7 blunders Swedes make when facing the international media

Publicerad: 6 sep 2016

Guest Writer: David Landes
Photo: Steve Buissinne/Pixabay.com

For a country on the fringes of Europe with a population smaller than many global cities, Sweden has an impressive roster of global companies and pretty large international footprint. Hardly a month goes by without a new international ranking emerging that places Sweden near the top of the charts.

With such a sterling international reputation and so many English-speaking, globetrotting Swedes, it’s easy to assume that Swedish communications professionals and corporate leaders are also masters of the international media universe.

But despite the increasing importance of connecting with international audiences, even the most polished Swedish executives often fail to reap the benefits (and avoid the pitfalls!) that come with media exposure beyond Sweden’s borders.

Here are just a few of the most common mistakes that I’ve seen from my perspective as a journalist that prevent Swedes from basking in the glow of the international media spotlight.

1. Pitching the Swedish news angle

The pitch that attracted attention from a major Swedish daily probably won’t raise an eyebrow for an outlet writing for an audience that spans the globe.

2. Believing they truly are fluent in English

Swedes are great at English, no doubt, but as anyone who’s been under the studio lights can attest, it’s hard to stay on message in a foreign language – especially when the cameras are rolling.  Even a seemingly meaningless lost-in-translation moment can have dire consequences. Just ask Carl Henrik Svanberg.

3. Not pitching at all

While living in the Swedish ‘duck pond’ may leave you feeling intimidated about courting the foreign press, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. There are many more outlets to choose from, which means more possible angles to pitch. And if you make a splash abroad, your ‘världsnyhet’ will probably also get covered in Sweden.

4. Assuming news stops at the (Swedish) border

Just because a story is written in Swedish in a Swedish publication doesn’t mean it will stay in Sweden. While this may seem obvious in the era of Facebook and Google Translate, communications professionals often overlook the opportunities (and costs) that come when a seemingly local story suddenly goes global.

5. Failing to grasp the ground rules

‘Off the record’, ‘deep background’, ‘not for attribution’ – there’s a whole glossary of code words governing exchanges between journalists and their sources that don’t always translate easily from a Swedish context. Failing to grasp the nuance could land you on the front page. And before that happens, don't expect the chance to read over your quotes.

6. Overlooking the impact of social media

Traditional media still matters, but rather than setting the agenda they are often following the trends set on social media. Companies and executives can now be their own publishers – reaching their audiences directly – opening up a whole new avenue for gaining attention of both customers and foreign journalists.

7. Failing to balance style and substance

In Sweden, sounding good and offering substantive, informative answers matters more than looking good. But in the international arena, it can be hard to be taken seriously if you don’t look serious.

I'll be sharing more insights on how to avoid these and other mistakes at Sweden's only Presentation and Media Training Bootcamp in English

This intensive two-day course is designed for Swedish-speaking communications managers (like you!) who regularly interact with media and audiences from outside of Sweden and are ready to get rid of their "svengelska" once and for all. 

David Landes is Head of Commercial Content at The Local where he advises clients on how to create and frame messages for an international audience. A US-trained journalist, David served previously as editor of The Local Sweden and has made broadcast appearances on the BBC, al-Jazeera, NPR, CBS, France24, and Sky News.