Public Relations (PR) according the the PRSA (public relations society of America) is defined as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
This is an American definition. And quite frankly doesn’t seem to be accurate or broad enough. We’ve all seen enough public relations efforts that are designed to destroy competition, defend white collar criminals, “spin” stories about bankrupt banks, deny accountability or blame another firm when a given firm has a problem. This doesn’t sound “mutually beneficial” at all.
Many times PR is confused with “getting ink in the newspapers.” But real public relations is about a strategy and should build a system of dealing with news, information, company growth and mishaps as they occur. PR is often divided into various areas of subject matter expertise: environmental PR, legal PR, manufacturing PR, consumer products, etc. This is in additional to functional areas of PR; promotional, corporate defense, investor relations, customer relations, government relations, executive communication and so on.
With all of these variations, can we possibly understand how to use PR more effectively in international markets?
Obviously, there needs to be a PR strategy coordinated with the business strategy.
A common acronym used to describe the PR process is RACE. (Research, Action, Communication, Evaluation).
Research- understand your situation and problems, try to get to the truth. This sounds easier than it is, however. And internationally, most countries are not as transparent as the USA. Many executives and governments don’t face the press as often as we do in the USA. In Asia, there are many efforts used to “save face.” When a firm has a problem, It may seem like a great time to integrate a heavy American PR style to solve it. But executives and country managers may not be able or willing to disclose their real problems. Research therefore will take more time than in the USA and greater finesse.
Action – use the research findings to determine the best course of action, plan the best response and then implement these plans. Internationally it is important to remember the differing sense of time overseas and that Americans are more short term oriented. In the USA we pride ourselves with “men of action” and write “action plans” and feel that inaction is often admission of guilt. This is not necessarily so overseas. A great example of this is watching the turmoil and potential unraveling of the Euro and The European Common Market. Many of the difficulties being brought to light today are based on conflicts that are decades old, with base struggles that go back centuries. The discussions of how to reward “donor” nations and what to collect from “recipient” nations were often postponed. It is only now, in the wake of bankruptcy and government default that these events are being dealt with publicly.
Communication – is what you say and what media or communication avenues you wish to use. In our example of the Euro, there is common belief that the world is hearing too little from European governments and central banks. Communication seems to have been left to tabloids, radio, websites and TV channels. While Americans may see this as “under communication” and therefore implicitly dishonest, the European governing agencies feel that measured controlled responses appeal more to their publics.
Several columns and books can be written about how each country values communication and what the best messages should say and how often those messages should be sent. We can philosophize forever. Does social media work? Are government publications more credible that private sector periodicals? Is TV too flashy? There are no absolutes for any type of communication that will blanket every nation. Suffice it to say that much of those decisions should be made locally, in country, by professionals.
Picture a large US based company communicating with its own worldwide offices. (call it private relations)? If this firm’s directors want to know what is going on in their various country offices, they will have to use more of a questionnaire to advise country managers what internal PR needs to be transmitted. Executives communicating incorrectly to employees and other stakeholders can have disastrous consequences, so a firm will want to seek advice from overseas offices on this.
E – Evaluation – this analyzes what’s been done during the first three steps and measures how it affects audience and the audiences’ perception of your organization. One might underplay this step and throw a metrics style spreadsheet at it and get data such as how many people read the article, how many clicked the websites, or how many “likes” did we get on our Facebook page? But this can be misleading. Remember that people share their opinions differently overseas, are much more concerned with what they say and do with media and don’t always cherish the USA’s bluntness.
Once this step is completed, you return to the research step and begin the process again for the next piece of news.