March 30, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Global PR: what PR professionals need to know in a shrinking world

Global PR: what PR professionals need to know in a shrinking world

A recent post on Media Bullseye examined skills needed for the modern PR pro. One of the biggest changes in PR, now and in the future, is the increasing focus on global PR. This brings with it challenges and opportunities.

Bilingual skills will become increasingly valuable

During the Global ICCO Summit in Oxford, England, several speakers touched on issues arising from PR’s increasing global concentration. As PR programs grow to include target audiences in more than one country or region, speaking another language becomes a greater and more influential asset. Bilingual PR pros are in demand, and this will only continue to grow in importance.

Cultural differences can affect the client relationship

Global PR also presents some interesting and complex cultural issues as well. A recent piece on Mumbrella detailed one of these: PR practitioners in parts of Asia run up against a cultural norm that prevents PR practitioners from challenging their clients on points of strategy, project execution, and more.

This isn’t really something I’d ever thought deeply about before. To be sure, on some level there is always the “well, the client is signing the checks, so be mindful of their requests”—but it’s hard for me to imagine a seasoned, experienced PR pro not pushing back if a client is suggesting something that could prevent them from achieving their goals. In fact, a PR pro who fails to point out that clients might be doing something counter to their interests may well be considered to not be doing his or her job. Cultural norms will take time to shift, so understanding where these exist and how to manage them is critical to operating successfully.

Internal communications can also be complex

Providing external PR and communications services for global companies is complex—but so is providing the internal communications for global companies. There are multiple levels of communication that need to be addressed: communicating with a unified voice on behalf of a multinational corporation to all employees; communicating with a consistent message on behalf of the organization to employees across many countries; and then communicating regionally when needed to address how local issues can impact the organization.

We have seen how these complex issues play out on a global stage fairly recently. The worldwide recession caused many countries to take a close look at how multinational companies operating in their jurisdictions were structured, specifically how and where they paid taxes. How a company’s taxes are structured would generally be considered an internal comms issue—if even that. It certainly wouldn’t generally be considered an external communications issue or a crisis. But for some, it became exactly that—a communications crisis. A number of US-based companies, including Starbucks, Apple, Amazon, and Google came under fire after it came to light that these companies paid little to no taxes in the UK, despite sales in the millions to billions of pounds sterling. While completely legal, it set off a firestorm of protest that reverberated back in the US and around the world.

Managing communications in a global environment can be extremely complex—an arcane tax issue can become a global news topic requiring separate (but consistent) messaging to a variety of audiences including: the governing entities, the public in the affected locale, the public in the home country of the company, and for publicly held companies, investors and shareholders.

As global corporations consider their future PR goals and staffing needs, the topics listed above and many, many other issues will likely shape their approaches. It’s up to all of us as PR professionals to learn as much as we can about how PR is continuing to evolve—well beyond our own borders.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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