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GPS to International Public Relations

Published on November 7, 2018, at 4:22 p.m.
by Trenton Brasfield.

International public relations involves any business communications done on a global scale. If a message crosses sovereignty lines, it is international PR. For Americans, global practice can bring a host of challenges. These include language barriers, opposing cultures and a lack of knowledge about opportunities.

Photo by G. Crescoli on Unsplash

Dr. Elina Erzikova is a professor of public relations at Central Michigan University. She holds multiple degrees and has many published works. Her research on PR in Russia is focused mostly on the ethics aspect of the practice, and its difference to Western practices.

Erzikova noted how the Russian national culture contributed to the variance in organizational culture between the two hemispheres. “Russian culture is a collectivistic; we treat each other as family,” she explained.

This contrast in culture plays out in the workplace. In Russia, employees are given more room to operate in a less formal manner. “When you belong to a collective culture, people will forgive you for many things,” Erzikova stated, such as not being on time or not meeting a deadline.

There is a sentiment that the bond between practitioners is valued more than the immediate work, “but everyone feels like a family, so they will forgive me,” Erzikova said. This is a stark contrast to America, which is “more business-like.” According to Erzikova, this dichotomy can be explained by historical, economic and political factors.

Erzikova made it clear that having an open mind and exposing oneself to other cultures is important in the international field. She advised traveling to other countries to get first-hand exposure. “It is very difficult to change yourself [only] reading books,” Erzikova said. She emphasized that one needs to build an interpersonal relationship with other cultures.

Olivia Lake is a student at The University of Alabama majoring in public relations. This summer she interned at a nonprofit in Dublin. Lake’s experience there gave her insight on navigating international PR.

Lake said that she chose an internship overseas because she wants to work abroad in her career. Furthermore, she chose Ireland to avoid a language barrier, to gain experience in the international field and to vet the process to be sure it was something she could see herself doing in the long term.

Lake noted that she faced challenges while abroad. The use of certain jargon presented itself to be difficult. Lake was asked to remove a “full stop” in an email template she was working on. “Full stop” is not an editing term known to most Americans. “What does this mean,” Lake said. “I don’t know what this means?” After asking a co-worker, she found out that it is the period.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Lake also said that the work-life culture was different. She expressed that in America we do more little things to prove ourselves to a company, like coming in early, working through lunch and staying late. Lake explained that her peers in Dublin adhered to the set business hours, they came and left on time. Lake was also told by her supervisor that she could not work through lunch. “They have a much clearer work-life balance there,” Lake stated.

Lake said she realized that so many small things are different between cultures, even if both speak the same language. Lake also learned a lot about herself. “There was a lot of pressure being an American intern; I wanted to prove myself to them,” she explained.

After having this experience, she believes she feels more comfortable having discussions about other cultures. Lake advised that those students who can work abroad should do it. While some may be uncertain about their decision at first, she said to “wait it out” and become more familiar with the culture. Lake was able to gain useful soft skills that she can use in a professional setting moving forward.

Dr. Bruce K. Berger is a professor emeritus of advertising and public relations in the College of Communication and Information Sciences at The University of Alabama. Berger worked in international communications for 16 years. He used that experience to provide advice on navigating the landscape of international PR. Berger got into international communications while at the Upjohn company, which is now a subsidiary of Pfizer. He also worked on a global scale while at Whirlpool.

For Berger, organizational cultures change from country to country because of the difference of national cultures. Berger’s involvement in 30 other countries made his work complex. “It also made it very exciting … each environment was a terrific learning environment … you have to develop different kinds of skills,” Berger said.

When speaking of the advantages of working internationally, Berger expressed that dealing with the cultures, laws and regulations from one country to another was an exciting challenge and powerful learning experience. This situation was displayed when he had to work with a diverse group of individuals from 10 countries. “We all discovered early on that what we could produce as 10 people was far more superior to what we could do individually,” Berger stated.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Though he does not feel there are specific disadvantages to this line of work, he does feel there are additional requirements. Those include being open to differences, understanding that one country does not have all of the answers, and being inclusive. Berger offered plenty of advice for students wanting to work internationally. “Learning a second language, … joining cultural clubs on campus …. and finding internships with international ties are all important goals,” Berger explained.

With that, the international field is an open one that offers many opportunities. Students and professionals who want to navigate international PR need to be willing to break down their personal walls as well as cultural walls. They should be ready to face a diverse plethora of challenges and to do so with great passion. As Berger noted, “The most exciting world is the global world and everything happening in it.”

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