26 Sep 2016

Interview with Kara Alaimo about her new book "Pitch, Tweet, or Engage On The Street - How To Practice Public Relations And Strategic Communication"

I am happy to be back with another interview from the series – Global PR professionals. This time, I had the joy & honour to interview Kara Alaimo.
Kara Alaimo, Ph.D. is a global public relations consultant, trainer, and professor. A former communicator in the Obama administration and the United Nations, she now consults on global communication campaigns, designs customized employee training programs for companies on how to adapt messages and strategies for different global markets, and teaches public relations at Hofstra University. She is author of Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication and a member of the board of the World Communication Forum in Davos. For more information, visit www.karaalaimo.com and follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo.
I first met Kara in the Swiss Alps, during the World Communication Forum, a couple of years ago, when she first mentioned about the book she was writing. I was immediately very interested about it. International communication and global PR are two topics of major interest for myself so her book would be a great addition to the still incipient literature in the field.
Last year, during the World Communication Forum in Davos, I was flattered to conceive an interview with some appreciation about how PR is practiced in Brazil (my home-country) and, afterwards, to know that I would be quoted in her book. I am now overjoyed to be able to share with you, Kara’s interview, which is full of valuable insights on global & international PR, culture and a lot in-between.
1)     What has inspired you to write your new book?
Kara Alaimo:When I first started working at the United Nations, I would often ask my colleagues around the world whether they could meet my proposed deadlines for particular deliverables, and they would invariably say yes. Then, when the deadlines came and I did not receive what I had understood they agreed to send, I would be genuinely confused and upset. Finally, my boss had to explain that my colleagues in some of our national offices would consider it to be inappropriate to say no to me, and therefore they would always say yes to anything I asked, regardless of whether they had any intention of ever fulfilling my requests. If I wanted to actually obtain what I needed, I would need to find a different way of communicating with my team.
This is just one example of the many cultural differences we need to account for when working and communicating internationally. However, as a global public relations practitioner at the United Nations and in U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, I found that there wasn’t a resource that explained how to adapt public relations messages, strategies, and tactics for different countries and cultures. So I conducted interviews with senior practitioners from 31 countries to ask them about best communication practices in their markets.
My new book, “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication,” is currently the #1 bestseller on Amazon’s list of hot new releases in international business. If any of your readers would like to buy the book, they are welcome to use the promo code FLR40, which gets 20% off and free shipping at https://www.routledge.com/Pitch-Tweet-or-Engage-on-the-Street-How-to-Practice-Global-Public-Relations/Alaimo/p/book/9781138916050.
2)     To which audience is this book more suitable or directed to?
Kara Alaimo:This book is a resource for communication professionals who work in different countries and cultures as well as for students studying international communication and reputation management.
3)     Could you please tell us, in short words, what is the objective of your new book "Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street - How to practice Public Relations and Strategic Communication"? I understand the title and sub-title tell quite a lot, but could you please explain us what is the book about?
Kara Alaimo:The book is designed to teach communication professionals about the cultural differences they need to account for when implementing campaigns in different countries and cultures. The book breaks the world into 10 different cultural groups, as identified in the GLOBE study – a ten-year study of more than 17,000 managers in 62 societies conducted by 170 researchers – and explains the communication strategies, tactics, and messages that work best in each of them.
4)     After travelling the world and conducting face-to-face interviews and focus group with a numerous PR professionals from a variety of cultural backgrounds, would you say that there are specific types or ways of practicing PR that differ from region to region? Could it be divided in segments or dimensions?
Kara Alaimo:The 10 cultural clusters I write about in the book are Confucian Asia, South Asia, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, the Anglo Culture, Latin Europe, Germanic Europe, Nordic Europe, and Eastern Europe.
Communication and public relations practice differs dramatically between many of these cultural clusters. For example, in the United States, spokespeople are expected to remain calm and cool during media interviews. By contrast, in the Arab world, when talking about emotional subjects, spokespeople are expected to visibly display emotion – otherwise, they will not be trusted.
Also, unpaid and under-paid reporters expect to receive “brown envelopes” containing cash in exchange for media coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world. One way that practitioners get around paying journalists in places where reporters are truly not compensated by news organizations for their stories is by offering meals at events and press briefings.
5)     What has most surprised you during the course of your research and subsequent process of writing your book? I mean, which of your findings were most impressive to you?
Kara Alaimo:It surprised me greatly that the practitioners who I interviewed consistently told me that they regularly see major organizations try to implement communication campaigns without adapting to local cultures – such as by executing a campaign developed for the United States in Canada or thinking that they can develop a strategy in London that will work for all of Europe.
So I think this is still a mentality we need to change. The good news is that my book gives practitioners the knowledge to adapt their campaigns appropriately and effectively for different countries and cultures.
