29 May 2014

IPR - Public Relations for today's multicultural global village (Intercultural Communication, PR, Culture)

I have firstly identified this urge for a new sub-area of Communication studies in 2013, when I was writing my dissertation, as part of the MA in International Communications - MIC (Geert Hofstede Consortium), entitled "Cross-cultural media relations: an investigation about the relevance of intercultural communication factors in the practice of media relations across different cultures - a case study of the World Communication Forum 2012".

The referred study resulted in a framework - or planning template - for media relations management in a global level. During that time, where I dove deep into Intercultural Communication (IC) theories it became evident how crucial cross-cultural knowledge is to undertake any public relations (PR) efforts within the globalised world we are currently living in.

The long research process I went through in the course of my MA programme got me closely involved with cultural studies and its rich contribution to the function of international public relations. It is relevant to remark that Intercultural Communication studies date back to the 1950's - more precisely to Edward T. Hall (1914-2009), who is considered to be the father of IC. Hall conducted ample research on cultural continua while working at the US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and US Department of State.

Some of the numerous contributions of Hall are the classification of countries per communication style - low-context or high-context communication, which is an important tool to craft messages with a higher chance of being correctly absorved by receptors; in-awareness and out-of-awereness concepts where he introduced the idea of what is explict, known and observable in a culture from its opposite, the implicit, unknown and hidden - even to the member of that respective culture.

Hall explains that most of a culture remains unknown even to its members, the popular quote "a fish would hardly perceive the water around it" seems to be a coherent analogy. We, human beings, do not perceive it entirely but culture is embedded in ourselves and permeates all aspects of life. Therefore, direct influencing our communication behaviours.

Between 1967-1973, Geert Hofstede, a must-know Dutch thinker, did probably the largest cultural study ever when working at IBM. His initial research reached dozens of thousands of people in 40 countries and definied culture under dimensions, allowing a much easier and didactic perception of cultural aspects of countries and how them possess a direct influence over communications' behaviours.

Hofstede continued his research extending to many more countries. More recently, in collaboration with Michael Minkov and with data retrieved from the World Values Survey, the research has been extended to 93 nations studied and classfied under six cultural dimensions - Power Distance Index (PDI), Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV), Masculinity versus Feminity (MAS), Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), Pragmatic versus Normative (PRA) and Indulgence versus Restraint (IND).

I often quote Smith to highlight the universal reality that culture permeates all aspects of human life and our communication patterns & behaviours are deeply affected by it. As largely explained in Hofstede's works, one have its mind software - or mind programming - recorded during the early years of the childhood. This learning process will exert influence over communication behaviours throughout one's life.

Therefore, it becomes quite evident that any public relations professional intending to execute international communication strategies should imperatively take into account the variable of culture - which under my viewpoint has been largely set aside by a major part of PR practitioners as well by scholars. 

There is an urge to create a new are of combined studies which should be named "InterCultural Public Relations". Indeed, I am not sure how this could be integrated into academia - perhaps on new module for PR and Communications courses - and as a matter of great concern within the practitioners' world.

The co-relation between International Public Relations (IPR) and Intercultural Communication (IC) is not that new but was limited explored in the early 2000's, mostly by American scholars. However, the term Intercultural Public Relations (ICPR) has not been largely used neither by scholars nor by practitioners.

Since early 2000's scholars have been pointing out to the importance for IPR to make use of IC theories and frameworks. Zaharna (2000) and Ihator (2000) make clear affirmations about how cultural continua could help in the practice of public relations across national borders - which is the current reality in a significant part of the industry.

In this scope, Zaharna proposes an in-awareness approach to international public relations where hidden cultural assumptions and expectations would be exposed and taken out of its state of out-of-awareness - where most of one's culture lies hidden, unknown, even to the members of that culture. Zaharna presents a three-tiered framework based on a country profile, cultural profile, and last but definitely not least, a communication profile. By examining those profiles, specially the communication one, it is easy to perceive the effect culture has over communication patterns and behaviours.

