Tip Sheet: Lessons Learned From PR Cases Abroad


When we compiled the first collection of international cases for The Evolution of Public Relations: Case Studies from Countries in Transition a decade ago, we had a very specific audience in mind. It was to be a handout for a "Teaching the Teachers" workshop we were planning for communications faculty from universities in the Baltic States and Russia. We envisioned it would be valuable for them and their students to have examples of campaigns that were successful but didn't necessarily rely on conventional Western business practices and large budgets. A year later, the Institute for Public Relations electronically published the cases, making them available free of charge to all to meet the needs of faculty and students in the many public relations programs springing up around the world. And, today, with the third edition, we believe there are also lessons to be learned from these cases for the practitioner working in a global environment. Public Relations Has Matured Worldwide Research is more prevalent, planning more strategic and goals more measurable. A successful campaign abroad requires the same level of sophistication and the full toolkit you use at home, but with modifications. Our cases suggest: Cultural sensitivity is necessary as brands and reputations become increasingly global. One size does not fit all. Some of the things you must address are nationalism, ethnic allegiances religious sensitivities, influentials and opinion leaders, literacy and educational levels and historical perceptions, whether valid or invalid. Media are more diverse, partly because of public relations. To build credibility for the message, public relations has helped create a marketplace favoring more independence of the messengers. This is particularly true in the countries of the former Soviet Union and its satellites. The Internet penetrates every corner of the globe. News, both good and bad, travels fast. You must be prepared to respond both quickly and in a culturally appropriate manner. Be Prepared To Give Back As Well As To Take Away To our delight, there is much greater awareness of corporate and organizational social responsibility. The emphasis in many of these cases is not just on asymmetric communication to reach larger and broader publics; it is also on symmetric communication to strengthen communities and build civil society. The lesson is clear: Any organization or corporation in or planning to enter the global market needs to seek ways to pay back as well as benefit. Reputation is one of an organization's most important and valuable assets. Establishing, maintaining or repairing reputations requires public relations. Flexibility in organizational culture is often needed as the organization moves abroad. You should seek ways to preserve organizational or corporate identity in a manner that will be perceived favorably by new publics and stakeholders. Economic and business development, especially in non-Western countries and cultures, often results from public relations activities. Support Education For A More Global Pr Professional Nearly 600,000 international students, probably the cream of their nations' crops, are in the U.S. studying, according to the 2007 annual Open Doors report of the Institute for International Education (IIE). Three-fourths are here for science, engineering, technology and business programs. But for 20% who study liberal arts, humanities and social sciences, IIE reports "communication, journalism and related programs" among the most popular disciplines. The number of American students studying abroad has more than doubled in the past decade to about 225,000, IIE says; however, 52% are abroad for short-term programs concentrating on languages and culture. Although a number of initiatives are being considered to increase study abroad opportunities, fewer than 6% of U.S. students now spend a full academic year abroad. In other words, many future public relations practitioners, regardless of nationality, are likely to get most of their professional training in the U.S. That means our campuses must bring the world into our classrooms through resources like our cases if there are going to be sufficient numbers of young practitioners with the cultural sensitivities and skills necessary to meet the profession's global needs. But, as we acknowledge the need to internationalize the education and experience of students in the U.S., we also should concern ourselves with the preparation of our future young colleagues in the burgeoning number of public relations programs abroad. Many of these programs look to the U.S. model prescribed by the Commission on Public Relations Education and accredited by American professional bodies. But they rightly season their curricula to satisfy the unique needs and characteristics of their cultures. Practitioners can encourage the profession's globalization by supporting education as it builds a rich pool of internationally savvy students from which to hire. PRN CONTACTS: Linda H. Scanlan, retired associate professor and chair of the Department of Journalism at Norfolk (VA) State University, can be reached at linscan@cox.net. Dr. Judy VanSlyke Turk, co-editor and director of the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University, can be reached at jvturk@vcu.edu. The Institute can be reached at http://www.instituteforpr.org.

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