It’s quite sad to think that, in today’s global society, we still need awareness days to remind the world of the need to stand up for people’s rights. However, whilst that is the case, then ‘Human Rights Day’, observed on 10th December every year , is extremely important and a day that everyone should better understand and support.
The date commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which they followed up by passing a resolution, in 1950, inviting all States and interested organisations to observe that day of each year as Human Rights Day.
The UN says that “Disrespect for basic human rights continues to be wide-spread in all parts of the globe. Extremist movements subject people to horrific violence. Messages of intolerance and hatred prey on our fears. Humane values are under attack.” The organisation calls on people to take a stand for rights and stand for more humanity asking them to “Step forward and defend the rights of a refugee or migrant, a person with disabilities, an LGBT person, a woman, a child, indigenous peoples, a minority group, or anyone else at risk of discrimination or violence.”
But it’s not just at international government levels that important cause-led campaigns are a priority.
Earlier this year, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – an event attended by around 11,000 delegates from close to 100 countries, representing all parts of the creative communications industry – a recurring theme in many of the award-winning campaigns was that of having a purpose in your company’s marketing communications.
For example, one of the multiple award winners at the Festival was a campaign called ‘Fearless Girl’, created for New York investment firm, State Street Global Advisors, which involved the commissioning of a statue of girl of around 12 years old, that was placed directly opposite Wall Street’s Charging Bull sculpture.
The campaign was launched to tie in with the first International Women’s Day after President Trump’s inauguration in the US with the aim of promoting Gender Diversity, whilst raising awareness of State Street’s ‘SHE’ fund, which invests in businesses with female executives, among financial communities. According to Pablo Walker, President of McCann Worldgroup Europe, although the initial idea was to place the statue in Wall Street for just one week, it has proven so popular that they now hope to keep it there for at least one year.
So why should businesses be concerned with such issues?
Well firstly, companies with a higher purpose, beyond making a profit, tend to make more money! Simon Caulkin reported in the Financial Times about a survey titled “The Business Case for Purpose”, by a team from Harvard Business Review Analytics and the EY Beacon institute, which declared that “those companies able to harness the power of purpose to drive performance and profitability enjoy a distinct competitive advantage”. He added that Jim Collins and Jerry Porras found that between 1926 and 1990, when studying a group of “visionary” companies, i.e., those guided by a purpose beyond making money, they returned six times more to shareholders than explicitly profit-driven rivals.
This begs the question, why might that be the case?
According to Sherry Hakimi, founder and CEO of Sparktures, “a purpose mobilises people in a way that pursuing profits alone never will. For a company to thrive, it needs to infuse its purpose in all that it does. An organisation without purpose manages people and resources, while an organisation with purpose mobilises people and resources. Purpose is a key ingredient for a strong, sustainable, scalable organisational culture. It’s an unseen-yet-ever-present element that drives an organisation. It can be a strategic starting point, a product differentiator, and an organic attractor of users and customers.”
Jo Alexander, an Associate at On Purpose said that “Organisations that put people, rather than profit, at the heart of their business are successful because they understand what motivates people: a shared sense of purpose and our desire to form meaningful relationships.”
On Purpose offers a year-long Leadership Programme in social enterprise, through a combination of work placements, formal training and coaching. Associates build their skills and sector awareness to harness the power of business for good. Alexander added “A work environment that allows employees to fulfil both of these needs can unleash their collective potential in a way that traditional organisations, that view their people as being simply motivated by money, status and power, cannot.”
Hakimi goes on to say that when a company demonstrates an authentic purpose, consumers feel a connection to the products and company. They will choose the authentically purposeful company’s products, even if it’s not the cheapest offering.
This may be the case for consumers, but does having a purpose impact the business buying process too? The language industry serves as an interesting case study in this respect.
There are tens of thousands of Language Service Providers (LSPs) offering translation, localisation, transcreation and interpreting services to clients across the world, and so finding ways to differentiate themselves in such a competitive industry can prove difficult.
However, according to Tenesoya Pawlowsky Santana, CEO at CPSL, an LSP with offices across Europe and in the US, understanding the nature of a company’s clients and business fields is part of the process if an LSP is to offer quality language services to its clients. In fact, in many cases, CPSL is closely aligned to the vision and corporate philosophy of its clients, and Pawlowsky Santana believes that clients are more likely to choose a provider that understands their company spirit in addition to providing first-class language services. Indeed, this is a theory backed up by buyers of language services. For example, Patrick Nunes, Global Communications Manager at Rotary International said that, whilst there is no official question about an LSP’s CSR activity in Rotary’s RFPs, the topic is something he personally wants to hear about when talking to them, whether in a formal or informal setting.
