Thursday, 4 February 2010

Understanding cultures towards Global PR

“The body language of Russians and Americans are different. Russians stand closer than Americans. They look directly and unwaveringly into your eyes. Russians are long winded. Americans are short and to the point. Russians think that giving a short answer is impolite, as if they had not given the matter enough consideration. Americans think a long answer is impolite, as if they are boring the other person and wasting their time.Lynn Vission - Wedded Strangers

Justify Full
The overall debate about whether good PR is always context and culture specific, makes me put my own country into context with a huge ethnic diversity, 42 ethnic groups, all with their own different cultures. Literally. This poses a special challenge when one has to operate across the ethnic boundaries and when you work for government, that's a hurdle you have to tackle. Language barrier stands strong because while Swahili is the national language, English is the official language therefore any communication has to be in these two languages. Tricky when a third of the population understands neither and translators are necessary...

And having just found out that the Kenyan Society is a feminine, collectivist, high-power-distance society (Hofstede, 2005), it is evident why we hold people in authority with high regard. Bosses are bosses, and bypassing a superior is insubordination!

Impact of cultural differences
PR professionals must deal with multiple ethnic groups with different cultures. You are likely to work with Chinese, English, Japanese and all sorts of other nationalities with a variety of cultures including how they look at things; how they dress and; how they express personality. These differences can actually cause problems intepreting what the other person means.

You can imagine how difficult interaction between high context and low context people is; the British can feel that Kenyans insult their intelligence by explaining the obvious, while Kenyans can feel that British managers provide no direction. This would be the same scenario when dealing with different countries on a global level.

So is the idea of Global PR an anathema?
Most MNEs and NGO would understand the complication cultural barriers may present. Am not shying away from the fact that Global PR is possibly practical, that is, as long as it takes cultural values into consideration. The world is a 'global village' thanks to the uprise in technology especially the internet. We are able to penetrate areas that would have otherwise been beyond our reach. That is why we are now aware of the Japanese Bow and what it means in terms of levels of apology.

Using people with a knowledge of a specific culture is a good practice but it is important to go ahead and learn different cultures to make communication easier and more efficient. Sriramesh and Vercic indicate that culture is yet to be intergrated into PR despite its importance to human communication and relationship building. We still have some work to do.

Hofstede, G. and Hofstede G.J.,(2005), Cultures and Organizations: software of the mind, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Sriramesh, K., Vercic, D. (2009), The global public relations handbook: theory, research and practice, [online], London: Routledge. Available from Dawsonera [Accessed 4 February 2010]

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