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Getting The Client Localization Brief Right

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Claire IngramHow to avoid the GIGO syndrome, achieve deadlines and keep costs down.

The ‘garbage in/garbage out’ (GIGO) syndrome, where the quality of the output is in direct correlation to the quality of the input information, applies to many life scenarios but is particularly relevant to the localization process.

The successful management of localization projects to achieve most clients’ objectives – speed, value for money and effective communication in local markets - is dependent on three factors: well-written source text that can be adapted for local markets; an internationalized file format to enable the easy extraction and reinsertion of text to be translated; and efficient systems to manage the process throughout.

In most cases, the responsibility for the first factor lies largely with the global company or client; the second with its design agency; and the third with the localization specialist. If the first two fall into the GI category, then the chances for GO will be considerably increased regardless of the best efforts of the localization specialist to produce a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Not surprisingly, there is also a correlation between the quality of the brief from our clients and our ability to meet their speed and cost-effectiveness objectives. However, not all clients fully appreciate this connection. Whilst some are very good at sticking to the briefing template that we agree, all of our project teams can cite hair-raising examples of client briefs that have relied heavily on our extra-sensory and mindreading powers.

Recent examples include the ‘no brief at all’ which didn’t even specify the languages to be localized; a recycled brief which had a new project title but instructions and timelines relating to a previous project; and a file that just arrived out of the blue from a client’s agency without any clue as to the client ‘owner’. It took several emails and phone calls to track down the client to extract a brief and purchase order. In this article, I outline four main problem areas that we regularly encounter and our solutions for pre-empting or resolving them together with some of the golden rules that we use to help our clients save their time and money.

The Ideal Client Brief

Absolute Must Have Information

    1. Source text – final approved version if possible
    2. File format or proposed file format eg PowerPoint
    3. Target languages by country eg French (Switzerland)
    4. Mode of address preferences eg Polite or Informal
    5. Language style eg Business Formal
    6. Wordbank services required eg Marcom Translation
    7. Delivery date eg All languages by ….
    8. Delivery format eg PowerPoint
    9. Client approval process
    10. Purchase order or written confirmation to proceed

Helpful But Not Essential Information

    1. Background to campaign or project and/or creative brief
    2. Word count
    3. Target market and audiences
    4. Marketing communications objectives and desired response from target audience
    5. Contact details for local approval contacts and their scope for making changes
    6. Reference materials – existing collateral/web site that we can use as a point of reference to gauge tone of voice, imagery, style etc
    7. Previous or similar recent projects

The best case scenario for any localization brief is that we receive it in good time, along with any sample files, to enable us to assess the suitability of the file for localization from a linguistic, technical and process perspective and to select the most appropriately experienced translators and editors to work on the text.

Our Copy Review and Technical Evaluation (CREATE) service not only ensures that the English text is well-written, clear, unambiguous and conforms with any specific corporate guidelines for terminology and style but also that it will be acceptable to the local markets from a cultural, idiomatic and visual perspective.

Clients and agencies who may have little experience of other cultures and religions are often unaware of the sensitivities attached to language and imagery and we frequently have to advise clients of their inappropriateness.

A common example is the use of visuals of dogs or women in Muslim countries. We recently had to advise a client who wanted to describe the resilience of their print cartridges by saying that they are subjected to ‘torture tests’ and they also used the phrase ‘torture supplies’. This basically means that the cartridges are heated up to extreme temperatures and dropped from 15 metres to ensure that they will still work. However, in many languages, an alternative word had to be found for ‘torture’.

The technical evaluation will provide recommendations on how best to construct the source file to enable easy extraction of the text for localization by in-country translators and to ensure that fonts, graphics, and layouts are localization-friendly and will work in different languages.

Needless to say, whilst this is how we advise clients to approach a localization project to achieve the best results, we are all too often presented with a ‘fait accompli’ where there is little opportunity to affect the prerequisites for success.

The four main areas of difficulty that we come up against whilst managing projects are: mismatched expectations; lack of understanding of the implications of making late changes; poor communication between the client and their creative agencies; and the inherent tension between the corporate centre and the local offices.

Mismatched Expectations

A common area of difficulty is the mismatch in expectations of who is going to do what. One client, for whom we were localizing their web site into several languages, assumed that we would take responsibility for tracking down the original source files needed for the web sites from various agencies, web development companies and IT departments and couldn’t understand why we kept asking for them.

We had never specified that it was the client’s responsibility to provide the source files, but rather assumed this had been understood. However, as many clients are not as familiar with the process for web site localization as they are for brochure or other marcoms collateral production, it was a salutary lesson for us to be expected to undertake something that we had always taken for granted as being the client’s responsibility.

The solution to overcome these types of misunderstanding is to put everything in writing at the outset and to get the client to do so as well. It’s amazing how the ten XML files quoted for in the Purchase Order can turn into 50 files once the project is underway. Make sure that you spell out clearly in the quote that additional files will be charged for pro rata and that the client can’t just slip in a few dozen more and hope that they will be covered in the initial price.