Whilst Nunes will not sacrifice attributes such as cost and efficiency in any supplier’s pitch, understanding their CSR activity could make a difference to him, particularly if it’s in line with Rotary’s vision too.
This was a view shared by Franck Schneider, Digital Communications Manager at Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève (HUG), who is also responsible for sourcing translation. Given that HUG cares for many migrants, whilst cost and quality are again important factors in understanding the offering of potential new LSP suppliers, Schneider said that not many of those he has met put CSR forward as an argument for choosing them, yet he would view it as an important one.
Many companies on the buyer side will espouse particular values or have their own CSR programme, according to Jonathan Bowring, former European Localisation Director at Canon Europe who now acts as a consultant to the language industry through his company Riversight. According to Bowring, “Canon operates a philosophy of kyosei – ‘living and working together for the common good’.” He explained that this encompasses society and the environment, both local and global, including the treatment of suppliers and even competitors and said that “buyers with strong value systems in place may seek to build supply chains which reflect those values, although this is often mitigated by the commercial realities of offshore pricing and the priorities of their procurement function.”
However, in Bowring’s experience, LSPs made relatively little noise about their CSR programmes, if they have them, other than a mention on their website of support for Translators Without Borders (TWB), a charity that helps non-profit organisations overcome communication barriers, increasing access to critical information and services in times of great need, achieved through a global network of professional translators. But he said that “the values of a supplier have wider application than a CSR programme”. For example, Bowring wants to know how LSPs treat their own suppliers and translators. Do they make a point of paying them fairly and on time, or are they exploited as the lowest in the food chain? He said that “the treatment of staff is another values indicator: an LSP once lost my prospective business by boasting to me in its sales pitch of the long hours regularly worked by its staff.”
According to Alexander, “Purposeful organisations are moving beyond CSR, which is often viewed as an initiative that is bolted onto ‘business as usual’; instead they have progressed to having a purpose that is central to and effects every part of their business. This transition naturally happens when people in an organisation feel strongly about WHY it exists.”
So perhaps a more important reason for an LSP, or any business, to have a purpose is the impact it has on its own employees and, as Bowring puts it, “for the health of the organisation itself.” He said that “Millennials tend to be interested in a holistic employer which lends meaning to their work. Having a corporate purpose beyond simply generating wealth may appeal to them and to others, for instance those addressing midlife questions of how to “give something back”. CSR can be highlighted in recruitment to attract the type of employee who shares the company ethos.”
Allison Ferch, Programs Director at Globalization and Localization Association agrees. She said that “CSR or similar could be a selling point for an LSP when they are trying to attract or retain talent. Certainly, many employees can and do appreciate a company culture that embraces social responsibility and demonstrates that in concrete ways.”
Pawlowsky Santana takes a similar view, adding that “it is proven that employees at responsible companies are happier than those at companies that pay any heed to this.”
That’s certainly the case for CPSL’s Vendor Manager, Cristina Pera, who said that the company’s community involvement with TWB makes her feel proud to work for CPSL and more connected to the company.
As well as supporting TWB, CPSL also works with First Hand Foundation, an entrepreneurial foundation dedicated to changing the lives of children and families around the world through innovative health and wellness programming. Pawlowsky Santana explained that, in both cases, the company is very fond of the work and programmes. Moreover, in the case of First Hand, CPSL also happens to know the team behind the organisation, so it trusts and relates to what they do.
According to Shanna Adamic, Senior Events Manager for First Hand Foundation at Cerner Corporation, the US supplier of health care information technology solutions that set up the Foundation, they rely on the support of Cerner’s relationships, like the one they have with CPSL, to help fulfil their mission. “It’s not just about fundraising, it is about understanding that giving back is in our DNA and Cerner has provided a way to do so through First Hand Foundation. Companies like CPSL and their involvement with First Hand are essential to our growth!” she said.
In terms of TWB though, Pawlowsky Santana said that CPSL supports them because it appreciates that they have become the voice of those more vulnerable in our society. “TWB is doing a terrific job with humanitarian international causes, and now also helps and supports the refugees, a task we really respect and one we are also very sensitive to” she said. As a sponsor of TWB, CPSL provides annual funding for the organisation, but also seeks to collaborate further where possible, for example, in the field of interpreting.
