10 Do’s and Don’ts for US-based Associations with Plans for Europe
Europe is (or could be) a highly valuable region for many US-headquartered international associations. Successful organisations are self-aware and make the effort to adapt. From our experience, if you pay attention to these points your (potential) European members will feel much more at home within your association.
Let’s Look at Strategy
1 – Don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms. There is likely to be an association ecosystem in place that you may not be aware of, and local players may not immediately see the benefits of a newcomer or even feel threatened. Different local structures might be needed for chapters, committees, etc. – there is no “one size fits all”. Do invest in building relationships. Trust is important.
2 – Do consider variations in the volunteer culture. Volunteering can be more or less popular depending on cultural differences across Europe and your sector of activity. For example, in North-western Europe there is a rather strong volunteer culture whereas in some parts of Eastern Europe volunteering and the concept of (party) “membership” can still suffer from being associated with former communist regimes.
Probably the following conversation between two colleagues sounds somehow familiar to you.
“Hey, are you going to the XY event next week?”
“Yes, I’m really looking forward to the live sessions.”
“But I thought it was only virtual?”
“Well, it’s online but I mean the live, face-to-face discussion with the speakers…”
If these frequently used terms – live, virtual, online, and face-to-face – are already confusing between association and meeting professionals, how do we make sure that attendees, sponsors, members, volunteers and even boards understand what we are talking about? And how do we effectively market events in the digital age?
Let’s Talk about Marketing and Communication
3 – Don’t forget that marketing is generally more modest in Europe. Frequency: Europeans are used to less advertising, e.g., during sports events, commercials are limited to the half-time break. Delivery: Often a softer tone and more abstract approach is used in marketing messages. Cultural differences: Wealth and success are not communicated in the same way. Marketing that is seen as aspirational in America could be perceived as brash in Europe.
4 – Do make sure that your visuals are suitable for a European audience. Europeans have a different sense of aesthetics. Branding is often more subtle compared to the US – less use of bright colours and a bit less emphasis on images of “smiling people”.
5 – Don’t use vocabulary like “overseas”, “global” or “international” when referring to your European members. Although well intentioned, it emphasises the (perceived) divide and there is no such thing as an international market for membership as needs differ by country or region (as well as all the segments you address in your home/national market).
Get the Timing Right
6 – Do avoid starting your meetings or conference program too early in the morning. As of 09:00 (9 a.m. – more on this below) is fine. And don’t be offended by a little delay. Punctuality is valued differently across Europe. Usually, attendees in Europe will stick to the set time but the traditional “academic quarter” (up to 15 minutes delay) is still accepted in some parts of Europe, even though today more in private life.
7 – Don’t plan any key activities too close to major holidays like Easter or during the summer months (July-August) – many Europeans will take their annual leave in this period. Many offices are also closed during the end of the year holidays (last week of the year).
Details Show You Care
8 – Do use British English for all communications to European members. A European audience is rather used to the British spelling with “-ise” like in prioritise. And mind words that are completely different in US and British English, like autumn / fall and holidays / vacation.
9 – Don’t use American sports metaphors. They won’t resonate with a European audience, neither does a very enthusiastic communication style. Don’t be offended if Europeans are less passionate in the way they express their feelings, especially in communicating success.
10 – Do avoid creating confusion when indicating the date and time, for example: Europeans in general write the date in the format “Day Month Year” and use a 24-hour clock instead of am and pm. So, if 7/3/2021 means the 3rd of July for you, Europeans see the 7th of March!
From big picture strategic challenges to small details, you can often find room for improvement across the board. Don’t overemphasise strategic issues (that may take years to resolve) and do remember that quick wins on smaller, operational details can make a big difference to how you are perceived!
Is your association also active in Europe? What are your experiences? We would love to hear your thoughts!
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