Curious about what it would be like to live in another country? Or form business relationships with people from exotic backgrounds, whose customs and beliefs vary drastically from yours? Have you ever considered working for an international company in the U.S.? Ever dreamed of a career that could present opportunities for you to travel the world and learn global PR practices? All of these possibilities, and more, are available with international PR, a quickly growing career path that many young hopefuls are considering, and for good reasons.
What is international PR?
Jim Holtje, senior manager of leadership communications at Siemens Corporation in New York, lectured on international PR at the 2009 PRSSA National Conference and defined international PR as working for a company, agency or non-governmental organization (NGO) overseas or working for a foreign company, agency or NGO in the U.S.
Throughout his presentation, which he titled, “International PR: Go Global, Get an Edge,” Holtje talked about the benefits of working abroad, but also touched on less common international practices, like insourcing (quite literally the opposite of outsourcing), Americans working for foreign companies in the U.S. Unlike outsourcing, however, where workers in other countries are paid a fraction of what Americans would be paid to do the same work, insourced PR professionals are actually paid an average of 32 percent more than their counterparts working for American firms. Holtje went on to say that 5.1 million U.S. workers are currently being insourced.
In the book “Legacies from Legends in Public Relations,” John Reed, APR, Fellow PRSA chairman, Consultants in Public Relations, gave another definition of international PR: “International public relations simply means you ‘do it someplace else.’ By ‘someplace else,’ I mean places where the audience or public is different from the persuader, where geographic, linguistic, historical, religious and other boundaries are crossed.”
What companies provide opportunities in international PR?
PR agencies like Edelman, Weber Shandwick, Burson-Marsteller, Hill & Knowlton and Fleishman Hillard are all international agencies with offices throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world.
The international divisions of each agency are incredibly profitable. For example, Holtje said in his presentation that Edelman reported a total revenue of $450 million in 2008, with 64 percent of it being international revenue.
Because larger agencies have offices around the world as well as international clients, it is much easier to pursue international opportunities when employed by a larger agency than with a smaller firm, or in a corporate PR position.
What are some characteristics you need to succeed in international PR?
In essence, a main function of PR is relationship building, and a large part of international PR is being able to build these relationships with and for people from different cultures. Reed stated that ”International PR requires the persuader or PR person to have an extra skill set that includes linguistic ability, a knack for and desire to engage in cross-cultural persuasion.” While it takes a special type of person to be able to connect and build these cross-cultural relationships, the outcome could be greater than ever imagined.
An article in the New York Times about the current trend of American students pursuing jobs in China highlighted another plus Americans bring to the table. When looking for prospective employees, one employer said he “needed someone who was capable of communicating with the Western world.” Believe it or not, having American connections gives us a leg up, considering how much business most countries do with English-speaking countries.
Holtje recommended these five tips for young professionals hoping to land a job in International PR:
1. Travel! While it will help you become acquainted with other cultures and customs prior to settling down, it will also help you decide if you really do have the passion for international relations and traveling. Studying abroad is the obvious choice to fulfill this recommendation, but if it is too late in your schooling to pursue a semester overseas, consider a summer program or short vacation post-graduation.
2. Learn a foreign language(s). Even if you decide not to pursue international PR, it gives you a huge marketplace advantage.
3. Sharpen your core PR skills. No matter what aspect of PR one chooses to pursue, it is important to keep the basics in the forefront of one’s mind.?
4. Broaden your horizons. Pursue opportunities that you hadn’t thought of; meet people you normally wouldn’t; take chances.?
5. Network! With this, always give more than you take in new friendships.
Based on his experiences around the world in international PR, Reed said, “The important concept to be learned is that peoples differ markedly from place to place in terms of their histories, religions, interests, values and so forth.” To succeed in international PR, hopefuls must understand and embrace these differences.
How do international PR practices differ from U.S. practices?
While international PR requires many of the same skills as PR in the U.S., there are also special PR needs for every country, region and industry within each. Holtje alluded to common foreign needs like translations and help with everyday English “slang” phrases that could help their company succeed in the Western world. PR practitioners will also have to devote time and energy to immersing themselves in the culture, in order to best meet the needs of the market they serve. Many of these “special needs” will not be laid out on the table, and it may take time to adjust to and learn the real needs of a company and the best way to handle them.
He elaborated on this thought in a later interview by saying that while U.S. practitioners have a wealth of knowledge to share overseas, “there’s some really creative and cutting-edge public relations work being done around the world that all practitioners can benefit and learn from. Good ideas don’t need a passport.”
One Chinese executive, quoted in the article in the New York Times, said another dynamic Americans have to offer is a knowledge of skills that are hard to find in natives of other countries, like the Chinese. He lists some of these traits as taking initiative and thinking ahead, while a common Chinese practice would be to take orders instead. This difference is refreshing for most international companies, as an American’s perspective and attitudes vary greatly from the Chinese culture of listening as opposed to initiating.
Not only do practices and tactics differ around the world, but in some countries, PR campaigns may have to be altered to comply with local regulations. Natalie Murphy, account supervisor at Weber Shandwick in NYC, works on global healthcare accounts, and advised that it is important to bear in mind that every tactic may not work in every country due to rules and regulations, so developing different components to each campaign is crucial.
Murphy also touched on the fact that practices may fluctuate from country to country simply based on their understanding of PR. She stated that as corporations begin to realize the importance of their image to all stakeholders, and the fact that one small story could develop in to overnight global headlines, they understand PR more. This, in turn, leads to hiring agencies like Weber Shandwick or others listed above to improve upon what they have, and help them develop their PR practices even more.
Holtje advised that, “if you’re planning an international PR effort, the local conditions on the ground should be your first consideration and take precedent over what headquarters thinks everyone should say,” as many people based in the U.S. may not understand what you see by being there.
Finally, as social media has become the hottest PR topic in the U.S., and most U.S. companies are jumping in head first, companies abroad are much more reluctant. Murphy attributed this to the aforementioned regulations, and the fact that the companies would prefer to let others test the waters first, thus predicting their success on the success (or failure) of other companies and deciding the next steps to take from there.
Why work in international PR??
Why not? As a soon-to-be or recent college graduate, the time is right to get out in the world and see and do things you’ve never done. If you love to travel or are fascinated by other cultures and their practices, adding PR to the mix makes international PR an ideal first job. We have the opportunity to practice PR, exchange knowledge with other countries and, most importantly, spread our wings and expand our portfolios by learning culturally diverse PR practices.