access and hours required to effectively plan and evaluate success. A tipping point is being reached.

Above a certain age, businesses are typically slow-moving and hierarchical, but if younger than 15 years old, they are often extremely innovative and agile (they need to be to survive the many bureaucratic obstacles Brazil puts in their way). They succeed only by having a clearly defined vision and streamlined management structure. This truth is starting to be recognised more widely, and it is the agencies that can harness more ‘creative’ and energetic approaches to planning and management that will achieve real cut-through.

To give a real life example, while working on a digital brief with one of Brazil’s largest retailers, it was obvious that updating the wider business was going to be at least as important to success as any external impacts. We created an internal brand for the project, then ran internal content marketing campaigns (newsletters, infographics, videos and roadshows) showing what we were doing, why it was important and how the business at large and employees were benefitting. A far cry from a typical monthly report – but an approach that was demonstrably effective in its Brazilian context.

More than ever, the pressure is on to show that communications is an investment not a cost. Over the next two years, there is a feel that the traditional Brazilian strength, creativity, could be becoming focused to meet that challenge, with agencies producing bold and robust new approaches to surmount Brazil’s bureaucracy.


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