25 Feb 2015

Guntram Kaiser, from Germany to the World - an Interview with a veteran in the field of International Public Relations

We are back with another great interview with bright PR professionals from around the world for this blog, “global public relations”, in-cooperation with the upcoming IV World Communication Forum – #WCFDavos, that will take place on 10-11 March 2015. 

Beautiful Berlin
This time we had the chance to talk with a very experienced international public relations professional which has been for decades helping organisations in Germany to interact abroad & foreign companies to develop relations in German territory and beyond.

I have the honour to introduce, Guntram Kaiser. Chief Executive Officer, "KaiserCommunication" GmbH.  The international PR agency KaiserCommunication GmbH is the official partner-agency of the World Communication Forum - #WCFDavos in Germany.

Guntram Kaiser with the Russian Ambassador in Germany
Guntram has more than 25 years of experience in international Public Relations and Strategy Consulting, Crisis Communication and Issue Management for his clients in Germany, Russia, Asia and other parts of the world.

In the 1990s, he was Managing Director at the international PR agency Weber Shandwick in Bonn and Berlin. Among his clients were HEWLETT Packard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Cyprus Republic, the German Federal Ministry of Economics, Siemens, the Industrial Development Board for Northern Ireland and many others.

In 2003, he founded his own communication agency, KaiserCommunication GmbH in Berlin. Kaiser Communication is the exclusive partner agency of the #WCFDavos in Germany.

Modern Berlin
Guntram is a member of the Russian Association of Public Relations (RASO). In 2014, he was a jury member of the Russian PR Award "Serebrjany Luchnik" in the category global communication. 

Guntram Kaiser is a guest lecturer in Public Relations, Intercultural Management and Business Management at the Business School of the Moscow's Lomonosov State University, The Moscow's State Linguistic University and, the Berlin based, EBC College. He is the author of a large number of articles about Public Relations in German and Russian books & magazines. Guntram is also Chairman of the Public Diplomacy Initiativkreis e.V.

Guntram Kaiser will be speaking on 10-11 March 2015 at the VI World Communication Forum in Davos, Switzerland. For the full agenda, please visit www.forumdavos.com.


   1.   From your large international public relations experience, how do you evaluate communications done in different parts of the world? In other words, do you see much difference between successful communication projects undertaken in Germany when comparing to other countries, such as Russia, for instance?

          Guntram: In my experience, more or less all professionals follow the RACE (Research, Analysis, Communication, Evaluation) model when establishing a public relations strategy. This means, they conduct proper research and determine their communication objective, their target audiences, their communication messages and so on. In addition, an evaluation of the results is usually taking place everywhere. I see differences in the implementation. Here, the tools, activities and measures carried out vary from country to country. This naturally reflects the different national or organizational cultures, the level of application of new technologies, the specifics of the media landscape and others.

  The Russians have managed to establish a highly professional public relations industry in less than 25 years and not only in the two biggest cities Moscow and St. Petersburg. They have excellent professionals and very good agencies. Their universities develop high level future professionals. Certainly, the industry is rather new in the country and is not as deeply rooted in the whole society as it is the case in the United States or the UK.

    2.   How do you define the term “International Public Relations"?

Guntram: As far as I know, there is no internationally accepted definition of the term. Organizers of PR awards often define it as a public relations campaign involving more than two countries. In the scientific discourse, you find the definition that it is communication beyond the borders of the home country of an organization. I can agree will all these definitions.

In my own company, we present ourselves as specialists in international public relations as we first and foremost help foreign organizations with their communication efforts in Germany. We also help German companies in their communication outside of Germany. We work in different expert groups specializing in the regions the majority of our clients come from. Our team for the Russian-speaking market consists of six staff members who speak Russian on native or close to native level.        

      3.   Do you believe in Global Communication that make use of a unified code for all the countries where an organization operates or in Cross-Cultural Communication that takes into account cultural differences and local traditions? Why?

Guntram: I believe that the use of a unified code is more or less impossible. You usually have to take the situation in the different countries and regions into consideration. By this, I mean the cultural differences such as values, norms, symbols, languages, core believes and religion, to mention only a few. The local traditions, the size of the country, the density of population, specifics of the consumer behavior and the media landscape are equally important.  

