Last week I attended the Global Alliance’s 2016 World Public Relations Forum in Toronto on behalf of my master’s program at Syracuse University. Over the span of three days, I took the opportunity to learn about different perspectives on the practice and attitudes of PR professionals around the world by attending keynote sessions and workshops.
Here are some of the most interesting insights I took away from the conference:
- Canadians and Americans are kind of the same – One of the most useful tools I learned about is Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions through Janet Morgan’s keynote on “The Cultural Gap – Communications from the Centre.” Part of her presentation showed this graph comparing the United States with English-speaking Canada. Ultimately, while there are slight differences, they’re not steep enough for PR professionals to have to implement vastly different campaigns for both countries.
- PR needs more balls – In a session about the recently released 2016 Global Communications Report from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations and The Holmes Report, director and Golin CEO Fred Cook compared the PR profession to a game at the pool table. Cook summarized the report’s findings by saying, “the more experiences you have, the more options you have, and the more balls you have.” By having more experiences, PR professionals can expose themselves greater opportunities to be successful in advancing their careers.
- Specialization isn’t such a bad thing – Another interesting point raised at the same session involved the concept of Golin’s four communities of specialists: explorers, creators, connectors and catalysts. Admittedly, I’ve always thought that it was best to achieve career success in PR by being a generalist – someone who can be good at a little of everything. However, what I learned from Cook and the session is that large multinational firms are setup in a way that is more conducive to specialists. Maybe then, it’s best to be a master of one trade than a jack of all trades.
- Don’t always have an “ask” – A topic of discussion for PR professionals from all nations is how to communicate with its indigenous population, or natives. While the panel session provided numerous strategies, one that stood out to me was the strategy of simply getting to know your nation’s indigenous population without having an agenda. This strategy can be applicable to any publics you’re looking to build relationships with, as it emphasizes having trust in one another.
- Unique challenges and opportunities exist in African nations – Two different sessions on PR in Africa focused on career trends and the importance of traditional media methods. While the study on career trends found that professionals on the continent are dealing with decreasing pay and budget constraints, opportunities exists for those who demonstrate the skills and competencies needed to be successful. At the same time, while new media is emerging among African nations, PR professionals should not abandon common traditional methods for reaching publics, such as town criers, local markets, folktales and proverbs among others.
Overall, what I learned at the WPRF was that while the concept of PR is nearly the same around the world, professionals must take time to carefully listen and learn different aspects of the cultures they’re trying to reach. No two cultures are completely alike, and those who can communicate across cultures will improve their chances of being successful on a global scale.