Embracing the differences: One size does not fit all

What I love most about public relations is that it embraces and encourages international communications. We as pr practitioners are told to expand our knowledge and intelligence of other cultures, countries, and customs. An aspect of pr I find most appealing is advocacy and raising awareness. Often times it’s in relation to products, key professionals, or in this case, countries and issues surrounding their residence. What I found most alluring about this particular field is the challenge in understanding a country’s way of living and then figuring out how to present your campaign to appeal to that culture.

In a different context, I have thoroughly studied and analyzed social groups’ immersions into new cultures. I am fascinated by how groups migrate to different areas and try to find that balance in maintaining traditions and valuing their culture, but at the same time, trying to immerse into a modern, occidental world. I feel that many groups want to be recognized as individuals, but at the same time, want to fit in wherever they now consider “home.”

I came across an article entitled Conducting PR on a Global Scale in which they mention that “although consistent communications is key, delivering the exact same message to all countries is a mistake. Having an intimate understanding of your target market, and sculpting messages that will appeal to that target market, is critical. According to Lou Hoffman, principal of Hoffman Public Relations, a global firm with offices in California and the Asia-Pacific, when global communications decisions are being made solely from within the States, there is a tendency for Americans to look at other continental markets as homogenous regions – a potentially fatal mistake.”

In a post by PR Divas, they describe a story in relation to International communications. I’m not sure if its a folklorish tale, but it proves a point nonetheless:

“A gentleman that traveled to Japan for a meeting and presented a gift to a Japanese businessman. He offered the businessman a gift pack; the number of items in the sleeve being four. He thought it was an appropriate quantity to enjoy and share with his colleagues, not realizing that anything boxed or presented in the quantity of four means death to the Japanese. The meeting was a flop. The deal lost.”

As you can see, it is critical to focus on quality as opposed to quantity. I have to wonder though, in the topics and issues that the US primarily focuses on, is it as relevant in other countries? As our country revamps itself to become greener, are international sustainable campaigns deemed as effective? Can you think of good and bad campaigns that targeted international markets?

To further this blog post, I gave myself a few weeks to ponder over this topic. I began writing this post in the US and after my stay in Hong Kong, I think I have a better grasp on the solution to this wordly debate.

I spent the last 5 weeks working at an english immersion camp in Hong Kong. There, I worked with children aged 6-14 and used songs, activities, and team building games to help them incorporate english into their every day lifestyle. What was interesting is that we planned our camp itineraries in the states. We researched youth services and with our prior knowledge, we were very confident with our programming. We get to Hong Kong and immediately realize that the programming we had done based on english children, would never work in this culture. It was a complete failure. The children were slightly more introverted and respected more of their personal space. In school they were taught to be more polite and respectful as opposed to talkative and extremely active. In a matter of hours, we sat down with these children to find out what they liked and didn’t like. We realized that it wasn’t that they disliked our ways of teaching, they had just never been exposed to that sort of communication. WE were asking THEM to step out of their comfort zone. For a child (and in a PR sense- a consumer), we often rely on the person to take the intiative and make the first step to conform to what we ask them. I learned an extremely valuable lesson that although its good to be different and innovative, It’s still prevalent that you take customs, traditions, and cultural habits into consideration. You want to gain someones trust, before expecting them to go out on a limb to benefit both you and themselves.

I’m excited to begin my public relations career and see how my international understanding will fit into my every-day work life. I hope I can use my knowledge and lessons learned to mold certain campaigns and pr tactics to accomodate to different cultures and people.

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2 thoughts on “Embracing the differences: One size does not fit all

  1. Great post, Jessica. You hit on a lot of good points – I completely agree that an international PR campaign can not (and should not) be planned solely in the US. This is something I saw a lot of on my former team and working with our international counterparts – they constantly reminded us that our plans needed to take different communication styles into consideration. Sounds like Hong Kong was an eye-opening experience. Keep up the good work!

  2. Jessica,
    I am so happy for you that at an early stage in your career you are able to see and understand that main differences in culture is key to any PR campaign to work better with people with different backgrounds. Enjoy all what you do and keep your mind open to continue broadening that international understanding and experience. Good luck and keep up the good work!

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