Do we understand who we’re talking to?

In a global world, we need to be able to communicate with people from different cultures.

In a global world, we need to be able to communicate with people from different cultures.

During my time in the field of PR, I’ve been lucky enough to have met people from many different places and backgrounds. I have colleagues from Greece, China, the US, Brazil, India, Spain, Norway, the UK… Not only do we have fun working together, but we’ve also had the opportunity to learn from each other, as we all come from different cultures and therefore think differently and work differently. Nevertheless, statistics show that our small version of the U.N. is an exception to the rule as most professionals in our field are, in the case of the UK, white British females.  For a profession that prides itself on being modern and open, this seems pretty close-minded. These studies show a lack of diversity in the field regarding gender, race and culture of which the implications are great: How does PR intend to effectively engage with people from different backgrounds if it doesn’t really understand who it’s talking to?

We live in a global world in which NGOs, corporations and even countries are running PR campaigns that need to reach many different types of people, all over the world, on their terms. This means understanding their cultural contexts and references, which we may not be party to, so that we can communicate with them in an understandable, inoffensive, likeable way. This challenge has become even more complicated with the use of viral social media campaigns, in which content spreads uncontrollably all over the world, reaching millions of users via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. How can we ensure that what we’re saying is well received by our intended global audiences? The truth is we can’t, but we can increase our chances of doing so by having the best possible insights into the minds of our target audiences, whether they’re in Serbia or Finland.

Yes, we can read up different cultures and get a general sense of them. But as strategic communicators who are regularly in touch with people we should know that there’s no substitute for having an “insider” who can give us tips regarding how things work. How should you conduct yourself during a meeting in China? Is it bad manners to kiss someone on the cheek in France? Does the word “concha” mean the same thing in Spain as it does in Argentina? Do people in New York have the same way of thinking as those in Los Angeles? These are questions you can find the answers to online, but there may be issues which you haven’t even considered, which only someone with similar cultural references could tell you about. As cultural intermediaries, we should start by engaging with other cultures ourselves.

I’m not saying each PR team should hire a hundred people, each from a different background or country. But in my experience, not only are two heads better than one, they’re even more effective when they bring to the table different ways of working and thinking. Approaching a project from different perspectives is sure to increase our creativity and improve our strategic thinking while making the process a lot more enriching. After all, isn’t spicing things up what PR is all about?

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2 thoughts on “Do we understand who we’re talking to?

  1. Hi Luisa! I’m Spanish – Indonesian – Australian and have lived in loads of countries. I usually try and find a job with an international aspect to it because of my multicuturality. Yes I find that I understand different aspects of culture maybe more than some of my collegues who haven’t lived in so many places (sorry dare I say that??). Its an interesting post you made 🙂

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