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Doing Business in America


Whether it was George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde who described Britain and America as “two nations divided by a common language”, I can confirm that they were not wrong.

Ten years ago, up to my neck in a premature (well that’s the way I’m telling it) mid life crisis, I leapt both feet first at the chance of a dream job and relocated from London to New York without a second thought. I quickly learnt that there are some fundamental and surprising differences about the way that business is conducted in the US and what people in business expect of you. Having learned the hard way, I still cringe or feel pity when I hear or see British people who are new to the US, making the same cultural gaffes and business errors I did.

But don’t let me put you off. Launching a business in the US is exciting and the rewards can be very high. To put this into perspective, the UK’s total advertising expenditure was some $23.2 billion in 2009 but to reach the US equivalent figure multiply this by ten, give or take a couple of billion. Furthermore, the green shoots of economic recovery are clearly visible, it doesn’t take long for our American cousins to get bored being in the financial doldrums and they are forcing their way out of it, especially in the advertising, media and marketing services sector. Most agencies and some media owners are predicting growth and of course, the digital sector continues to outstrip all other media by miles.

So here are a few of my hard earned tips for a painless and successful launch in the US:

• Get specialist tax advice in the US early on and make sure you set up your business correctly in the most tax efficient way, not all states are equal – where you choose to have your HQ can have a massive effect on your profitability.

• Employing people in the US is very different to the UK, with many potential pitfalls for the poorly advised.

• Be very cautious about signing leases for office space. Take professional advice, talk to other occupants, look around at the condition of the building before you commit and for heavens sake, read the small print.

• When creating your US launch budget, be aware that your travel budget is likely to be pretty high. Road warrior corporate executives and top salespeople work incredibly hard here, spending half their lives on planes and racking up vast amounts of air miles they’ll never use. You’ll be flying to Chicago, LA, Boston, Atlanta, Texas, San Francisco and other marketing hubs much of the time.

• Don’t underestimate how intensively you will have to work to get things off the ground and how difficult it can be to get meetings. Work out what the sales hook is going to be and learn to articulate it very quickly. Email is often more successful than calling as executives rarely answer their phone and are on the road so much. It can be even harder than in the UK or Europe to get through to the right person without a referral or introduction or very persuasive argument.

• Whatever you may think about American informality and friendliness, don’t be fooled. Business culture is generally more conservative than it is in the UK, so dress appropriately and be punctual.

• Most corporate offices require you to provide photo ID. Take your passport or driving license wherever you go.

• That whole hamming up the Englishman in New York thing has worn thin. There are thousands of us working in advertising and related industries in the US and sadly the days of enthralling our US counterparts with our endearing wit and eccentricity are over. Just keep focused on the business.

• America is the ultimate melting pot of diversity; no cultural or ethnicity jokes. Americans will be very uncomfortable and unhappy if you do this in the workplace. However friendly people appear, there will be a professional wall that is hard to penetrate.

• Don’t fly by the seat of your pants in meetings. Do your research properly in advance. Know who you are meeting and be sure to address all members in the room equally. Americans are very respectful of each other and very conscious of areas such as equality, diversity and inclusion.

Take heed of my humble advice and you will really increase your chances of a successful launch. Best of British to you!

Caroline Hunt is CEO of Energetic Communications, Inc. a New York based new business rainmaking agency that specializes in helping UK media and marketing related companies become successful in the US market.

Caroline can be reached at //