The situation is similar to international marketing. At the end of the day, organizations have to decide to which extent they can standardize their communication and to which extent they have to adjust it according to the concrete situation in the different countries. Most of the time the compromise or solution is standardized differentiation. 

Especially multinational organizations would certainly prefer a geocentric approach in their communication with a unified strategy all over the world. Therefore, one can often observe a change of the hired agency after a while. A few years a multinational organization works with an international PR agency or network until it realizes the deficits. Consequently, they change the strategy and hire local agencies, which also has its disadvantages. Hence, they return to the former approach of hiring an international network and the cycle starts again.

Freie Universität Berlin
 4.   In 2003 you have founded KaiserCommunication GmbH in Berlin. Could you please share with us the specialties of the agency and which were the most interesting international projects you have worked for so far?

     Guntram: 2003 was indeed not the best time to start an agency. After 9/11 in the United States, the number of assignments from the American market dropped alarmingly. As a result, all German Public Relations agencies, including the big networks, were focusing their acquisition efforts on Germany. That made it hard for a newcomer to find a niche.

Therefore, I decided to follow three essential positions: First, we stuck to the full service concept to which I was used to from my days at Weber Shandwick. Second, we did not limit ourselves to one or two industry sectors. Third, we positioned ourselves as a company that specializes in serving international clients and international projects.

Nowadays, the majority of our clients come from Asia and the Russian-speaking countries. Also, the German Federal Foreign Office is an important client. We prepare and implement familiarization programs and visits for international journalists and also bloggers for them.

Guntram Kaiser with the Malaysian Ambassador in Germany
I am very proud that the Malaysian Timber Council, the umbrella organization of the Malaysian timber industry, has been a client of mine for 20 years this year. For them, we are doing the whole range of public relations tools including media work, trade fair presences, publications, seminars and workshops, online activities and governmental relations. I believe that my team and I have done a great job over the years helping both sides. 

The Malaysians wanted to continue exporting their tropical timber products to Germany while many Germans called for a boycott of tropical timber. Now Malaysia is selling sustainably produced timber to Germany and Germans are still able to buy tropical timber. This bridge building aspect is part of my philosophy on what PR can and should do, especially when it comes to managing issues.  

Another rather interesting project and client is the international media project “Russia Beyond The Headlines” of the leading Russian newspaper Rossijskaya Gaseta which we represent in Germany. The idea is to publish printed newspaper supplements in leading international daily newspapers and online articles about Russia, offering insights beyond what the Western media is usually covering. 

Guntram Kaiser at the Frankfurt Bookfair
In Germany, we cooperate with Handelsblatt. Our function is to promote the project in Germany by establishing media partnerships, presenting the project at major exhibitions or trade fairs such as the International Tourism Exchange ITB in March every year in Berlin or the Frankfurt Book Fair in October every year. 

Frankfurt Skyline

In this project, I am interpreting my role more as somebody who brings both sides, the Germans and the Russians, together to advocate a dialogue. After all, currently both sides disagree on a number of issues and dialogue is badly needed.       

    5.   KaiserCommunication is the exclusive partner-agency of the World Communication Forum in Germany. Could you tell us for how long have you been involved with WCF and what are your observations regarding the Forum?

Guntram: This is the first year I am working with WCF. I was fascinated by the project from the first moment I heard about it from Yanina Dubeykovskaya. It matches my philosophy and approach 100 percent. 

It fits into my concept of working internationally with my agency and fully meets the positioning of my company. I am looking forward to meeting all the high-ranking international public relations specialists from almost all over the world in Davos in March.

     6.   Could you please talk about your role as Chairman at the Public Diplomacy Initiativkreis? What are the core mission and key objectives of such initiative?

Guntram: The members of our initiative and I are of the opinion that every citizen who has something to say, be it as part of an organization, as a journalist or even as a private person, can be seen as a representative of his or her country. We think it is important to engage in dialogue with each other and thus achieve something valuable together on whatever topic or issue. This is our understanding of good public diplomacy. The Public Diplomacy Initiativkreis is an independent initiative with the aim of fostering tolerance and international understanding on all cultural levels.

