Businesses that choose Canada as their port of entry to North America would do well to take an effective approach to public relations that is tailored to their target market. Marie-Françoise Hervieu, President of the agencies Zone franche and Villemarie, reveals how public relations can play an important role in the success of a business plan.

“Building up your name and reputation takes time and consistent effort,” explained Marie-Françoise Hervieu, President of Zone franche and Villemarie. “Expect it to take two or three years. Public relations are still the best way to earn credibility with clients, partners, business people and investors.”

As is expected with legal and financial needs, companies should also prepare to push into a new market by seeking out services from communication experts with fine-tuned skills for navigating issues specific to the Montréal, Quebec and Canadian markets. Each culture comes with its own distinct particularities and codes. Language and observable behaviours must be factored in.

“In France, for example, communication often goes hand in hand with advertising, but many companies aren’t aware of how much there is to gain from relationships with journalists. It’s a much more established tradition in North American culture,” explained Ms. Hervieu.

The full spectrum

Media relations open the door to a whole range of communication and positioning opportunities for newcomers to the market: launches, appointments, manager profiles, investments, studies and research, opinions on social issues, etc. Newspapers, for example, still reach more than 70% of Canadians each week.

Since the advent of social media, people called influencers—because their activities, opinions and lifestyle influence thousands of people—can also play a major role in establishing your brand and reputation. “Tell one million followers that an exhibition is taking place at the Google Cultural Institute, and you just informed them that Google supports local culture,” she said, adding that social media is more widely used here than in France, for instance.

Positioning with prestigious forums is another strategy that public relations experts can offer foreign companies trying to establish their reputation. Just like targeted networking, philanthropic or business activities, sponsorships can have a remarkable effect on creating sustainable relationships. “Not only are these companies improving their competitive positioning, but they attract candidates who are seeking a stimulating career,” said Ms. Hervieu.

Favourable public opinion

Building sustainable relationships with different groups is also a good defence against potential crises. Businesses that neglect to form and maintain third-party relations often wind up stuck in a tight spot when disaster strikes. A company should generate as much public goodwill and trust as possible—it will come in handy at some point. Companies that have a solid reputation can count on a network of strong, present allies when the going gets tough.

Companies should fortify this defence by joining forces with experts who have a solid grounding in their market and a deep understanding of their environment if they wish to protect their hard-earned reputation.