As a profession, public relations has become a global enterprise. Public relations education is only now beginning to catch up with the worldwide nature of the profession.
It is widely acknowledged that, as far as public relations education is concerned, the USA is the leader in the number of universities that offer public relations courses and the breadth and depth of the public relations curriculum.
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) ‘s Commission on Public Relations Education called for curricula that would prepare students to be effective communicators in the “age of global interdependence” in its October 1999 report on the state of education in the USA. This essay makes the case that the need for a well-established body of knowledge (based on empirical evidence) about public relations practices in various parts of the world is hindering educators everywhere.
This lack of evidence prevents educators from preparing their students to become valuable professionals who can meet the challenges of the “age of global interdependence.” The paper reviews literature identifying environmental variables that should help one understand public relations practices in different countries. Based on this review, the paper operationalizes these ecological variables as the next step toward cross-national research. The article also stresses the need to gather relevant case studies in international public relations.
Future researchers should be able to use this framework for conducting cross-national comparisons of public relations, thereby providing educators with the necessary empirical evidence to prepare future public relations professionals.
International Relations does not simply encompass a theory of politics in one country or continent but a theory of global relations. The role of PR practitioners in a global market is to be able to work with a multitude of cultures and audiences, aiming to provide a range of services that are not ethnocentric. We can keep several competing concepts of how things are and ensure that we either make the best choice for our clients or advise them on the best option.
We do that by using various means and methods of communication because, after all, having a relationship with the public starts with communicating with that public.
There needs to be an agreement across the sector when defining PR. In my professional experience, I have realized that international public relations best fit this particular definition:
Public relations is the distinctive management function that helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance, and cooperation between an organization and its public; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management stay abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and sound and honest communication as its principal tools. (Harlow, Rex F., 1976) Building a public relations definition Public Relations Review, 2 (4), p. 34–42.
International public relations must be inclusive to reflect the diversity of a worldwide communication process accurately. In this light, a single definition of public relations may be less important than an informed global view that embraces diverse meanings.
Public Relations certainly has international outreach because:
For international businesses, the PR role as a management function is that of recognizing:
Our role in managing issues in an international setting is to prevent such problems from becoming full-blown crises. It’s about making more intelligent decisions, mitigating risk, and exploiting opportunities. As such, the input an international PR expert can provide is invaluable to every business organization.
Perhaps you have never thought that, when it comes to Business Development, International Public Relations has a significant role to play since:
Language, slang, and idioms play an essential role in communication, and a sound familiarity with our client’s culture is paramount. We need to understand that the strategies and tactics we may deploy are seldom replicable or off-the-shelf products. Politics, irrespective of whether it is local or not, if improperly understood, can severely undermine any business initiative and, if not addressed in time, can ripple across the business. As such, while we do need and must have a basic structure of “how,” when,” and “what” as a starting point, our approach needs to be tailored.
We also need to pay particular attention to the stakeholders we are dealing with; sometimes, the internal ones are more important than the external ones simply because they are the ambassadors of that organization. Trust, authentic engagement, and a two-way, proactive dialogue can help communication. Businesses often refer to it as “Change management.” I refer to it as yet another attribute of the Public relations sphere. In an international business setting, we should be the first port of call for:
The manager’s key role is achieving specific outcomes or, at least, gaining tangible results. For this to happen, there needs to be clarity about what is desired, and the structures, systems, and strategies must be in place to attain it. An International PR professional should be able to narrow down and assist with all these parameters. It is about steering the course, keeping it simple, and communicating the vision very straightforwardly. However, irrespective of how well planned, structured, or organized such an intervention may be, it is likely to work if particular attention is paid to another aspect of the change process: the emotional component.
This cannot be separated from the change itself because the simple notion of “change” reflects a disturbance in the equilibrium between individuals, teams, and organizations.
So, an international PR expert—irrespective of the organization or the region in the world we may work in—should be able to use our tools of the trade to assist in the change process: we can analyze, assess, report, and advise—it is, if you wish, a different take on market research for a product launch—only that, this time, our “product” is an initiative and we don’t fight for earned coverage in the media.
In 2012, the Global Intelligence Alliance published a report entitled “Business Perspectives on Emerging Markets 2012–2017,” following a global survey it rolled out in June 2012. The survey sought to determine how global companies think about Emerging markets and what they view as success factors or threats.
What mistakes have been made, and how should they be avoided in the future? The survey also attempted to understand whether the multinationals have the information to capture fast-moving market opportunities.
Of particular interest for this article is that half of the respondents to the survey, or 215 global companies, stated that at least 30% of their global revenues would come from emerging markets. How is this of any concern to us from an international PR perspective? The top managers of the 430 global companies surveyed enlisted only 12 success factors that are paramount for their business sector, five of which are directly related to our line of work or area of influence:
Today’s businesspeople must understand the impact of cross-cultural differences on international businesses. Essentially, the plans the organization’s strategic staff or consultants put in place will influence the outcome of any potential merger, venture, or acquisition. As such, the need for greater cross-cultural awareness is heightened in our global economies, and cross-cultural differences in language, etiquette, non-verbal communication, norms, and values can, do, and will lead to cross-cultural blunders.
Such blunders often lead to crises. Faced with a problem of this kind, organizations will have to communicate. The outcome of the communication process will mostly depend entirely on “how” it is expressed, not on “what” it is being said.
This image below offers an overview of the world, as we don’t often think about it as a map of the world’s religions, societies, and cultures. I want to draw your attention to the legend’s last three items and the following words: “Traditional” and “Tribal.”
While a traditional society may be viewed as one characterized by an orientation to the past, not the future, with a predominant role for custom and habit, a tribal society represents a stable social system with a division of labor organized around extended family relations.
With this in mind, we can see why the remit of an international PR practitioner becomes sensitive and sometimes extremely difficult. Suppose you pay further attention to the last three items of the legend.
In that case, you will see that, while we are talking about regions: Central Asia, Western and Central Africa, Greenland, and the north of Canada, we are talking about a combination of different values, expectations, and publics: traditional, tribal, Christian, and Muslim. We may have one client or project to deliver in one country pertaining to one of these regions, but the “how” of the message needs to be deployed so that all major cultural and value-based concepts encountered in this country are simultaneously addressed.
At first sight, leadership, international negotiations, and diplomacy may appear strange mentions in public relations; they are not. They all require the same skills often encountered in international public relations: the ability to understand the ripple effects caused by organizations and managers, the importance of observing local specifics, and an acute awareness of others’ “sensitivities.”
The difference between local and international PR is dramatic, albeit not dramatically different in core competencies but in outreach; hence, the higher the international component, the greater the risk and reward. Generally, a local PR activity focuses on the “now”: what actions the organization should sponsor, the location (as in a media outlet) we place an advertisement, the earned media (generally localized), the media representatives we have formed relationships with, and the local events we organize.
When it comes to the international aspect of PR, we need to account for a multi-national organization facing cultural challenges and differences other than its organizational concepts, working in a potentially unknown and risky foreign environment, and that needs to effectively communicate to its local public and stakeholders its action, growth, and change plans.
In either a positive or negative scenario, the latter’s communication, particularly envisaging the leadership and negotiation components, may lead to a significantly strong reaction from the local society. To ensure that the outcome of such an activity is positive, a sound cultural understanding is necessary to effectively achieve the objectives of the project or initiative and the organization’s communication strategies.
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