In order to have a broad view of the relevance of creating such new area of PR studies where culture will play a key role, I believe it is essential to hear opinions from PR professionals from different parts of the world, consequently, holding very different cultural backgrounds themselves. 

Here are the first thoughts collected from recognised PR professionals from three different continents - Asia, Europe and South America.

Paul Holmes, CEO & Founder of "The Holmes Report" and "SABRE Awards", a worldwide recognised PR guru. Paul was the first I had the chance to interview during the 5th World Communication Forum in March 2014, Davos - Switzerland. 

Below you can watch an eye-opening interview with Paul Holmes, where he shares his views on PR, Globalisation & Culture - realised on March 12, 2014, at the 5th World Communication Forum, Davos/Switzerland.


Yogesh Joshi has nearly 25 years experience in PR & Communications, he is responsible for Corporate Affairs & Communication at Tata Steel (Mumbai) and is a nationwide PR celebrity in India, having been elected four times consecutively President of ABCI - Association of Business Communications of India - a record never set before. 
Yogesh's Bio: http://www.forumdavos.com/people/95/Yogesh+Joshi

Yogesh Joshi and Flavio Oliveira at the WCFDavos 2014, Switzerland
Yogesh is also a good friend who I have the pleasure of meeting each year in the Swiss Alps, during the series of events held by the World Communication Forum - #WCFDavos.

Yogesh was the second bright mind I had the chance to discuss the idea of InterCultural Public Relations. During an enlightining 40-minute tête-à-tête conversation in one of the WCF's breaks in March/2014, he shared his views on communication & culture.

During our conversation, when asked about the importance of knowing a country's culture before undertaking communication efforts within that nation, Yogesh mentioned an interesting case: "About 60-70 years back when Colgate came down to India market, they had always used foreign faces in their advertisements, in premium media ads, but still had a very little share of market. 

At that point in time, India had just got free from the British ruling, a number of British officials were still living in the country before finally giving full control back to India. That said, India people felt that Colgate was a foreign brand made for those foreign British still living in India and not for Indian peope. 

Then, Colgate realised something was wrong and conducted researches to find out what was doing wrong. The company realised they had to "Indianise" themselves by starting to use only Indian faces in their advertisements and incorporate Indian culture. After 5-6 years, Colgate was number 1 in the country and continue to be so until the present time. Today's new generation does not know Colgate is not an Indian company."

Ariane Feijó is a bright Brazilian PR professional based in Portugal since 2010. She leads a PR consultancy in Lisbon called "As Pequenas Grandes Idéias" (translated from Portuguese, it means "The Little Big Ideas") which has a very interesting work of public relations for Arts, she is also co-founder of Todo Mundo Precisa de um RP - TMPRP, a collective aiming to improve, develop & boost the PR activity in Brazil. Ariane has developed PR strategies for local and multinational companies in Brazil, USA, Europe and India.

The following ideas are the compilation of discussions undertaken through emails' exchange throughout April and May 2014. 

"Culture is the basis of communication and, in my opinion, it's also the eternal challenge to communication. If when we hold the same cultural background, communication may fail, then when we dealing with other cultures communication may become even more unlikely. And about this improbability, I recall Niklas Luhmann, who says our evolution as human beings is to make communication more probable/likely. If I interact with a chinese, the result of this interaction is not determined by myself, but by the form I'm seen by the chinese and absorbed by this person's cognitive structure - and this result is hardly accessed by myself. 

Luhmann defined three points which makes human communication unlikely:
1) it's unlikely that someone fully understands all the details of what we mean when communicate; 2) it's unlikely to access other receptors of the communication than those directly involved in the process; 3) even when communication is accepted/understood, it is unlikely to obtain the desired outcome from it - i.e. the receptor, for example, adopts the information brought by the interaction as a premise to his/ her own behavior."

Do you think it is possible to think International Public Relations without the knowledge and frameworks provided by Intercultural Communication? How/Why?

