Published on March 23, 2018, at 3:50 p.m.
by Stephanie Zielinski.
Public relations is a cosmopolitan industry. International companies need to spread brand awareness, good publicity and campaigns with ease. However, each country does not have the same guidelines and formats for PR practitioners to follow. This variation in PR requires companies to hire international PR firms, work with more than one firm, or, if the companies are large enough, create an international, in-house team.
Oftentimes, companies do not consider the locality required to start a campaign in a certain place, according to Mark Pinsent’s article on Gorkana. “There needs to be a commitment to building its [the company entering a new region] reputation from the ground up, and a demonstration of how it adds value to the local economy and/or community,” Pinsent said.
PR practitioners need to understand variances in the industry abroad, ranging from business formalities to ethics and from linguistics to style guides. For clarity, the following observations will be divided by region, and the variances above will be the criteria.
Asia, specifically Japan, is known for abiding by a strict, formal business culture. There are social protocols to be followed, and respect is an integral part of business. Mark Pinsent, the managing director of the European operations for The Hoffman Agency, says that the Asian business culture is reflected in the PR environment. “It’s less likely that you’ll get a negative, aggressive questioning from a journalist in Japan,” he explained.
China has a very different culture around media relations. “The lines that get drawn between advertising and editorial, which are relevantly clear in Europe and North America, get a little bit blurred in China,” Pinsent said.
The Hoffman Agency is an international organization with branches spanning from Singapore to the states and from Berlin to Hong Kong. An additional technique the agency has found beneficial is to hire locals. He said a firm will not be able to meld into the culture without natives. He added that organizations must accommodate the culture at hand; everything is not the same as their nation of origin, and that’s OK.
South America is full of developing nations, but practitioners need not forget that the fifth most populous nation in the world is located there, Brazil.
Despite popular belief, Brazilians do not speak Spanish or any derivation of it; they speak Portuguese. This language barrier from many other South American nations means that PR campaigns do not immediately translate, according to Patrick O’Neill from Sherlock Communications is located in São Paulo, Brazil.
O’Neill found that this misperception of Brazil is the biggest inhibitor for international companies that want to launch a campaign there. “They don’t understand as well that over 50 percent of the economy of Latin America is in Brazil as well as over 50 percent of the population of the whole Latin America,” said O’Neill.
He added, “Many international companies actually aren’t often aware of the cultural differences.” He provided the example of Samsung launching Bixby, similar to iPhone’s Siri, and creating an entire campaign in Brazil about it. However, Brazilians became offended when they realized Bixby only spoke English and Korean.
O’Neill explained that more often than not, Brazil is assumed to have the same culture as the other nations in South America and North America. Neither of these assumptions is correct.
He even said that he has had to turn clients away because they did not do research and their company name or their product title was an inappropriate slang term in Portuguese.
“To other countries, Europe might seem like one place, but it’s not. It’s 30 countries in the EU and nearly 57 countries as a whole. And each of these countries has a different identity, speaks a different language, etc.,” Pinsent said. He helps clients guide their expectations and accomplish successful campaigns in two to three target markets, instead of a poorly carried out, blanket campaign that is done more broadly and less successfully.
Public relations practice in the U.K. and America tends to be in alignment with their business cultures, media consumption and other key factors. However, O’Neill said that while he lived in the U.K., there was not a proper style guide for PR writers. Practitioners wrote according to the national media outlet that the press release was being sent to, most of which are available online some for free and others to buy.
It is tough to fathom a world without the AP Stylebook.
Megan Brennan, a recent corporate communications grad from University of Northern Illinois, had an internship in the U.K. with Fosterwood Ltd. Events in 2017. She assisted in the planning and promotion of events. For her, the main differences between the U.S. and U.K. were smaller and more cultural.
One key distinction she found was diversity. “London is a multicultural city filled with individuals from every country, religion and race. A few of my co-workers were from France, Egypt, London and many other places around the world. The diversity in the workplace helped us form a creative and universal approach to each project and promotion,” Brennan explained.
Brennan also said that minute differences like spelling, diction and paper sizing played a role in her adjustment to U.K. culture. “Our standard sizing is U.S. Letter (8.5” x 11”) while they use A4 (8.27” x 11.69”). This seems like a small formatting difference, but a critical detail when creating event menus or flyers,” she said.
Pinsent explains international PR as “… aligning to a consistent set of objectives and a consistent messaging, while still taking into account nuances depending on where you’re operating.”
Public relations is a developing field. The regulations for it are not international, and oftentimes they’re subdivided within a nation. Researching the market that a company wants to enter is key and easier than one might think. Local perspectives, alignment with company concerns and understanding the market are crucial in any international PR campaign.
For more information on demographic break downs, in-depth international research and other specific details, visit the Plank Center’s study of international PR trends here.