The generous contributions made by TWB sponsors are vital to ensuring the sustainability of the organisation’s core operations and programs. However it’s the willingness of supporters to go the extra mile that its Founder, Lori Thicke welcomes. “Often LSPs that have extra capacity will offer project management support, helping to translate hundreds of thousands of words. We have had LSPs train our project managers, and also help fill the need for hard-to-source languages such as Rohingya, a current urgent need for the response to the refugee crisis in Bangladesh,” she said. Thicke added that of course the fun based fundraising activities that LSPs organise are important, but getting supporters interested and involved in this important work is great to see and it also helps to raise awareness of the importance of language agenda.
Pawlowsky Santana believes that that developing CSR policies and running businesses in a more sustainable way is beneficial for all sort of companies and that, naturally, it has a positive impact on corporate reputation. However, for her, it is about more than that. She believes that “We all should contribute to building a more sustainable world. Even the smallest of office-based businesses can make substantial changes to benefit the environment.”
This article was written on behalf of our client, CPSL
I was recently asked to write an article for International Clinical Trials Magazine discussing how the continuing globalisation of clinical trials and concerns over translation quality points to wider problems for companies that operate worldwide.
The questioned asked was ‘Will future talent entering the industry have the language skills and cultural experiences to bring a competitive advantage?’
Here’s my response …
Q) When is a clinical trial not a clinical trial?
A) When it is a clinical study, or perhaps a clinical research study. Although in Dutch, all three are the same – or to be precise, they are all translated as ‘klinisch onderzoek’.
And therein lies the issue. Two words combined can mean one thing in one language, yet in English could be described in three different ways.
So with clinical trials increasingly run on an international basis, involving many different territories simultaneously, imagine the difficulty a trial administrator must have ensuring the quality of the translations that they are responsible for when working ‘blind’– without the specific knowledge of the target languages.
Naturally, no one administrator can be expected to know every language that they are having to translate and localise their documents into, while also taking into account cultural nuances. In fact, some trials could require 500 to 750 different documents translated into as many as 50 languages. It is no wonder, therefore, that most translations are outsourced to language service providers (LSPs). However, the quality of the work can vary massively, often resulting in poor translations that have to be corrected in-house – and leading to additional costs and delays for the pharmaceutical company or CRO.
This might be quite an extreme requirement in terms of the need for an understanding of languages, but the lack of language skills and cultural awareness is a growing concern in many organisations that operate globally.
A recent study of UK-based business leaders by translation agency, Conversis, together with a separate survey of US based Hiring Managers by the Joint National Committee for Languages – National Council for Language and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), shows that many companies are finding it hard to operate internationally because they cannot find new staff who can speak other languages. Two in five (39.5%) of UK respondents went so far as to say that a lack of cultural understanding among their newest employees had resulted in lost business opportunities – a figure close to the 36% of those respondents from medical-related industries who said the same.
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The majority of respondents to the research put this issue down to education, with 76% of those based in large UK businesses (with over 250 employees) worried that many young adults’ perspectives or educational experiences are not broad enough to operate in a multicultural economy.
These findings were made even more significant considering that, as reported in The Guardian, the UK’s 2015 GSCE school exam results confirmed the number of students taking modern languages had dropped significantly. Only 302,500students took a language GCSE in 2015, compared with 321,000 in 2014 and around 332,000 in 2013, with entries dropping for French (down 6.2%), German (9.2%) and Spanish(2.4%).
In fact, more than 84% of the UK respondents to the Conversis research believe colleges and universities should do more to help young adults think more globally. However, as recently as August 2015, according to The Sixth Form Colleges Association, sixth-form colleges in England have had to cut the number of foreign language courses they offer because of financial pressures, and A-levels in modern languages have been reduced in more than a third of colleges.
Meanwhile, some 70% of respondents to the North American study by JNCL-NCLIS indicated that higher education in the US needs to do more to prepare graduates in terms of language skills and multicultural experience too. This lack of ‘global talent’ – professionals in all disciplines who have a high level of language proficiency and/or significant experience abroad – is creating an issue for those UK and North American businesses seeking recruits to better manage the increasing diversity of their workforces, and to design and market their services and products to multilingual and multicultural audiences in their respective countries and abroad.
Discussing the Findings
When it comes to recruitment, Chris Eastwood, Director of Clinical Operations at PRA feels that the interview processes in most organisations are also too focused on verbal skills, and do not then test written skills. He believes that often written media – for example, emails – are actually the most common communication format, and so we should not assume the same level of competency as verbal. Eastwood comments: “Ironically, written can frequently be much stronger as people use that daily more than they speak English.”
