Posts Tagged ‘cross-cultural’

How American PR Is Different from PR Overseas

February 19, 2013

Foreign companies that want to build visibility in the U.S.  are usually surprised to find that there are cross-cultural differences in the role of public relations between their countries and the U.S. In many parts of the world, including most of Asia and some of Europe, the tactics used by most public relations departments have traditionally been limited to media relations and event planning, with social media also becoming more popular recently. The goal is to win over potential customers (both consumers and business customers) and to try to safeguard the company’s public image.Morpheus on PR

In the United States, Canada, the U.K. and a few other countries, there are additional aspects of PR. In these markets, PR is not relegated to building visibility and helping market products, it also includes strategies to build and enhance a company’s reputation. PR professionals look for ways to develop and strengthen relationships that will help the entire company in its interactions with various audiences, including investors, the local community, government officials and employees, among others. In other countries, PR is more top-down, with management deciding what they want to communicate and the PR department executing those decisions. But in the U.S. there is more two-way dialogue with the public, and the PR or corporate communications department is expected to monitor the public dialogue, and also to recommend messaging and develop materials to help support the company in those conversations.

In countries where the PR staff is mostly limited to helping to market products, PR professionals have a significantly lower status than they do in countries where PR professionals have a broader role that includes strategy for and management of corporate reputation. As one would expect, in the countries where PR has a lower status, PR professionals have less contact with top executives and aren’t usually seen as strategic advisors to corporate management. In the U.S., by contrast, the top PR job is often an executive position that reports directly to the CEO. In some cases, the professionals who hold those positions make very high salaries. (In large companies, the salaries are frequently in the range of $300,000. One recent news article reported that the head of corporate communications at a Fortune 500 company was being paid a million dollars a year. Those executives, and the employees and PR firms they hire to help them, manage issues important to the company, trouble-shoot in times of crisis and help with the overall positioning of their companies. They are responsible for fostering good relationships with all of their companies’ audiences, from employees to interest groups to customers and potential customers to government at the local, state and national levels. Some are also responsible for investor relations.

Often when I receive a call from a potential client from overseas, I can see the difference in attitude towards PR right away. I ask what the company is looking for from a PR agency, and the answer I get is usually a prepared list of PR tactics that the executives in the company have already decided will fill their needs. After talking to us and as they begin to work with us, the company’s staff begins to see that we can help in ways they hadn’t anticipated, and they stop telling us what tactics they want us to deploy, asking us, instead, for our counsel on helping them meet their goals.

Cross-cultural PR is a two-way educational process, since the client learns more about the U.S. business culture and sees how communications works here, while, at the same time, we have a chance to learn more about the client’s own culture.

Lucy Siegel

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The Challenges of Cross-Cultural Communications

August 31, 2012

Many of our clients are companies headquartered outside the United States. As a result, cross-cultural communications is a very important component of Bridge Global Strategies’ client services. In the following post, Bhaskar Sarma does a great job of explaining the impact of culture in communications and providing examples. His guest post, which first appeared on Gini Dietrich’s blog, “Spinsucks,” appears here with his permission and  permission from Gini Dietrich.  

By Bhaskar Sarma

In 1969 and 1970, a large part of Iraq was hit by a severe drought and famine causing a shortage of wheat.

With seed reserves running low, the Iraqi government imported nearly one hundred thousand tons of high yielding Mexipak wheat from Mexico and the United States.

The wheat, however, was laced with a fungicide called methylmercury, which was to prevent spoilage during shipping.

Methylmercury is a nasty chemical and can damage the central nervous system of humans and animals. It causes symptoms such as paralysis, brain damage, and blindness. In higher doses, it can be fatal.

Anatomy of a Disaster

All the bags in that shipment were stamped with clear instructions on how to handle the lethal contents. To underline the dangers, the suppliers even emblazoned a skull and crossbones on each bag.

That should have be enough, right?  It wasn’t.

  • The warnings were in Spanish and English – pure gobbledygook to an average Iraqi villager.
  • The skull and crossbones meant the same thing to them as a QR code means to human eyes.
  • The wheat arrived too late in the planting season to be of any use, but was distributed to the farmers anyway.

With their previous stock of wheat planted, thousands of villagers who had no clue about the toxicity of the foreign wheat, used it as food and feed.

And within a month, disaster struck.

I won’t get into the gory details but the Iraqi incident was one of history’s largest cases of mass mercury poisoning.

And to think all this could have been averted if they had added a line in Arabic.

Challenges of Cross-Cultural Communication

Here’s another, less darker take on the cross-cultural communication.

A soda marketer was glumly sitting at the bar. His friend approaches and asks, “Why so serious?”

He replies, “I created this left to right comic strip for a campaign. It showed a famished man crawling across the desert who finds a bottle of soda, chugs it down, and walks away with a cheerful smile. Sales tanked after it ran in the Middle East.”

“Why?”

“Everyone read it from right to left!”

Avoid Cross-Cultural Miscommunication

While the Internet ensures your products and services can be sold all over the world, it does not make your customers and prospects react to your message in lockstep.

If you are selling to multiple countries or cultures consider the following:

  • Have localized versions of your website (if you have the resources). Don’t just have a literal, word-by-word translation of the copy from English to, say, German.
  • If you can’t afford multiple versions of collateral, avoid slang and clichés. It gets lost in translation.
  • Pay particular attention to your marketing channels. For instance, streaming video won’t be a hit in large parts of Asia and Africa where Internet speeds suck.
  • Subject lines in emails that might be marked as spam in the West could get a higher response rate in Asia. Experiment and test.

Conclusion

Cross-cultural miscommunication can have far reaching consequences. It was one of the reasons Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. It was also a major reason why the Israeli Army was beaten back by the Hezbollah  in 2006.

Do you have any “lost in translation” war stories? What would be your prescription to avoid such situations?

Bhaskar Sarma is a B2B tech copywriter and content marketer. He blogs at Pixels and Clicks and helps his clients create content that establishes them as a trusted solution provider. You can follow him on Twitter at bhas.


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