"It is quite the same as with oral communication. For instance, when we are in a foreign country where we do not speak the local language, we will communicate anyways because language (oral language, body language, etc) is above grammar. In this sense, PR or Communication are above all theories, in a good or bad sense, they will happen anyway. However, new frameworks bring new possibilities of thinking and doing public relations & communications. This is certainly the contribution Intercultural Communication will bring into the game. But more than rules or processes, I see it as a behavioral transformation. More than schemes or norms, it is a matter of human understanding and openness to others. This will be the real challenge of your process, not defining or setting up the framework." (Ariane Feijó, 2014) 


Until the present moment all the people I have spoken with have agreed that culture is a very important variable in the communication equation and it has played a key role for many corporations exploring business across national borders. 

As we are living in a truly global village, it is evident that the need to understand cultural differences will become a paramount for public relations. Therefore, "InterCultural Public Relations", should be explored initially as new module/discipline in the communication courses and as a valid practice among the practitioners' world.

This article is under construction as I am still gathering more opinions from PR professionals from around the globe and more information may be added or edited. This research will help form a concise base of knowledge to defend the urge to create a new are within the public relations domain to study specifically the needs and potentials of "InterCultural Public Relations".

Thank you very much indeed Paul Holmes, Yogesh Joshi, Ariane Feijó and all the people that have been contributing and enriching this discussion. I really appreciate the willingness to share such valuable views on this hot topic that is rapidly gaining more importance. 

I hope that you - yes, YOU! - that are reading this article will reflect about what has been said and please do not hesitate in contacting me to share your ideas on InterCultural Public Relations through my FB page or my Twitter account - @FlaviOliveiraBR.

Let's keep this discussion going & growing!



*** References ***

Books, articles and special materials

1) Hall, E. T. (1966) Hidden dimension. New York: Anchor.

2) Hall, E. T. (1976) Beyond culture. New York: Anchor.

3) Hofstede, G. (2001) Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations, 2nd ed., Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc.

4) Hofstede, G. (2013) ‘Geert Hofstede Centre’, available online at <http://geert-hofstede.com/>, retrieved on January 15, 2013.

4) Hofstede, G. et al. (2010) Cultures and organizations – software of the mind: intercultural cooperation and its importance for survival. New York: McGraw Hill.

5) Kent, M., Taylor, M. (2010). How Intercultural Communication Theory Informs Public Relations Practice in Global Settings in Weaver, C. R., Bardhan, N. Public Relations in Global Cultural Contexts: multi-paradigmatic perspectives. Available at http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/K/Michael.L.Kent-1/PDFs/Kent_Taylor_Intercultural_Theory.PDF. Last access on May 29, 2014.

6) Luhmann, N. (1992) "What is communication?", Communication Theory, Vol. 2, Issue 3, pp. 251-259, August.

7) Smith, A. (1966) Communication and culture. New York: Holt, Rinehardt and Winston.

8) Tindall, N. T. (2012). The effective, multicultural practice of public relations. Retrieved on May 3, 2014. Available at: https://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/Tactics/Articles/view/9590/1044/The_effective_multicultural_practice_of_public_rel#.U2U-vPmSxqU

9) Zaharna, R. S. (2000) ‘Intercultural communication and international public relations: exploring parallels’. Communication Quarterly, 48(1): 85-100.

10) Zaharna, R. S. (2000b) ‘Intercultural Communication and International Public Relations: An Integrated Literature Review and Critique’, available online at: <http://academic2.american.edu/~zaharna/intercompr.htm>, retrieved on February 10, 2013.

11) Zaharna, R. S. (2001) ‘In-awareness approach to international public relations’. Public Relations Review, 27(1): 135-148.

12) Zaharna, R. S. (2009) 'An associative approach to intercultural communication competence in the Arab World', available online at: <http://www.american.edu/soc/faculty/upload/Zaharna-intercultural-communication-competence.pdf>, retrieved on February 1, 2013.

Other materials/websites consulted
13) Global Communications & International Media - Special Report: http://www.odwyerpr.com/magazine/odwyers-magazine-june-2013.pdf

14) Multicultural PR Centre - PR Newswire: http://www.prnewswire.com/knowledge-center/multicultural-pr/

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~ and keep on smiling :-)

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