Dr Nitish Singh, Associate Professor at Boeing Institute of International Business, School of Business, Saint Louis University, says that the findings of Conversis’ report did not come as a surprise to him, but was another affirmation of the fact that importance of ‘language and culture’ will continue to increase in an ever diverse global marketplace. He states that “globalisation has led to an increased exposure to people, practices and institutions across the world”. This is exactly thecase now with clinical trials. Dr Singh also takes the view that cross-national differences in ways of thinking, communicating and behaving have the potential to create misunderstandings and miscommunications.
This issue is, of course, extremely important for whoever is managing an international clinical trial, as they should know exactly what is involved to ensure their translations are right first time – whether that process is managed in house, or the decision is made to work with an LSP.
Firstly, the ISO-recognised translation process comprises translation and then revision by a second independent linguist, with any disputed translations resolved by the LSP. Further optional steps include a second revision, in-country client review and back translation, although the latter can double the costs of a project without necessarily improving the quality of the original translation.
In addition, there is often the need for a review by an ethics committee; but, while this can remove some errors, it can introduce spelling or grammar errors, too. Any ethics committee or client changes should be sent back to the original translators to be checked again.
Further quality can be built into the process by using qualified translators with relevant medical expertise and using skilled linguists as project managers. Consistency can be improved by using the same translator for the whole project although, depending on the size of the documentation, this may sometimes be hard to implement. Translation memories can therefore help here, as well as saving time and money.
Finally, as discussed, with complex projects potentially requiring 500-plus documents in more than 50 languages, there should be a strong version control and tracked changes within the workflow system.
Dr Singh believes foreign language and inter cultural skills are the key to avoiding cultural miscommunications, and that a lack of them is not a superfluous issue that business professionals and policy-makers could afford to continue to ignore. His view is that from a policy perspective, countries need to invest in educating their youth in cross-cultural competence skills, wherein foreign language proficiency should not only be desirable, but mandatory. As Dr Singh explains:“Today’s competitive advantage rests on the ability to effectively deal with diverse global expectations, and the role of language and culture is at the heart of it.”
[an edited version of this post was first published on PRMoment.com]
If you’re looking to expand your business internationally, or are working for clients that already trade outside the UK, then you might want to pay attention to a new report that shows that British businesses are losing out because they have a lack of language skills and cultural awareness within their organisations.
The report is the result of work that I carried out for translation and localisation agency Conversis, since writing my post on the importance of getting the language right in international PR campaigns back in April.
Within that blog post, I referred to the fact that in the lead up to the General Election, the word ‘language’ appeared just once in the Conservative Party manifesto and not at all in Labour’s, this despite the fact that Baroness Coussins, chair of the APPG for Modern Languages, had previously said that the UK economy was losing around £50 billion a year in lost contracts because of lack of language skills in the workforce.
Conversis therefore wanted to look into the importance that the c-suites of UK businesses, that are currently or looking to operate internationally, put on Cultural Awareness within their organisations, together with the impact the current state of play has on enhancing their performance and competitiveness.
What we weren’t expecting though, was quite how much of an impact the lack of these skills were having on their trading opportunities.
One in four companies in the UK that currently, or are looking to, operate internationally said they had lost business opportunities because of a lack of foreign language skills, with two in five saying a lack of cultural understanding among their newest employees has resulted in the same.
Two thirds of senior UK directors at those businesses are worried that many young adults’ perspectives or educational experiences are not broad enough to operate in a multicultural economy.
With my own daughter starting university just last week, I was pleased to hear that she was considering chosing an additional language option with her course, especially as the research found that two thirds of respondents to the survey look for new college hires and graduates with first language competency other than English that can connect them to new markets. A similar number values those with the ability to speak other languages that are critical for their business’ economic growth and this percentage is also the case for those that say they would hire multilingual candidates over those who lack a second language. 61.5% also said they give an advantage to candidates with international experience and 64% to those with multicultural experience.
Gary Muddyman, CEO of Conversis, said “I believe the recent push to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects at school should be changed to STEM-L, to include languages too. The global economy and the Internet have changed the expectation of consumers across the world and we are now in a period of transition. The UK is falling behind the trend which will ultimately lead to a lack of competitiveness. Consumers are ten times more likely to buy goods or services if addressed in their own language, irrespective of their own linguistic skills. If we are not addressing our overseas customers in their own tongue we reduce the likelihood that they will buy from us.”