We have started to run training days for our new clients at which we ask them to complete a sample brief to raise their awareness of the importance of providing all the necessary information. This is proving to be a very successful tactic and has cut down considerably on the follow-up emails and telephone conversations that are usually required to ensure that both sides are clear about the exact details of the project.

The Implications Of Making Changes

Another major issue is the lack of understanding of the time and cost implications of making amendments once the project has started. It is easy to see the client’s perspective – “We only want to change a couple of words. Why should it take another day to do this?” However, without an understanding of the process – rebriefing each of the translators, rechecking the copy in each language, changing the layout if the new words take up more or less space, proofreading again etc – it is difficult to convince the client that ‘just a couple of changes’ can take significant time and money to make. Even a change of just one word in English might imply a change of the whole sentence in translated versions to ensure gender, number or case agreement.

Again, the solution to this problem lies with better client education about the localization process so that they understand the implications. We always emphasise that clients should only send us approved, final copy files with the Purchase Order. We strongly advise them not to send unapproved drafts in the hope that the translators can start working on the text. It is a false economy and will not save time or money to do this. The final format should be just that – the final format.

Clients clearly have a vested interest in getting it right so we spend a lot of time educating them about the process so that they understand the implications of making changes at different stages of production. Unfortunately, the design and advertising agencies through which many of our clients work are less concerned to understand the process and would prefer to let the localization specialist sort it out. Also, if the agency is the lead contractor and billing point for the project, more work on our part just means more mark-up for them.

Caught In The Communications Cross-Fire

Localization specialists are often caught between the client and their design agencies who each have different objectives. The client is often not technical and is driven by commercial objectives – “I need it quickly and cheaply” while a key consideration for the agency is for the end product to enhance their creative reputation and look good in the corporate portfolio. Neither party has a complete understanding of the linguistic, cultural, technical, file engineering, process and project management challenges involved in localization.

Consequently, the localization specialist is often faced with headlines, copy, imagery, embedded graphics, fonts and encoding that won’t work beyond the borders of the domestic market and has to act as a go-between between the two.

An area that frequently causes problems is that design agencies do not allow enough space for language expansion because they are not familiar with languages other than their own. To pre-empt the timeconsuming and, often, costly outcome of attempting to localize content that has been conceived without due consideration for its potential for internationalization, we try to encourage our clients to involve us at an early stage. Whilst advertising and design agencies are often reluctant to take advice from us on creative and technical issues, this ‘prevention is better than cure’ strategy can save a huge amount of time and money further down the line.

Who Has Ultimate Control?

Another area where we can get caught between a rock and a hard place is the inherent conflict between the regional marketing centre and the local contacts. There is often a lack of clarity about the role of a company’s local approval contacts. If the approval process hasn’t been clearly defined by the client at the outset of the project, a great deal of time and money can be lost at this stage. Ideally, the organisation will have taken a strategic decision on whether it is the centre or the local operations that have the final say in the production of marketing communications materials.

If this has been agreed, then the localization specialist still needs to be briefed on a range of issues such as the level of commitment from local offices, the scope of their authority to make changes, and the agreed timings for final signoff. Is the client willing to accept all the local approval changes? What happens if the local offices don’t like the source text let alone the translation? Who pays for the amendments made by local offices?

We are always happy to work with local contacts to explain the process and the technical constraints of formats that they may not be familiar with.

The client must ensure that they have local country buy-in before starting the project. Roles, responsibilities, timelines and processes need to be agreed between the client and the local offices before getting the localization specialist involved. If required, we can manage the process but only if the parameters and deliverables have been agreed at the outset. It is very difficult for us to argue with a local contact who refuses to sign off a file because they had no idea any localized documents were being produced and their input would be required, or if they are unclear about what they can or can’t do. In summary, our experience of managing marcoms localization projects has taught us how to deal with most eventualities but our recommended approach is firmly founded on ‘prevention is better than cure’. Time and money can only ever be saved by getting projects right from the outset. The more that a client has considered the internationalization of a project or service, the easier it will be to localize. The more the client understands the linguistic, cultural, technical and process issues involved in localization, the better equipped he or she will be to achieve their commercial objectives.

10 Golden Rules For Client Briefing

1. Don’t start any project without a Purchase Order or written confirmation.

2. Encourage clients to use a standard brief template so that they get used to providing all the necessary information every time.

3. Always try to think laterally – are there any obvious questions that you haven’t asked. Eg On which operating system are the CDs going to be used?

4. Consider the format almost as much as the text itself. Eg It’s very difficult to expand language in a Flash animation so add as much space as possible for language expansion.

5. Make sure that the client’s agencies understand the need to deliver the source files in formats that enable efficient localization. Microsoft Word or Excel are not always the best but don’t make assumptions that the agency understands the reasons behind this.

6. Try to encourage clients to get you involved early on in the project.

7. Avoid Excel files as translation memories can’t work with them. Put tables in Word.

8. Always keep the client informed on the progress of their project and give them early warning of any potential delays.

9. Don’t assume that either the client or the agency understands the jargon that is used in the localization industry. Make sure you explain everything clearly.

10. Develop your mind-reading powers – they will always be needed!

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