Berlin Reichstag
To achieve our aims, we organize intercultural projects and information tours for foreign journalists in cooperation with our partners from politics, science, media and business. In 2014, we organized among other events a roundtable discussion about the fall of the Berlin wall, which commemorated its 25th anniversary last year, for a group of communication directors of Scandinavian medium sized companies. Keynote speaker was a leading German journalist who attended the famous press conference at which the opening of the border was announced.

In April 2014, we were one of the first who organized a platform to discuss the situation in the Ukraine from the perspective of communication on the various sides. Special guest was Igor Mintusov, one of the top Russian Public Affairs specialists.  

Astonishing Moscow archictecture

   7.   You are guest lecturer in Public Relations, Intercultural Management and Business Management in Universities in Russia and Germany. What do you think is important to consider in Public Relations courses academic curriculums in the present times?

Guntram: The public relation courses I currently teach are normally part of bachelor programs for students in the field of international business management. My students are not specialized public relations students. They are more the general managers of tomorrow. I mainly explain to them the role of public relations as part of the communication mix. We practice the establishment of a proper public relations strategy, and we talk about how to carry out successful media work and the increasing role of social media.

Guntram Kaiser in one of his lectures in Moscow, Russia
The above are also basics for curriculums for public relations specialists. However, preparing good public relations specialists is a big challenge nowadays because of the many facets that play a role in this profession today. When I joined the PR business some 25 years ago, the main demands were to have a good general knowledge, be open-minded, be able to interact with the media and to have good writing and organizational skills. These days, you have to know the English language at nearly a native speaker level, you have to understand all the new technologies, not just social media and the internet, and be able to apply them. It is very difficult to squeeze all of this in an academic curriculum.

Moscow by night

   8.   What is Intercultural Management? Is it connected to crisis communication management?

Guntram: Intercultural Management is all about managing cultural differences properly. It has become a key factor in being successful in international business in light of globalization. There is an increasing demand for businesses to understand and manage the diversity in values, perceptions, views and behaviors.

Facilitating a successful and efficient communication between cultures is one of the elements of intercultural management. It is a precondition for less conflict in the interaction of personnel and customers across borders.
It is well-documented that statistically over three quarters of international acquisitions and alliances fail due to cultural differences. Many companies have made massive losses due to the mismanagement of international projects. The poor, inadequate or entirely missing communication in these cases has contributed to an even worse situation, bringing us to the link between intercultural management and crisis communication.  

    9.   How important are “Intercultural Awareness” or “Intercultural Communication” frameworks in the field of crisis communication?

Guntram: One can and should look at it from both perspectives. On the one hand, wrong communication and missing intercultural awareness can cause or deepen a crisis. A couple of years ago, Nokia closed down a production site in Germany, leaving approximately 2000 people without a job, and moved operations to Romania where the costs were lower. 

After a long period of complete silence, Nokia explained its decision strictly based on financial arguments, not showing any empathy to those who lost their jobs. This caused immense protest from the powerful German trade unions but also federal, state and local politicians. The solidarity of the entire German population with the former Nokia workers was huge. The damage to Nokia’s image was immense.

On the other hand, communication in a crisis has to consider different cultures. A very prominent example is the catastrophe in the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011. In Germany, the disaster has led to the decision to shut down all nuclear power plants by the year 2022 and the Green Party saw an immense surge in popularity. In other countries, the reaction was less emotional and less influential on the public’s perception of nuclear power.    

     10.    Have you ever heard about the term “Intercultural Crisis Communication”? Does it make sense in the current times? Why?
 Guntram: It is an emerging field, which has received increased attention over the last years, especially after the Fukushima catastrophe. In fact, there was a huge difference between the Japanese authorities’ perception of their crisis communication and the global media’s perceptions on the Japanese authorities’ crisis communication. This has a lot to do with cultural differences.

We have many situations nowadays that representatives of different cultures perceive differently. It requires cultural awareness, sensitivity and goodwill to handle these differences properly if one wants to avoid a crisis or contribute to a proper handling of a crisis. To me, it makes a lot of sense to pay more attention to intercultural crisis communication. The most attractive aspect lies in the potential to avoid crisis situations.  

Keep an eye here for future interviews with C-level PR executives from around the globe.

Join us in Davos on 10-11 March 2015 for the VI World Communication Forum - #WCFDavos - www.forumdavos.com.

Follow me on Twitter @FlaviOliveira BR

~ and keep on smiling :-)

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