Glen Richardson the CMO of Fruugo.com, a global marketplace selling 1.3m products in 33 countries, added “Fruugo.com exists because consumers want to buy products from retailers around the world and the majority of retailers don’t have either the technology, skills or knowledge in-house to fulfil global demand. Not only are there language, currency and payment barriers to overcome but also the cultural marketing know-how to attract and convert shoppers to buy. We solve these issues technologically as well as employing foreign staff with the appropriate skills and languages to service both shoppers and retailers in foreign countries.”
As I wrote in that previous post, getting the language right when communicating internationally can make a huge difference to the success of your PR campaign. That said, I don’t even understand the lyrics of Spandau Ballet’s 1983 classic ‘Communication’, and they were written in English!
The ‘Importance of global talent within international businesses’ report can be downloaded for free from Conversis.com
Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Globalization and Localization Association’s (GALA) annual conference – the leading event for the language industry. Whilst this meant having to fly out on my birthday, it did mean I got to celebrate in the beautiful city of Seville and had the opportunity to be a true geek and get a photo at a Star Wars film location, whilst wearing my Star Wars t-shirt!
I should say that I did manage to squeeze in some proper culture by also visiting the tomb of Christopher Columbus in Seville Cathedral
There were over 400 attendees at GALA representing Language Service Providers from all over the world, most of whom spoke numerous languages, but all perfectly versed in English. And then there was me, whose linguistic talents comprise of a ‘B’ in my French O’Level (that’s like a GSCE for younger readers) and the ability to order a ‘large beer’ in German. It was quite an embarrassing situation to be in, but probably typical of many Brits abroad.
Last July, the APPG for Modern Languages published its Manifesto for Languages calling for all political parties to make a general election manifesto commitment to improve the UK’s linguistic skills base. At the time, Baroness Coussins, Chair of that particular APPG, said that the UK economy was losing around £50 billion a year in lost contracts because of lack of language skills in the workforce.
Given the timing of this blog, I decided to do a quick search for the word ‘language’ in the Labour and Conservative party manifestos. In terms of our kids’ education, the only reference the Tories made was stating that they will require secondary school pupils to take a GSCE in a language. However, the word didn’t even appear in Labour’s document at all.
It’s no surprise therefore, to hear many examples that show a naivety around the importance of language in the English-speaking PR industries both here in the UK and in the US, given the global nature of communications and our ability to access information instantly from anywhere in the world.
Getting the language right when communicating internationally can make a huge difference to the success of your PR campaign. After all, according to Common Sense Advisory, 85% of international consumers prefer native language webpages when researching prepurchase, which impacts your SEO strategy too.
There are a number of challenges faced by PRs when planning an international campaign. Gary Muddyman, CEO of translation agency Conversis, puts linguistic and cultural challenges at the top of his list and says that ‘literal translation is often not enough,’ and that ‘we need to engage the international audience in a way the source copy does for your domestic market.’ Gary believes that the influence of local resources with local knowledge is vital.
This is probably best summed up by a recent experience that, Karolina Davison shared with me. Karolina is a London-based PR Consultant who has worked with me on a few projects over the last 6 months. She describes herself as having one foot in the UK and the other in Scandinavia – she’s Swedish, but has lived and worked in the US for many years as well. Recently, a client with a significant global presence asked her to translate and distribute a press release to the Swedish media. Instructions from the US HQ were simple and non-negotiable: ‘Translate, but do not change the legally-approved content in any way.’ However, since the press release was a corporate announcement and not specific to the Nordics, Karolina said she soon realised that her odds of securing coverage would be limited if she wasn’t able to rewrite it. Her view is that ‘translation can be a wasted exercise if not combined with localisation’. In Karolina’s experience from working in the US, it is completely acceptable to use poetic adjectives to describe a company’s mission and the habits of its clients. However, in Sweden, she said that you stay close to the facts and refrain from using ‘flowery’ words or ‘lofty’ exaggerations. When American consumers are ‘passionate’ about a product, Swedes are ‘appreciative’, even though the direct Swedish translation would be ‘passionerade.’ She therefore believes that it comes down to adhering to cultural subtleties and argues that ‘it is not uncommon for entire company descriptions, i.e. ‘boiler plates’, to need a complete make-over in order to make sense and be taken seriously in a foreign country.’
