For global employees, communication campaigns aimed at native English speakers can seem distant, alien and less urgent, warns Ray Walsh, communications consultant and author of Localizing Employee Communications. 

28th April 2022

If you measure engagement overseas of content and campaigns that are meant to be global, you probably won’t like what you see. I hope your results prove me wrong, but normally, when it comes to clicks outside the country of headquarters, even our best content disappoints.

You may see even bigger drops in engagement among English-speaking countries, such as  the UK, Ireland and Canada. That means that language differences aren’t the only problem. So what’s going on?

For employees in global locations, day-to-day interactions are often in local languages. For non-native speakers, consuming content in English takes additional energy, and busy people who are fully proficient in English often postpone or ignore it.

To combat this drop-off, some companies jump to translate into its biggest language groups. That makes sense occasionally, but I’d generally advise against it.

First, in industrial settings or regulated industries, inconsistent use of terminology could contribute to accidents or fines. Terminology in multiple languages can be managed centrally, but it’s not easy.

Second, word-for-word translations are loaded with cultural values and assumptions. Even if it’s in the local language, it can still sound alien. We’ve all heard funny examples of badly translated advertising, and the same risks apply here.

Third, translating is too centralised. We need to stop broadcasting from headquarters and enable more instances of local ownership and co-creation. With co-creation, local people shape and execute communications in parallel with you. They creatively adapt campaigns according to local tastes, rather than forcing clumsy translations with images from another culture.

When campaigns must be translated, measure engagement so that you can pinpoint where materials in local languages improve things.

Of course, no one has unlimited budget for translation, so you have to decide on specific languages. Remember that in most global companies, English isn’t a barrier to understanding – it’s a barrier to engagement. People can likely handle instructions in English, but the use of local language can be more effective when persuading them to care.

Be sure to involve local business units in your decision to translate, and always allow time for a local review before it gets published. Local partners are better equipped to decide whether content is accurate or appropriate for their business.

Cultural adaptation is a life-long effort, and communicating globally uncovers many  questions along the way. Down the road, you may find that you need better collaborative tools or more advanced content operations, and co-creators may want more independence to serve local priorities. These are inevitable steps as you cultivate greater respect for the global employee experience, develop a more international mindset and enable true diversity in content.

Co-creation in practice

Even if it’s aspirational, there is much to be gained by partnering with local business units. But to do their best work, they need your guidance. As the project owner, the most essential input you can offer includes:

  • A good brief: What are the campaign’s goals? Who is it targeting? Why and how is it being measured? Think of the details you would provide if you were to engage an agency.
  • Visuals: Provide graphics and photos as separate, manipulatable components. Make sure co-creators have access to tools so that they can easily alter them when they need to. Understand that many images are cultural, and give co-creators the freedom to source and use images that are right for them. 
  • Trust and collaboration: Don’t second guess too much of colleagues’ work in other regions. Their creative choices are guided by local realities.


Ray Walsh is a communications consultant. He has supported global clients in a variety of industries and managed employee communications in-house. His book Localizing Employee Communications is a practical guide to ending conventional communication practices that stand in the way of effectively reaching employees worldwide.


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