Beth Garcia, CEO of one of Latin America's leading communications agencies, Approach, recently took time out to tell us about Brazil's journalist-run PR agency scence, how communications work suffers in the eye of the national crisis, and insights into cutting-edge sports marketing.
With your career experiences in both Europe and Latin America, what would you say are the main differences in approach to PR and corporate communications in both regions?
The Brazilian press seems to have some peculiarities that are a unfamiliar to European clients. Just to give an example, here the social columns in the newspapers are considered prestigious for business too, so it is not uncommon for brands to offer them firsthand information before releasing it to all media outlets. Also we have noticed in some cases that international clients expect a preview of the article before it is published, but this request tends not to be well received by Brazilian journalists.
Brazil is South America’s biggest media market, and Approach is rooted in daily journalism. Can you describe the relationship between media and PR in your country?
Many PR agencies in Brazil are run by journalists and we have a good understanding of how the newsrooms work, which helps us offer relevant content for the media. Our team at Approach works constantly to uphold a professional relationship with the media, and we are proud to have received the Comunique-se Prize, for which winners are chosen by the journalists themselves. This is a huge recognition by our peers in the communication industry. In the past years we have been witnessing the downsizing of newsrooms – evidently we feel sympathetic towards our many colleagues who are leaving their jobs. However, something has caught our attention: while print media is struggling to find its new place, the remaining mediums have gained even greater credibility and brands seem to be willing to experiment with other communication platforms.
What one development is top of the agenda for a corporate communicator working in Latin America?
In the past years the communication market began to converge – agencies are expanding their portfolio of services as both brands and public expect more consistency across all communication platforms. This is both a challenge and a upside, as it requires 360º comprehension of the business but it is also is exciting for communication professionals interested in developing multiple skills. Even if you are specialized in a certain area, you are expected to work together with a multidisciplinary team.
Do the current political and corruption scandals dominating the media in Brazil make it difficult to communicating positive messages?
The worst aspect of the crisis was not its economic repercussions because a country with such an ample supply of natural resources, like Brazil, will certainly recover, but the despondency it produced in various environments which has contaminated and weakened communication. The greatest challenge now is to raise clients' and institutions' spirits. Times of crisis provide opportunities for innovation, driving people to act in more creative ways. Storytelling platforms which can be used in publications, press guidelines and digital and media campaigns, are gradually beginning to share space with advertising.
"Times of crisis provide opportunities for innovation, driving people to act in more creative ways."
This in-house material is a reliable source of information, for both internal and external audiences. It is down to us journalists to find opportunities and harness them.
How do the country’s current economic struggles impact your work with international clients entering the Brazilian market?
Our expanding portfolio of services has been proved to meet our clients’ needs to gain efficiency and develop more comprehensive campaigns without having to hire several different suppliers for the same project. Regarding PR strategies, people in Brazil have been experiencing a deep feeling of disbelief regarding politics and institutions and have been questioning what they see in the news, too.
"People in Brazil have been experiencing a deep feeling of disbelief regarding politics and institutions and have been questioning what they see in the news, too."
Our work with all our clients is now focused in humanizing the company's communication with its stakeholders and valuing transparency. It is crucial to show authenticity and ethics to earn the public’s trust.
Is it challenging to work among the highly-diverse market of Latin America?
Undoubtedly it is a diverse region, but certain trends we experience in Brazil can be seen in other Latin American countries as well. Approach is currently leading the articulation of multiple Latin American agencies, forming a network called RELAMCE. This network allows us to manage the positioning and imaging of major brands across the continent. At this moment RELAMCE is comprised of renowned agencies in eight countries – Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Besides exchanging experiences, we will be able to participate in global projects while having valuable support for both local execution and cultural context.
Approach is especially noted for its expertise in the sports market, counting Red Bull, Ferj and Diane dos Santos among its long-held clients. Do you have a favourite campaign you have been involved in? What can we learn from this about communications strategy?
We were involved with the Coca-Cola campaign for the Olympic Games. The biggest challenge and learning about this job was to involve all the Coca-Cola chain (bottlers all over Brazil) in the Olympic spirit. There were many events, actions, projects and assets to manage with all the stakeholders and with so many ther good initiative of the company was to sponsor the Olympic Torch Relay. This way they could spread the Coca-Cola spirit and the brand all over the country. They have a big concern in all kind off medias: traditional (TV, newspaper, sites, radios) and digital (social medias and influencers). To do this job they hired three different communications agencies, each one with a specific focus (marketing, institutional and digital). This way they could cover all the Coca-Cola initiatives.
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Beth Garcia is a jury member at the Latin-American Excellence Awards, a celebration of the best in Latin-American corporate communications and public relations, which is co-hosted by Communication Director. The full list of winners of the Latin American Excellence Awards are now online. To find out more about the other members of the esteemed jury panel head the awards website