Magazine article Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing

Avoiding Babel: Creating Cross-Border PR Campaigns

Magazine article Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing

Avoiding Babel: Creating Cross-Border PR Campaigns

Article excerpt

How to create cross-border PR campaigns without incurring the fate of the builders of the infamous biblical Tower of Babel--and scattering your carefully crafted messages to the four winds.

Recently, the United Nations conducted a worldwide survey. The survey only asked one question: "Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage problem in some parts of the world?"

The survey was a complete failure. Incredibly, this simple question had no clear answers. Subsequent analysis showed that in Africa there was disagreement over what "food" meant; in Eastern Europe they didn't know what "honest" meant; in Western Europe they weren't sure what "shortage" meant; in China they didn't know what "opinion" meant; in the Middle East they couldn't agree on what "solution" meant; in South America they didn't know what "please" meant; and in the United States they didn't know what "the rest of the world" meant.

I trust you will indulge me in this fictional exercise if for no other reason than based on your own experiences exporting marketing messages to remote places. I'll think you'll agree that it illustrates precisely why professionals need to approach cross-border PR and communications campaigns not only with caution but with the utmost careful planning.


My own specific focus of attention for any cross-border campaign centers on research and developing a firm grasp of the cultures in play. George Bernard Shaw's epithet that England and the United States are "two countries separated by a common language" precisely illustrates the issues at hand.

When planning such campaigns, do not be lulled into a false sense that everyone speaks English there or all good journalists work in English. While this may be the case, trying to present a series of sometimes complex messages about the activities of international legal and professional services firms can readily fail when delivered in ways that inappropriately underplay or, worse, ignore the nuances of language. We are familiar with those infamous advertising campaigns where a global company introduces a new product in a market without careful research only to see an expensive brand launch collapse in the face of offensive or incongruous use of the local language.

This is compounded still by the approach different countries take with regard to the use and receipt of information. The English approach to the spoken word is described as explicit, so messages typically are conveyed through words that have concreteness, often backed up by briefing papers or media backgrounders designed to eliminate ambiguity and formulate context. However, in all cultures, communications occurs across the X-axis of what is denoted and the Y-axis of what more subtly is connoted. In many cultures, spoken communication is implicit and listeners interpret what they hear based on factors other than just the words themselves. In these cultures, the person speaking, the context and the non-verbal clues are as important as the spoken words.

Equally at issue are cross-cultural differences in humor, metaphors, aphorisms and anecdotes as well as references to politics, religion, the government's position and other social issues--all of which need to be considered when drafting written or spoken communications. One principal cause of news stories failing to gain traction in different jurisdictions comes about as a result of press releases that do not take into account journalist traditions, writing styles, newsworthiness and delivery systems. …

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