Leveraging People-to-People Connections Initiative: The U.K.’s Connectivity Initiatives

With the objective of learning from the rich experiences and lessons that other countries have gained from small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) export assistance programs, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada presents a new research report series, “Going Global.” To read the entire report, please jump to the blue download tab at the end of this piece.


Export Communications Review (ECR) is an initiative of the former UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) department that seeks to promote small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) exports by overcoming barriers to communication in international markets. Effective cross-cultural communication has always been an important issue in international marketing. Sometimes it is the key determinant of success in international marketing. As UKTI notes: “Not everyone speaks English. More to the point, not everyone wants to speak English, especially if you are selling to them in their own territory.” [1]

SMEs, however, with their limited resources, often struggle with the task of crafting their messages for an international audience. UKTI recognized this problem and designed the ECR program to address the issue. Some 5,000 U.K. companies have so far benefited from the ECR program in terms of improving their international marketing communications, with a majority (80%) noting that it has had a positive impact on their overall profitability.[2] It should be noted that the program is not focused on particular sectors or host countries, but is instead guided by the strategic priorities of client companies. Note as well that UKTI has a considerable global reach and provides services in over 100 markets around the world; it has a staff of over 1,200 professionals based outside the U.K. and 500 located in its London and Glasgow offices. [3]

The ECR program is delivered in conjunction with another service, Postgraduates for International Business (PIB), wherein an international graduate student is assigned to the SME to help the company better understand the target market context and cultural differences, and adapt the SME’s messages to the host country language. The graduate student assigned will be a native of the target country.

By implementing both programs together, UKTI attempts to provide SMEs with a comprehensive solution to the problem of cross-cultural communication. Under the ECR program, UKTI reviews the SME’s approach to communication and re-crafts the firm’s message in a culturally sensitive manner.

The ECR and PIB programs were prompted by the finding that U.K. SMEs were not exporting to their maximum potential because of the following problems:

  • U.K. SMEs’ marketing literature and/or websites did not take into account cultural differences;
  • International contracts were exposing U.K. SMEs to commercial risks, as they were not being professionally translated; and
  • Orders were not being processed if they were received in a language in which the SME had no expertise.

Based on the above, UKTI commissioned the ECR program in combination with the PIB service to, among other things, allow companies to employ foreign-language-speaking students at U.K. universities and other British institutions of higher learning to address issues related to language and cultural barriers that companies may face in entering particular foreign markets. UKTI has used the ECR and PIB programs successfully in a range of sectors, including furniture accessories, agricultural equipment, sporting goods, and financial services.


The ECR and PIB programs seek to achieve the following objectives:

  • Assist SMEs in taking into account cultural differences in international markets;
  • Assist SMEs in maintaining better relationships with their international consumers, marketing partners, and other relevant stakeholders; and
  • Accelerate SME exports through culturally adapted communication in international markets.


The ECR program provides step-by-step assistance. A firm interested in support will first submit an online application. UKTI experts then assess the company’s current communication and other export capabilities, and will come up with a recommendation and action plan for the company. This may include an assessment of the SME’s communication strengths and weaknesses relative to international best practices. Depending on the recommendations, UKTI may also identify potential third-party suppliers who are able to assist with specific tasks as well as provide a “how-to” guide with more detailed advice on implementing the recommendations made.

If the company is in need of a graduate student to assist with specific tasks, the SME will also prepare a job description based on the international language skills needed and tasks to be performed. UKTI will send this job description to the top London universities in order to attract suitable candidates for the position. UKTI will help the firm to recruit a student with the requisite language skills to assist the firm with its communication strategy. Specific tasks may include preparing press releases, promotional materials, catalogues, and packaging; writing technical manuals; or preparing presentations and trade show materials. Students may also assist with maintaining relationships with foreign agents and distributors, initiating international sales and invoicing processes, and handling foreign phone calls and emails.

UKTI communications reviews cost £500 plus value-added tax (VAT). SMEs, however, can receive a £250 subsidy from UKTI for the first three reviews if the firm is already exporting, has fewer than 250 employees, and has been trading for at least two years.


The ECR and PIB services have had a significant positive impact for the client SMEs. Key metrics reported by clients include increases in online sales and exports, new foreign-market opportunities, and improved communication with customers and distributors as a result of the program.

