David Strom

Marketing Networks from Israel: What not to do.

By David Strom

I've been a computer trade journalist for over eight years and have visited hundreds of North

American computer companies. But all this experience didn't prepare me for a trip I made last

year to Israel. I found out firsthand how disparat American and Israeli cultures can be. In the

process, I learned some valuable lessons on how to help avoid future obstacles faced by

off-shore computer vendors trying to market their wares in the States.

My trip was sponsored by the Israel Economic Mission, [check] who have brought many

journalists from a variety of technical fields to Israel to meet with native executives. Since

my speciality is the networking and data communications side of the computer industry, my

itinerary revolved around these kinds of companies. I saw over a dozen different vendors over

the course of a week.

Israel has some terrific advantages when it comes to technology: a highly-educated

population, including a large percentage of engineers, a free-trade agreement with the US (and

another one with Europe), and a large English-speaking technical community that can build

on military-sponsored development programs. As a result, there are numerous networking and

hi-technology companies. Intel developed many of its chip designs there, including the 386

processor. Scitex, the leading edge imaging and electronic publishing equipment vendor, got

its start there. And there are many other examples.

Almost from my first day I realized how different things were abroad. Everything from

business styles to marketing strategies to access to information by journalists is done

differently in Israel. Simple requests such as a product demo, which are de rigeur in the

States, were looked upon with disfavor or outright hostility by many corporate representatives.

Interviews were more formal affairs, conduced with the marcom or press contact always

within earshot. The last time I had this experience was when I visited IBM!

Another difference was my agenda versus that of my government hosts. Their goal was to see

me sell a variety of freelanced articles about the various companies that I visited. I was

primarily interested in finding new products that represented ground-breaking areas unknown

in the States, and getting information for future articles. This theme of differing agendas was

to continue after I returned home.

In one circumstance, I mentioned that there were several key potential customers in the States

who wrote many of the trade magazine product reviews and tested many of the network-based

products. The vice president of marketing then asked me to sign a commission agreement in

return for giving him the contacts. I didn't sign, but I did give him the leads. Neither of us

could understand the other's position.

One vendor mentioned during my interviews a great user case study that I wanted to follow

up when I got home. Trouble was, the user was the Finnish Government. After several

attempts to get through to the government in Finland and to their economic mission in New

York, I gave up. They didn't have any US-based users that I could interview, and I didn't

have the skills or the persistence to find the right person that could give me the level of detail

I required.

Also, going through so many translation steps was counter-productive to getting the facts

straight: we first had to translate my technical jargon into layman's English, then into lay

Finnish, then find a Finn who could understand the technology and go back up through the

chain of command. It was enough to say Oy vey!

One company rebuffed my inquires and follow-up questions by saying that they were publicly

held and therefore couldn't allow press inquiries. What was interesting was that they went

public in the US. So clearly someone in their press office was misinformed, lazy, or wasn't

interested in giving me more technical information about their product line. And, lest you

think I was trying to pry corporate secrets, I wasn't: the inquires concerned shipping products!

Here are some lessons learned from my visit:

-- Have a marketing staff based in the country where you want to do business. There is

nothing to nip any customer inquiry in the bud faster than having to dial an overseas call.

And for US-centric customers, they have enough trouble with time-zones across the country,

let alone across any ocean.

-- If you expect to get stories written by the local trade press, hire the right kind of public

relations firm with an appropriate account team. Israel at the time  of my visit had employed

a large PR firm that did all sorts of general purpose PR work: the same account team that

handled the Israelis also had the Phillippines, or maybe it was Thailand. No matter: the team

weren't specialists in hi-tech PR and couldn't really understand the workings of this aspect of

the US trade press. Hire the right experts.

-- Building relationships with the press is critical, but overseas companies should understand

what that means and adopt the native customs. Many of the companies I visited weren't

interested in following up my visit or continuing the relationship with a US journalist. Many

were used to paying journalists to write puff pieces for them, a practice I understand is also

common in Europe. The notion of continuing, personal contact was very alien to their


-- Along with this strategy, adopt the long-term view. Oftentimes journalists will obtain

information that they may not publish for months, or will use this information to help fill in

background. With many companies (and with my government hosts), the expectation was that

I would immediately turn around a story upon disembarking the plane at Kennedy airport.

Better to keep these expectations in line and develop a longer-term perspective that ultimately

will benefit both source and reporter.

-- Hire native-speakers to write documentation and collateral materials. Nothing hurts the

marketing image more than reading poorly-written materials. Some of the collaterals I

received had basic English syntax and grammar mistakes, and were hard to fathom.

-- Manage follow-ups carefully. Nothing hurts more than not getting something that was

promised. This is especially true given the cultural differences and the half-day time zone

shift. One vendor sent me software to review. When I complained that the version of

documentation mismatched the actual software, I was told to expect a new version within

weeks. That was last July. Nothing ever came.

BIO: David Strom was founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine and writes

for many computer trade magazines including Infoworld and Communications Week. He has

his own consultancy in Port Washington, NY and can be reached via the internet at


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