In 2009 Annual Conference, Tuesday

Joe Curley, APR, CPRC, a 35-year PR veteran who is currently Senior Corporate Communications Counsel for Universal Studios Parks & Resorts International, moderated this table discussion focused on Crossing the International PR Border. The session allowed sharing of professional challenges, solutions and strategies for success.

Table discussion
Joe founded and recently sold one of the largest PR firms in Florida. He is a past national president of the PRSA Foundation and a past state president of FPRA. A handout on tips, tactics and protocol to earn a communications passport provided by Joe was the basis for the discussion.

Each participant introduced himself or herself and discussed why international PR is important for his or her business.

Participants included Lynn Hobeck Bates; Wendy Crites-Wacker, APR; Erin Duggan; Kate Gooderham, APR, CPRC; Marcheta Cole Keefer; Tracy Lonthain; Jay Schleuning, APR; Bev Shols; and Valerie Wickboldt.

Lynn shared information on media relations in India – she has just returned from a trip there where it is very relationship-based. Very deep-rooted, family-oriented relationships merge into the workplace environment. Visitors have to be sensitive to their unique approach.

Joe added that different countries have different takes on media, and it is important to understand in advance. For example, Dubai media is government owned so there are specific criteria.  Korea works like the U.S. but they are very reserved – no follow up calls to the media are accepted.  Even investigative reporting has a softer approach due to their culture.  Those with international PR efforts should know the culture first so you don’t make stupid mistakes.

Kate asked for recommendations on the best way to do our homework.  Joe said to simply ask people who have been there, or better yet hire a local PR firm in that location to help you.  You may still have barriers – like language for example.  Even in England there is different terminology.  You have to watch your vocabulary and use words that are best understood by the local culture.

He continued that words could foul you up, so watch the language – turn your words into their words.

Lynn shared that other cultures respect you if you have researched their country and demonstrate that you are interested in how they do things – helps build the relationship.

Joe added that time differences matter. You need to carefully plan outbound communications to coincide with the other country’s time zone – interviews for example should not be scheduled for the middle of the night.

It is the same for the return trip.  If you are in another country and have a U.S. interview planned, research in advance to determine the best timing.

Joe’s busy time is 8 p.m. to midnight because of his international business.

Valerie asked about getting started with an international marketing effort.  How do you arrange shipping?  How do you take care of your foreign customers?

Joe encouraged her to have everything in order before launching business overseas – really know what you are doing.

Also you must understand customs and how that works.

Joe emphasized the importance of documentation and how to mark things appropriately so they don’t get hung up in customs. FTP sites are useful for sending and receiving documents.

Joe no longer takes his laptop overseas – he simply takes a jump drive and plugs in when he gets there.  Much easier today than before when you had to ship ahead.

The question arose on how to pursue international media  – from a budget standpoint, what is the process we go through to make sure we are ready to invest in an agency? Or should we do it ourselves?

The response was to do your research – if it shows growing numbers from international markets, it is time to move forward.

It was noted that other Florida areas might partner – regional partnerships can help if you have a limited budget.

Joe recommended working with the University of Florida’s public relations department which is very internationally diverse, and very open to taking on new projects. Students love having the real facts and completing a project that can help solve a real-world problem.

Some organizations even bring in an intern from another country to share their knowledge and help with translation.

Joe identified translation is a critical issue – you have to find good translators.

Wendy asked if anyone has worked with media in Germany or the European Union. Culture and media are different, but it can be hard to define exactly how they are different.  Wonders if anyone can explain the differences, and Joe recommended a visit to understand the subtleties.

Advice for getting a translator
Make sure he or she was born in that country, but studied in and spent four or five years in the U.S.  Don’t select someone who has only studied English in his or her country.  You have to be careful with your messages, someone who understands both sides. Going to the extra effort will ensure better translation.

KEY POINT: Don’t cheap out on a translator!

Another aspect to pay attention to is the nuances in different countries. In some countries, for example, people may nod their heads and say yes they understand just to be polite. One participant brought up the situation this morning when Hillary Clinton answered a question regarding the president and it was misinterpreted whether the person was referring to the current president or a past president. It is most important to be careful and make sure translation is accurate. A single word can be devastating!

Even within each country, larger cities may be more progressive, smaller towns might have different parameters, and might not have social media yet.  You need to localize your approach, even within the individual countries.

Kate brought up that there are even such differences between the states here – she recommended The Economist which provides information on those different approaches.

Joe reinforced that not one size fits all.

Wendy asked if there is a book about etiquette in different countries.  It was recommended that she contact the U.S. Department of State for resources. There are also consultants available in various countries.

Joe reiterated that the best protocol is to follow protocol – if someone addresses as “Mr.” you should too.

Also, learn what the foods are.  You may attend dinners with government officials eating “crawly” things – if you are doing business in these countries, eat it! And act like you like it!

One person shared that if you’re out to lunch in Ireland or France you will probably drink at lunch – so you need to comply!

Another example: Joe was in Korea – women were not allowed to watch the speaker, they had to look down at the table. Joe’s female employee was with him and he urged her to do the same to fit into the culture and not insult anyone.

Jay mentioned he went to the UK for a travel show.  Differences he noted were the words and driving on opposite side of the road.  They hired a UK-based agency to guide them through.  He also mentioned that everyone he met – media and residents – loves Florida.

Joe recommends hiring even a small agency in the country because they know the system and understand the local media. UK approach is very similar to us, just be careful with the words.

Also may depend on age group – young people in UK are drinking coffee at Starbuck’s, older generation still drinking tea.

Lynn discussed how social media is not used in India. They would rather sit down and talk over tea.  News media focuses on public image, and even staged shots are acceptable.

Most countries have English version newspapers – there are dailies in Dubai, Korea and China, Joe mentioned. Now they also have online distribution.

Another suggestion is to use your local convention and visitors bureau (Orlando for example) which may have international offices – this is a good place to start the conversation.  You can glean consumer research.  Plus there may be people at the local universities who can direct you.

Also, look toward creating strategic partnerships.  Joe recommended for the new airport opening in Pensacola, they should contact airlines now to discuss leasing space and establish partnerships. They are already educated in their country and are the market you would go to.

Partners are out there if you look for them!

Joe recommended never talking about local politics or how they are running the country, could cause very negative ramifications.

Lynn discussed a Rotary event in India where people were soliciting opinions, and she didn’t take any stands.  “No comment.”  Just keep it neutral.

Joe said you often are working with local governments and stating your opinion can really hurt you – just change the subject. He also discussed the benefits of knowing a second or even third language.  His choices would be Spanish, French and then Japanese.

Wendy commented that English is the international language of business and she was counseled to keep her materials in English rather than a variety of translations.

Lynn advised to also pay attention to non-verbal communication  – intonation in voices and expressions are important.  Joe advised to watch your hand gestures as those can be misinterpreted.

Key Messages:

  • Understand the culture
  • Use an expert translator to make sure you get your points across
  • Watch your words, nuances and gestures
  • Follow protocol
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