How Do You Say “Public Relations” in French?

A recent conversation with a friendly stranger on Metro’s Red Line while commuting to work:

Stranger: “So what’s your stop?”

Me: “Farragut North. I work on L St.”

Stranger: “Oh, then you must either work at a bank or in PR.”

He was right. There is certainly demand for public relations in DC, particularly when it comes to creating and maintaining relationships between clients and consumers, companies and the government, or individuals and the public. But outside of the District’s bubble, PR may look and sound vastly different.

PR firms work to develop customized communications strategies to reach targeted groups, shape opinions, advance reputations, build and restore brands and attract and engage customers. However, many of the successful strategies employed domestically in the U.S. could potentially yield catastrophic results if not customized and adjusted to suit audiences abroad.

Take timing, for example. In the U.S., a premium is placed on being the first organization to make a statement on a specific piece of relevant breaking news. If your organization is one of the first out the gate to respond to a development, it is seen as “on the frontlines of industry issues.” However, in European countries, statements are made after longer deliberations. Delayed responses are therefore the norm in Europe, with more of an indirect tone, and less of a “call to action” than what is frequently seen in the U.S. What might be considered as insufficient communication by Americans is interpreted as a measured and appealing to the European public.

Tone is another important factor when delivering your message in different countries. While some cultures, such as the U.S., appreciate data, action items and an overall direct tone, other cultures prefer a lighter tone with more colorful language, and others still might be most receptive to a moral and pious tone. The wrong tone can be detrimental to your PR strategy’s goal, and can create lasting negative impressions on those to which you are trying to appeal.

The specific medium of communication is another important factor that can impact your message. In Europe and America, for instance, the most commonly used and effective communication channels are television, radio, internet and press. But in other countries, like some in Africa, these media may be less effective. Some countries with low rates of literacy and internet access would not respond to written press releases and emails. In these cases, alternatives such as having teachers, religious leaders and prominent members of society relaying messages would have the most impact.

While PR is a necessary and integrated part of most societies, it is always important to remember that cultural sensitivity and understanding is essential to get the most impact from any communication strategy.

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