A PR strategy for a new market often requires making major adaptations to cultural differences.
I spent last year interviewing senior PR executives in 31 countries about best practices for a book I wrote about effective global PR. The most important PR factors in a new country or culture include local influential voices, social expectations, relationships, translations and expected emotions.
PR pros, ask these five questions when adapting your strategy for a new country or culture:
1. Who is influential locally?
How can you enlist those people as partners or advocates? In the United States, much of the content that gets re-tweeted and trends on Twitter is generated by traditional media.
By contrast, Chen Liang, account executive for the global PR firm Ruder Finn, says that in China many people do not find the government-censored press credible. They turn to public figures—actors, independent journalists, professors and writers—who have earned reputations as reliable sources on social media.
Partnering with these local social influencers can be great to reach Chinese audiences.
2. What are local social expectations of organizations?
Expectations of businesses and other organizations vary dramatically over the world. Learn about local social expectations before doing business in a new culture: They will determine how your organization is judged.
Serge Giacomo, head of communications and institutional relations for GE in Latin America, says that in Latin America, “a company is perceived as a public entity, so journalists and the public can and will summon a company to take action on things totally unrelated to the business”—for example, building a road or school.
“It doesn’t mean they trust you,” Giacomo says. “It’s just that you can do it; it’s about having the means.” In other countries, such activities are seen as the responsibility of the government.
3. How important are relationships?
In the U.S., it is common to reach out to new reporters and potential partners without third-party introductions. Exchanged pleasantries begin calls or meetings, but then people get to business.
However, in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, professionals practice “personal influence” PR. It’s important to get to know reporters, colleagues and other partners before discussions about working together begin. Introductions from mutual contacts are expected and help build trust.
4. Do our messages translate?
Fawaz Al Sirri, founder of the Kuwaiti PR agency Bensirri PR, says:
I keep seeing really good [professionals] come to town and build good communication strategies that quickly become duds because they don’t translate well into Arabic.
It’s also extremely difficult to translate Arabic into other languages. R.S. Zaharna further explains:
Trying to translate literally, or even “thinking in Arabic and writing in English,” produces paragraph-long sentences that have little or no punctuation, and abound with compound and complex sentence structures and lots of adjectives.
The same translation difficulties apply in reverse. It’s best to start from scratch and write your messages in local languages.
5. What types of emotion are expected?
In the U S. people are expected to remain cool and collected; in the Arab world, people expect emotional responses to emotional questions. If your spokesperson is asked a heated question in a media interview and answers dispassionately, he or she will not be trusted.
Furthermore, as Ali Al-Kandari and T. Kenn Gaither report, “emotional appeals are more likely to be persuasive to Arabs than logical appeals.”
By contrast, in countries such as Germany, it is important to have a lot of facts and figures to back up your claims to individuals who are culturally conditioned to consider all angles to every issue.
Kara Alaimo, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University, a global PR consultant and trainer and the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” Connect with her on Twitter: @karaalaimo.