Posted on November 9, 2015, 3:11 p.m.
by Taylor Shelnutt.
Blame it on technology, exchange programs or the millennial generation’s itch for adventure — the world is getting smaller. In a 2014 study, 59 percent of Americans between the ages of 21 and 30 were willing to work abroad. Compare this to the roughly 35 percent of Americans in general who would be willing to move, and it’s clear that the younger generation has a much stronger desire to live on foreign soil.
As public relations continues to increase in importance for companies, the industry is expanding across the globe. Many young professionals and recent grads tie the glamour of traveling and exploring to working internationally. And while that’s part of it, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
How international PR is different
When you come from a country that is a world leader in production, public relations abroad looks a little different.
Brian Keenan, insights and strategy planner at Ketchum UK, moved from the New York office a year and a half ago. Keenan explained how important it is for an ex-patriot to understand the client and the audience in order to make the brand align.
“Regardless of the brand you work on or the country it’s in, you have to ask questions that get at the root of why a brand is at a certain position in the market,” Keenan stated. “[When working internationally] you don’t come in with any kind of relative knowledge of where the brand is, so you have to ask more questions.”
Nick Lucido is a senior account supervisor who participated in the Edelman Global Fellows Program and transferred from the Chicago office to Brazil. He emphasized that the local nuances, culture and work style are different from the U.S., so it takes more time to adjust to these differences.
“I was expecting to jump on client work right away,” Lucido said. “The reality is, you have to learn about the way to work, the culture and the language. There’s a lot of learning, and you have to be open to new situations.”
Factor in the different currencies, economies, environments and work cultures, and it’s clear that working internationally involves a certain level of adapting.
Challenges of working abroad
It’s important to be aware of the obstacles you’ll face when abroad and prepare accordingly. Besides the obvious difficulties of being thousands of miles away from family and friends, as well as expensive international flights, there will also be challenges in the office.
Depending on where you work, the business language may not be English. It’s often beneficial to have some knowledge of the foreign language, especially when communicating around your new office. While both Lucido and Keenan said the challenge varies by location, it’s not necessarily a make-or-break factor of international success.
Public relations professionals, especially those involved with media relations, often have to connect with journalists and bloggers. Keenan said these types of relationships, along with other professional networks, can be hard to maintain while abroad. Not only are you leaving your current connections, but you also have to start at square one in a foreign market.
Lucido commented that when working internationally, you’re going to be viewed as an outsider or someone who isn’t 100 percent in tune with the local market, at least until you build a relationship with your clients and colleagues.
“When you’re working with very nuanced, local clients and businesses, you probably won’t be able to provide the deep counsel that some of the clients need,” Lucido said.
Benefits of crossing the border
While it’s clear that living on foreign soil has its challenges, there are also several ways to improve professionally by being an ex-patriot for a while.
Lucido said his global clients appreciate that he understands international markets and knows how the business runs outside of Brazil. Being aware of your limitations is key, but so is recognizing opportunities to provide your American-based skills.
Keenan also stressed the professional benefit that working abroad lends. You can examine the state of the industry in multiple markets, as well as what different offices look like and the diverse leaders, management styles and day-to-day operations that take place. These have all helped him understand what works well, which he can then incorporate into his leadership management style.
“Global companies put a lot of value on people who understand what it is to be global,” Keenan said. “It’s a big boost. I’ve already seen benefit in my personal career from saying that I’ve worked in two markets on two continents.”
Steps for young professionals
If you want to spread your wings abroad in the near future, it’s important to begin planning now.
Lucido advised young professionals in large agencies to try to get on global client accounts and be involved in multimarket work. However, he also stated that it is important to be familiar with the realities and limitations that your agency or corporation has.
“If you want to work on global, work for a global agency or global clients and learn as much as you can about the market beforehand,” Lucido said. Some companies offer exchange programs like Edelman’s, so you have to consider the long term instead of being solely focused on moving abroad immediately.
Not only is it important to align yourself with programs and opportunities for working internationally, but you also have to prove that you deserve those chances over anyone else who is already living there. Keenan noted a legal factor — many countries have to prove they’ve searched domestically for a candidate before looking outside of the border. It’s also expensive to move, with work visas and living arrangements being a large part of that, and the company is probably going to have to pay the cost. Therefore, it’s crucial to make yourself indispensable to that foreign market.
“As a candidate looking for a job, you have to make sure you are really suited for it,” Keenan said. “If you go through the life-altering change of making a move overseas,
you want to know that you’ll be successful when you get there.”
So if gaining international experience is on your career bucket list, start planning now for one of the best professional moves you can make. Lucky for you, the world is at your fingertips.