The results achieved by the ECR program are perhaps best discussed with reference to a specific case. Trinca-Ferro, a client of the program, produces furniture accessories. The company has increased its online domestic sales and seen its international sales more than double since making use of the UKTI service. Trinca-Ferro has grown its turnover from around £20,000 in 2013 to a forecasted £200,000 for 2015-2016. [4] This follows its use of UKTI’s services targeted at localizing exporters’ websites and employing expertise of foreign-language-speaking students. Robert Lancaster, founder of Trinca-Ferro, said that in working with UKTI his firm received practical advice that allowed the company to transform its website and online strategy. Specific recommendations included creating country-specific directories and removing the digital translation feature on the company’s website, instead providing content written in a professional way in the local language. The company was also advised to examine its internal processes to ensure they worked for international customers, and to create a content engagement plan to ensure Trinca-Ferro’s blogs, press releases, newsletters, and social media content were integrated and focused on developing the business. Trinca-Ferro also made use of the PIB program, employing a German student at a London-based university to refine its entry strategy for the German market.

Several other clients have reported successful interventions, including Teagle Machinery, a family-owned agricultural machinery business that used UKTI’s ECR service to improve contact with customers and distributors in international markets. As a result of UKTI’s service, within six months, the number of visitors to Teagle’s website increased fourfold. More than 75% of Teagle’s distributors now use the site regularly and register their customers. This has enabled Teagle to monitor its product sales by territory as well as to adapt its sales approach. Customers are also starting to log in to Teagle’s “Owner’s Club” and are able to receive sales and delivery news. The company is now able to follow up on potential sales leads.


The unique collaboration between government and universities, with the use of foreign students, is a model which Canadian policy-makers could consider adopting. Canada is expected to have a comparative advantage in the implementation of an export assistance service to address linguistic and cultural barriers to exporting. Canada has a multicultural and heterogeneous population – a resource that could be tapped to mitigate the risks of culturally insensitive business communication on SME export performance. Further, in 2013, there were over 300,000 international students attending Canadian universities and other post-secondary institutions, providing a valuable resource on which to model this country’s own PIB initiative. [5]

In a Canadian context, the ECR and PIB programs may be combined and implemented at the federal government level in conjunction with private-sector and university partners. Such an initiative could perhaps be led by Global Affairs Canada, which is heavily involved in assisting Canadian firms targeting foreign markets. The federal government’s Global Markets Action Plan does prioritize targeting for foreign markets of interest to Canadian firms, but does not focus on removing cultural and linguistic barriers that may prove to be a major impediment to Canadian SMEs. Several Canadian universities may be suitable partners to work with the federal government in the implementation of such a program. The development of an international communications strategy (i.e., “a set of procedures for dealing with language and cultural barriers as they arise”) could assist Canadian SMEs to establish a presence in markets that do not use English and French but in which the potential for rapid export growth exists. [6]


Department of International Trade (formerly UK Trade & Investment) https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-trade-investment

UKTI helps Foffa Bikes use e-commerce to develop their exports


UKTI helps Teagle quadruple visitors to its website https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/ukti-helps-teagle-quadruple-visitors-to-its-website

Trinca-Ferro forecasts tenfold increase in turnover after UKTI help https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/trinca-ferro-forecasts-tenfold-increase-in-turnover-after-ukti-help

UKTI helps Teagle quadruple visitors to its website


Kill Jellie goes global with Export Communications Review


UKTI helps Foffa Bikes use e-commerce to develop their exports


Creating a communications masterplan with UK Trade & Investment https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/creating-a-communications-masterplan-with-uk-trade-investment

Trinca-Ferro forecasts tenfold increase in turnover after UKTI help https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/trinca-ferro-forecasts-tenfold-increase-in-turnover-after-ukti-help

Government of Canada: Evaluation of the International Student Program http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/evaluation/isp/2015/proc-outcomes.asp#t5-2


[1] UK Trade and Investment. 2013. Improving your business communications – Overcoming language and cultural barriers in business: a guide for exporters.

[2] https://douglawrence.com/ukti-export-communications-review-service/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-trade-investment/about/about-our-services

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/trinca-ferro-forecasts-tenfold-increase-in-turnover-after-ukti-help

[5] http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/evaluation/isp/2015/proc-outcomes.asp#t5-2

[6] UK Trade and Investment. 2013. Improving your business communications – Overcoming language and cultural barriers in business: a guide for exporters

Other reports in our “Going Global” series:

Going Global: Learning from Global Innovative SME Export Assistance Programs

Sector-Specific Initiative: Austria’s Go Silicon Valley

Sector-Specific Initiative: The U.K.’S Cyber Growth Partnership

Market-Targeting Initiative: Israel’s Smart Money Program

Market-Targeting Initiative: Israel’s Indo-China Fund

Management-Focused Initiative: Australia’s Women In Global Business

Management-Focused Initiative: Germany’s Accounting Services

Leveraging People-to-People Connections Initiative: India’s Reverse Visits

Leveraging People-to-People Connections Initiative: The U.K.’s Connectivity Initiatives

Branding-Focused Initiative: India’s Brand Equity Foundation

Branding-Focused Initiative: Korea’s Global Brand Program