Have you thought about doing international consulting work? At this point in the cycle, I know many of you have. Recently, I started doing some work elsewhere in the Americas, and am scoping projects in Europe as well.
To help those looking to get started doing international work, here’s some advice from my experiences so far:
Start by making connections.
My first engagement started when a U.S.-based consultant who I know called me up and asked if I could help his client run a modern persuasion ad campaign — and get it live in just a few days. A RFP process followed, and we got the work.
My advice: talk to people in your networks about wanting to do international work. If you know someone doing this work, ask them if they have challenges that you can help solve for their next engagement.
Be (a little) humble.
When working in a foreign setting, much of your knowledge about messaging, political coalitions, and the political environment may be flat wrong. Your instincts could also be right on. It will take time to get your sea legs under you on things that you may take for granted at home.
My first international client had a very specific need: they wanted someone to develop and execute their digital-first paid media strategy for an upcoming election. Initially, creative would be handled by an in-house team or by a local creative agency.
I was confident. That was a perfect scope of work for me to tackle. Paid media strategy, execution and measurement for persuasion goals is my core competency, having run similar advertising and measurement programs supporting U.S. Democratic candidates.
That said, if my client had asked me on Day 1 to write a script for their audiences, I would have had some trepidation about writing for a foreign audience in a multi-party field.
By the end of their cycle, in partnership with their in-house digital team, we did end up writing and producing the most persuasive creative with their audiences as seen in both quantitative and qualitative testing.
Vet your digital platforms and media partners.
Be warned: not every digital media partner, toolset or service operates in every part of the world. For example, early on I was surprised to find that Hulu didn’t offer advertising outside the United States.
Also, even when you’re working on a great ads platform, like YouTube, that works well outside America, you may discover that some specific tools or policies may be different than you’re used to. In the case of YouTube, my primary caution is that Brand Lift did not have as many options for crafting political questions nor has it worked as reliably as it does here in the United States.
Get help on tax laws.
Foreign taxes can be quite different than in the United States. You need expert counsel to help plan and file taxes for your engagements.
For example, your invoices for professional services, creative development or a media buy may need to include a substantial Value Added Tax or Sales Tax. And those taxes can even vary regionally based on provincial regulation.
In addition, tax laws abroad are not static. When tax policy changes in the middle of an election cycle, your advisors need to be on top of it. This happened recently when one applicable rule was changed to better capture the use of digital tools and ecommerce, impacting some of my invoicing and filing requirements.
In short, hire an expert if your current accountant isn’t familiar with tax rules in the country you’re looking to work in.
Don’t forget about the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)
When talking to peers about working internationally, one question many have had is about the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). While not providing legal advice on this, I would recommend consulting the Department of Justice FARA website to learn more and obtaining legal advice on international work you are considering.
Develop lasting client relationships.
This piece of advice should be axiomatic for all practitioners regardless of locale, but bears some focus in a foreign context: get to know your client well. Ask how they define success for the program — and help them achieve it.
Looking back at a recent partnership, we were able to deliver on the goals of the program but more than that we were able to set up the client and the practitioners on the digital team with a data-driven approach to strategic planning and decision-making that should pay them dividends down the road.
If going above and beyond also leads to more work down the road, that’s a win-win for your practice and the client.
Andrew Eldredge-Martin is the founder and president of Measured Campaigns, a digital-first media consultancy with specialties in persuasion and targeted advocacy. He’s led more than $110 million in political, non-profit and brand campaigns including work supporting Presidents Joe Biden and Barack Obama, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Mark Kelly, and Jeanne Shaheen.