Whether working in academia, a nonprofit, or a media organization, I held the duty of handling a panoply public relations activities with international professionals from all walks of life. Navigating through different personalities, languages, and even time zones made my work challenging, but also compelling and interesting. What follows are my thoughts insofar as how PR and media professionals can step up their game in the global workspace.
Recognizing the Varieties of English
Although I was born and raised in the United States, I was always aware of the palpable semantic differences between British English, Canadian English, Australian English, Indian English, and US English. However, I had not contemplated the sheer diversity in the forms of expression that English provides until I began working for Ancient History Encyclopedia. I remember distinctly discussing the difficulties of moving with a colleague in Delhi, and he mentioned that he was contemplating a “shift” to Mumbai in order to be closer to his home office. I stared at him blankly for about five seconds before I realized what he meant by “shift.” Colloquial expressions, puns, and even contractions in US English do not necessarily translate well into, say, British English or South African English. The inverse is, invariably, true as well. All varieties of English have distinctive lexical items that must be considered by PR professionals. What may work in a press release in Australia will not work in Ireland or Nigeria. This is why I encourage my clients to try to understand and take into consideration the linguistic nuances of the business partners or clients.
Considerations of Time
The standard American 9AM to 5PM and Monday to Friday work week is by no means universal. In Europe, it seems like all of France and Italy are on holiday in the month of August. Business dinners in Buenos Aires or Madrid are commonly scheduled around 12:30 AM. Punctuality is valued in Nigeria, but sticking to schedules is less important and less common than one might initially believe. Across the Islamic world, the work week runs from Sunday to Thursday as Friday and Saturday are the weekend. (Friday is a day of worship and akin to Sunday in the Western world.) The work week is also different in Israel, which runs from Sunday to Thursday, but many Israelis work on Friday mornings as well. When visiting Singapore and Hong Kong, I was surprised to discover how many businesses were open for half days on Saturday. That pattern is also seen in parts of Latin America, like Mexico and Colombia. Malaysia may be the most unusual of all my examples — part of the country uses a Sunday to Thursday work week, while the other runs on a Monday to Friday work week. All this impacts the scheduling of PR activities. This is why I use a planning calendar to factor in holidays, vacation time, and the scheduling needs of my clients. It was only through my calendar that I never missed a meeting with my former assistant who was based in Sydney, Australia. The difference in time zones between ourselves was 15 hours!
When on international business trips, I make a concerted effort to expand and nurture my professional network. This is something I do by reaching out to my network on LinkedIn and Twitter prior to my departure. Once I hear back those I have contacted, I schedule breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and cocktail hours. I also take note of and make a list of specific events of interest in my destination. (I even reach out to those who I know may be in attendance at those events.) When in a new locale, I try to divide my social schedule between older, well-established connections and potential new contacts. All relationships require time and effort, but I see far too often that many forget old friends in the pursuit of new connections. It’s worth remembering that new introductions and social opportunities may often come through old friends and colleagues.
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