6)     Is there a global PR? Are there main variables that we can observe PR in an international context?
Kara Alaimo:In the book, I use the term global PR to refer to campaigns that are implemented in the same manner around the world without accounting for cultural differences. The cultural researchers Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov have noted that part of human nature – which we all inherit in our genes – is “the human ability to feel fear, anger, love, joy, sadness, and shame; the need to associate with others and to play and exercise oneself; and the facility to observe the environment and to talk about it with other humans.” Therefore, global messages can appeal to these common experiences. However, I think that most campaigns should include cultural adaptations.
7)     Is there a difference between International PR and Global PR?
Kara Alaimo:I refer to international PR to describe strategies that are developed at the local level in each individual market based upon knowledge of what works best in a particular culture. Proponents of this approach argue that different countries and cultures are so diverse that they require strategies that are specifically designed to respond to local opportunities and challenges. The benefit of adopting a strictly local approach is that you are completely unencumbered by concepts that do not make sense for your target audience. Because you focus single-mindedly on the country or culture at hand, you are more likely to arrive at an approach that will be effective in its target market.
However, the cost of starting from scratch in every new environment will often prove to be prohibitive for many organizations. Additionally, a major disadvantage to such an approach is that your client will lack a coherent global identity. Another significant downside to a strictly local approach is that an organization does not benefit from the range of creative ideas it can generate when its entire global public relations team comes together to brainstorm on a unified strategy.    
The opposite of a local, or international, approach to public relations is adopting a single global strategy. Practitioners who apply this approach believe that there are certain best practices and messages that are generally successful across countries and cultures.
8)     In your book, you have a chapter fully dedicated to culture, entitled ‘Culture is Key’. Could you please tell us why culture is key to Global Public Relations?
Kara Alaimo:Understanding the cultures in which you work is essential to the practice for two reasons. First, you need to understand the audiences you seek to reach and adapt your strategies, messages, and tactics accordingly. Second, you need to understand the expectations of the colleagues and partners with whom you work. David Livermore argues that your level of cultural intelligence – which he defines as your “capacity to function effectively across a variety of cultural contexts” – is more important in our modern globalized world than even your intellect and professional experience.
9)     I have written a blog-post on globalpublicrelations.blogspot.com a couple of years ago about a concept I have been reflecting upon for the current practice and teaching of PR, which is ‘Intercultural Public Relations’. I defend in my article that Intercultural PR should be considered as an important module in PR and Communications’ undergraduate and graduate degrees around the world. I also defend that International Communication cannot be executed with excellence without considering the weighty variable of culture. Have you heard about the term ‘Intercultural PR’ before? What are your thoughts about it?
Kara Alaimo:I think that all PR practitioners need to account for the culture in which they operate in order to be effective. One big cultural difference, for example, is between high and low context cultures.
In a low context culture – such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom – people say what they mean directly. By contrast, in a high context culture, messages are conveyed less directly and more subtly, and it is critical to pick up on cues which can include the circumstances of the situation, the relationship between the communicators, and the history of the subject being discussed.
This cultural difference can be the source of significant cross-cultural misunderstandings. For example, Beatriz Alegría Carrasco, a corporate communications consultant from Madrid, Spain, who I interviewed for my book, says that “in Spain, some people mistakenly think Americans are simple-minded because you need to explain everything to them. For example, Americans write that coffee may be hot on their coffee cups. For Spanish people, this is common sense, and [they] wonder, who doesn’t know that? Of course, in America, companies write these messages to avoid being sued. But in Spain, you would never sue a company for not telling you that coffee is hot, because everyone knows that.”
So people from high context societies are often confused or taken aback when low context communicators are so blunt. One of my former students, who is originally from Mexico but now works in the U.S., told me that she genuinely thought that her manager in the U.S. must consider her to be very dumb since her boss constantly explained things which were so obvious to her, until she learned about this cultural dimension in my class!
10) To conclude, could you please share a personal message, quote or belief you have about global PR?
Kara Alaimo:Patricia Curtin and T. Kenn Gaither wrote that “cultural constructs don’t affect public relations practice; they are the essence of public relations practice.”
Correctly understanding culture and adapting your messages and strategies accordingly isthe key to practicing international public relations successfully.
PR and Culture are indeed parts of the same coin. We, as PR practitioners and scholars, we have an urge to better understand the influence of cultural differences on the practice of PR. "Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street" will surely be a helping hand to this task. Thank you very much indeed for this eye-opening interview, dear Kara!
Keep an eye here for more interview with PR bright starts from around the world.
Follow me on Twitter @FlaviOliveiraBR
Originally published on my Linkedin Pulse - https://goo.gl/jQI2n0

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