Heidi Lorenzen of translation software provider Cloudworks summed up localisation in a blog I read whilst researching for this post. She wrote that it goes well beyond word-for-word translation and takes into account the nuances of regional audiences and customs to get the tone, phrases, and even images correct so that materials read naturally in each target audience’s own language, and do not convey unintended messages. Research and knowledge of your target market may reveal cultural differences and beliefs that can have a big impact on how marketing messages are perceived.’
This aligns with Gary Muddyman’s view that ‘competent translation is just the starting point’. His second challenge for International PRs is that of the tightly-controlled brand, managed centrally, versus local influence and adaptation.
The issue of local nuances and cultures is perfectly summed up by a case study that Jon Meakin, International PR Director of Grayling shared with me. Jon’s view is that ‘The challenges of understanding and adapting to cultural nuances are even greater than that of language.’ Last year Grayling ran a pan-European Christmas campaign for a global client with a US HQ, which he feels illustrates this perfectly. Jon said that ‘Churchill described Britain and Americas as ‘two nations divided by a common language’ and the first issue was our US client’s insistence on referring to the Christmas period as the Holiday season. That and an assumption that ‘Europe’ is a homogenous entity, rather than a federation of 50 or so separate countries. While there are undoubtedly similarities between European nations – and we were able to identify five or six Christmas shopper archetypes that apply almost universally – there are many differences, and when you start to explore the different ways in which Christmas is celebrated you quickly realise that a template approach just won’t work.’
To make his point, Jon uses the example that in Spain, gifts are not exchanged until Twelfth Night and that the same is true of Russia, although not all of Russia. He says that ‘it’s wonderfully complex’ and stresses that the key lesson is to ‘resist the temptation to ‘command and control’’.
Whilst he agrees to set a framework, Jon believes that if you follow his advice and ‘allow individual markets the freedom to move within the parameters you set’, you will ‘celebrate the differences and reap the rewards.’
This concept of the English and Americans sharing a ‘common language’ was highlighted in Curzon PR’s recent blog post following the opening of their New York office, highlighting small differences in spelling such as ‘colour’ and ‘color’, or that whole sectors of the [PR] industry go by different names in these two countries, with ‘food and drink PR’ known as ‘food and beverage PR’ in the USA.
I thought I’d stress the point further by coming up with two versions of the same (rather silly) sentence, both written in ‘English’:
‘The sidewalk outside the drugstore, on the opposite side of the cross walk from the gas station was covered in trash that had fallen out of the dumpster. There was an old soccer ball, used diaper, a ripped pair of pants, and some half eaten cookies.’
‘The pavement outside the chemist, on the opposite side of the zebra crossing from the petrol station was covered in rubbish that had fallen out of the skip. There was an old football, used nappy, a ripped pair of trousers and some half eaten biscuits.’
Karolina probably puts it better than me though by stating that ‘You don’t have to be bilingual to be faced with a localisation dilemma. Any English-speaking person who has worked with an American client knows that US-produced content often needs to be modified to suit the UK market. Sometimes it takes a lot more than just changing the z’s to s’s for the key messages to make sense. The more culturally distinct the country is from the territory where the copy originated, the more work it will require.’ In the case of her US client looking for coverage in Sweden, she ended up writing a pitch to make up for the cultural shortcomings of the press release she was provided and to spend more time than usual selling it in over the phone. She said that the end-result was ‘decent’ but not nearly as good as it could have been had she been allowed to rework the copy. The experience furthered her belief that ‘brands should be bold and invest the extra cost up front to make sure that their collateral is appropriately localised before sharing it globally,’ also making the point that ‘a misrepresented image of a company in the media can do more harm than good.’
A further challenge highlighted by Gary Muddyman is that ‘every stage in the communication process available to potential customers needs to be localised.’ For example, he stresses that ‘it’s no use if your website is in a local language, if the telephone contact details leads to a Call Centre where there are no language skills.’
Finally, the last challenge to overcome is when you are trying so hard to make your existing copy work in a different territory, you might be better off going back to the original brief, and simply starting the copywriting process again. This is when to consider transcreation, which Conversis defines as taking the values, concepts and key messages of the brand, but recreating them in the different markets by perhaps using more culturally relevant examples to ensure that audiences the world over experience the same emotional reactions to your brand.
A version of this blog post was first published on PRMoment.com
Theories suggest that the myriad of global languages might one day die out – spelling the decline of translation and localisation services. But for now, these businesses provide critical support to CROs engaged in trials, although technology is changing the stakes.
