Global communication can present significant challenges. While messages may be readily understood in one culture, they may be interpreted very differently in other cultures, causing potential crises and audience misperceptions.
In our profession, we can never be too knowledgeable about people; that's why today’s Public Relations (PR) practitioners are as much social scientists as they are communicators. Contemporary public relations practice – particularly on a global level – requires an understanding of human behavior, attitudes, learning styles, social psychology, linguistics, and anthropology, just to name a few. Most important, organizations must avoid displaying any form of ethnocentrism in their messaging. This can be challenging because we are so entrenched in our own culture, societal values, and styles of communication. However, in terms of global communication, deference is key. Our job as communicators is to adapt our styles to those of our international audiences.
When looking at strategic communications through a global lens, attention to cultural differences, language, culture, customs, mores, protocols, and colloquialisms is absolutely critical. To ensure accuracy and positive public response, CEOs and their communications teams should always engage local experts to help hone and adapt organizational messages to specific locales.
In my own firm, I would never commence a PR campaign in a foreign country without first gathering detailed information about the audiences with whom we plan to communicate. The next step involves culling that cadre of local experts. This process begins with the subcontracting of a seasoned local PR firm that can be at the ready for consultation and advice - both of which can be instrumental in opening doors and paving the way for a smooth campaign. And, depending on the region, size of the client, and scope of the campaign, I also advise engaging the services of other professionals, including:
- a reputable corporate law firm
- a protocol and etiquette specialist
- an experienced media consultant
- a human resources / labor law expert
- a management consulting firm
- a corporate anthropologist
- a market research firm
Working with experienced locals in these disciplines can provide the level and scope of guidance needed to successfully avoid missteps, liability, and crises. Careful planning, including crisis, contingency, and scenario planning is also necessary to minimize risk. Remember, your client’s brand and reputation are at stake, so every possible effort must be made to ensure that positive global relationships are built and maintained.
If you want to develop and expand your global communication skills, you will enjoy COM 60211, Seminar in Global Strategic Communication. This course provides students with a global perspective in strategic communication issues with international audiences. The class emphasizes such questions as how strategic communication plans can be successfully implemented in other countries and how plans can be measured and evaluated. I look forward to seeing you in COM 60211!
Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.