The 50th Drug Information Association (DIA) conference that took place recently in San Diego, California, encouraged delegates to ‘celebrate the past and invent the future’. But by inventing the future, could we be consigning ourselves to the past?
Invention is what drives the human race forward. It is what sets us apart from other species and brings with it untold benefits. Yet, for some, invention also creates fear for their own basic needs – there is concern that new technologies, for example, will replace their jobs and livelihoods.
This dilemma is, of course, nothing new. Some 50 years ago, when the first-ever DIA conference was being planned, the same concern was highlighted on the cover of LIFE magazine (July 1963), with the headline ‘Point of no return for everybody’ stating that ‘Automation’s really here; jobs go scarce’.
However, according to industry trend-spotter and futurologist, Magnus Lindkvist, the ‘will our jobs disappear?’ question is not necessarily something that should be tied to technology, but perhaps more to the underlying economic climate of the time. Lindkvist believes that, while technology will replace the jobs that are highly repetitive and consist of boring tasks that can easily be automated, it can also be viewed as an enabler and empowerer. So it may be accused of stealing some jobs, but other roles will emerge in its wake.
One such industry that has seen huge changes over the last 50 years is that of translation and localisation. According to applied futurist, Tom Cheesewright, the emergence of tools such as Google Translate could see a lingua franca – a bridge language – begin to emerge. He takes the view that as new words are created, they will spread like memes across the connected globe, becoming established in each language before local equivalents can be created.
But could we ever see a future where, if aliens landed on our planet 100 years from now, they could find us speaking only one language, Human? This is Cheesewright’s prediction, arguing that technology – in particular, the internet – is helping to break down the barriers, such as language and currencies, that once divided people.
He says that, just as disruptive finance businesses like PayPal have made the movement of money across borders easier – enabling everyone to forget what currency their partner was dealing in – languages will follow the same path.
Similarly to national currencies, Cheesewright believes that different languages will disappear from our daily lives over the next century. While they will not stop being used altogether, as technology abstracts us away from the complexity of translation, we will begin to forget that such great differences ever existed.
Exciting? Far fetched? Whichever way you look at it, it could be worrying for a business that services the CRO sector by supplying translation and localisation services. The implication is that such companies might become obsolete.
However, Gary Muddyman, Chief Executive Officer of Conversis Medical, is reassured that Cheesewright’s prediction means there is still a market for companies such as his, for the short to medium term at least. This confidence is, in part, because of the industry’s ongoing focus on emerging markets such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where the population is expected to reach 598 million by 2050. More than 1,000 different languages are spoken in Africa alone, and it is estimated that up to 7,000 languages are spoken around the world.
A recent white paper published by Quintiles stated that, while the MENA region (excluding Israel) currently hosts only about 0.4% of clinical trial sites and patients, its percentage of global clinical trial patient-related R&D spend could increase by a factor of 8-10 in the next decade – building an annual market of around $1 billion.
Translation and localisation therefore becomes a vital part of the clinical trial process. As Ann Van Dessel, Head of Global Clinical Operations at Janssen Research & Development, explains: “It is very important that we provide high-quality translations so the information is understandable and clear for patients participating in the study. As required, we submit the translations to regulatory authorities and independent ethics committees for review. These steps help ensure patients have appropriate information to guide their decisions.”
Muddyman also believes that, while the process of converting content from one language to another will get more automated, it will never completely replace humans. “Things will evolve, they will change, and faster, more accurate, effective and cheaper translations will always be the challenge. But humans and machines will continue to co-exist, and I think we will continue to have a viable business for the foreseeable future,” he says.
Tahar Bouhafs, Chief Executive Officer of Common Sense Advisory, agrees. “Machine translation can be used as a pre-translation step to help speed up the work of human translators, but there is no evidence that the technology will ever eliminate the need for human editing or translation.” Bouhafs adds that: “No information publisher can afford the business risk of unedited machine output. The financial and brand damage that ensues from mistranslation is already a significant liability, even with fully vetted human translation.”
Matthew McCarty, Senior Director, Health Engagement and Communications at Quintiles, thinks that use of language is only part of the challenge when localising information for a clinical trial, all of which is vital to help accelerate the study’s timeline. The visuals used in patient recruitment materials, for instance, can be just as crucial in ensuring the right image is used in context of the cultural characteristics within the region you are working.
He uses differences in healthcare in the US and India as an example: the latter is much more about a relationship with your doctor who may have looked after your family for years, compared to what could be seen as the competitive nature of how medical advice is provided in the US.
But what of the future of language and translation services in particular? Muddyman disagrees with the notion that languages will continue to die out and that global communications will become homogenised. In his view, technology will allow us to protect and evolve minority languages, like many of those spoken in certain MENA countries. However, Cheesewright states that “the intermediaries will come first, who will insulate us from each other’s languages, seamlessly translating one to another”. Of course, technologies will only get faster and more nuanced as the inexorable, exponential advance of computing power continues.
There is, however, room for optimism. Lindkvist believes jobs will simply evolve. He says there will be fragmentation of roles that will include specialist translators within the medical industry. Such a move has already been taken by Conversis, which has recently employed a scientist, Dr Mark Hooper, to oversee translation projects specific to the pharmaceutical market. This optimises workflow by ensuring that medical terminology is translated correctly – something that machines can only do a certain percentage of, and that human translators would, understandably, not be aware of, being language experts rather than medical specialists.
Dion Wiggins, Asia Online CEO, believes it is ‘smart’ of Conversis to have recruited Dr Hooper. He said that having someone who can optimise the workflow and understand the issues is key, as that will then enable you to do things you would otherwise not be able to do. It’s the same reason he brought in Professor Phillip Koehn as his company’s Chief Scientist. Koehn was the 2013 European Patent Office European Inventor of the Year Runner Up with his advanced method of automated computer translation.
With all this thought about how technology can improve our lives, it is also important to remember how new inventions come about. Lindkvist uses the example of the aeroplane. He explains that for a long time in the late 1800s, we tried to make machines fly by imitating birds – but, of course, the flapping mechanical ‘wings’ did not work as they were unable to generate the lift required. It was only when looking at other dynamics that the likes of the Wright Brothers started to see progress, eventually leading to their first flight in 1903.
Lindvkvist therefore says that when we ask the question whether technology can do human activity ‘x’, we are usually posing the wrong question. Arguably, it does not need to be done in the same way. So, in terms of translation, perhaps we should stop trying to teach machines to ‘flap their wings’. Lindkvist also reminds us that some of our most valuable discoveries, particularly in the pharma industry, are the results of mistakes or by-products, citing penicillin and Viagra as two classic examples.
While the pharma industry cannot afford any mistakes, Lindkvist makes an important point that language is often about interpretation and ensuring we engage the audience who is reading or listening to us. McCarty stresses, for example, that when Quintiles prepares materials for adult patients in a clinical trial, it aims for a reading age of 10-12 years old so as not to exclude people. Similarly, it would not look to make its visuals too scientific as otherwise potential patients will not understand them, which would ultimately impact on patient safety.
But it is not always about literal translation, as Angela Radcliffe, Vice President and Director of Clinical Trials at Vio Global, advises. She believes that localisation is just as important in the delivery of a project; without foregoing quality, this can mean a difference of millions of dollars to the pharma company developing a new drug. You cannot translate conceptual nuances, she says. Similar to McCarty’s view, Radcliffe makes the point that we need to take account of cultural differences when presenting information in different territories.
One area where this is becoming increasingly important is social media, where consumers – in particular, patients or sufferers of diseases – look to pharma companies for immediate information. Radcliffe says that while the public may tolerate some mistakes on social media, the pharma industry simply cannot afford to make any. According to Van Dessel, the important message her company’s founder, Dr Paul Janssen, gave was “the patients are waiting”.
She adds: “That sense of urgency inspires us to get our medicines to patients, regardless of where they are, as fast as we can. Bringing a medicine to market faster can have a significant financial impact for our company, but what is most important is the difference it can make in the life of a patient.”
According to Wiggins, at present 50-70% of machine-translated documents will not be changed by humans, but to get to a point where humans are not needed to translate at all, we will need machines to understand and think. At the moment, machines learn patterns and then repeat them.
Automation is a must for companies translating huge documents. One of Asia Online’s clients has 1.1 billion words translated every day, and Wiggins predicts that leading language service providers to CROs, such as Conversis Medical, will soon be translating more content in one year than in the previous five years combined.
However, even as technology develops over the next 30-50 years, Wiggins still believes humans will do a better job in many areas – machines will not out-think a human. In addition, Muddyman agrees that companies like his will need to evolve with better segmentations and analysis of the roles of humans and machines in their processes. It may therefore be some time before Cheesewright’s prediction of one global human language comes true.
This article first appeared in International Clinical Trials, November 2014.