While speaking as a presenter last month at the summer school of the UNESCO chair in ICT to develop and promote sustainable tourism in World Heritage Sites via Università della Svizzera italiana, I received several questions about connecting with audiences in Latin America. Latin America — despite its deep cultural and economic ties to Europe and North America — presents many obstacles to media and PR professionals. When working with PR colleagues or media partners in Latin America, the following facts should be taken into consideration.
El poder de las conexiones personales.
Personal connections are tantamount in Latin America. Personal relationships in the business sphere are far more important in Latin America than they are in Europe or the United States. This holds true whether you want to conduct an interview in Mexico City, launch a new product in Bogatá, or schedule a media preview in São Paulo. Personal influence, based on a person’s position and power within a social network, must be demonstrated and explained at length. In order to conduct business and make meaningful connections in the region, you have to invest time and energy into socializing with people before any business deals or pitches can be even considered. So schedule those coffee dates, plan on cocktails by the beach, and enjoy those late-night dinners. Delineate your knowledge and showcase your expertise through shared conversation, while conveying interest in and comprehension of a targeted, localized demographic.
La solución única para todos no funcionará.
Latin America is composed of over 20 countries and contains a population of 648 million people with distinct ethnic groups and ancestries. I used to tell my students in my teaching days that Latin America is where Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas collided. The cultural histories, varieties of spoken languages (European and indigenous), economies, and media landscapes vary considerably from one country to another. There are also tremendous demographic divergences between the urban-rural divide in many Latin American countries; a similar paradigm often exists between individual cities within any given nation as well. A PR project designed for audiences in Buenos Aires isn’t going to work well in Monterrey; furthermore, media preferences and practices will differ significantly between Costa Rica and Paraguay. The “one size model” doesn’t work well in Latin America. The cultural nuances and media habits in region take time to learn and can be tricky to understand. I thus suggest that PR and media professionals undertake preliminary media and marketing research through the lens of localization in order to learn more about the social mores and the media markets in their country or region of interest.
O Brasil é seu próprio país e mudo.
Following my previous point, it must be stated that Brazil is something of an “exception” and not like the rest of Latin America. The immense differences between Brazil and other Latin American nations, by virtue of Brazil’s history, diversity (cultural and ecological), and global influence, merit further discussion and consideration. Discovered by the Portuguese in 1500 CE, Brazil is today a multicultural blend of 211 million people who speak Portuguese, not Spanish. Brazil is larger than the continental United States, and one in every three Latin Americans is Brazilian. A country dotted by soccer stadiums, rain forests, carnival extravaganzas, and beautiful colonial churches, Brazil is most influential country in Latin America and counts as the world’s biggest democracies. Brazil’s economy is the largest economy in Latin America and despite Brazil’s recent economic troubles, the country remains the eighth largest economy in the world. If there’s one thing to remember about multicultural Brazil, know that the country is almost a region in and of itself. It’s emerging and diversifying in its own right too.
¡El tiempo es flexible en América Latina!
People in Latin America have a very different conception of time than their counterparts in Europe, the United States, and East Asia. If I could choose one word to best describe it, it is “relaxed.” Don’t expect Swiss or German-style punctuality in Santiago de Chile, Rio de Janeiro, or Lima. (This analog holds true for the countryside as well.) If a Mexican media professional offers to meet you for dinner at 8:00 PM this means that they will meet you at some point after 8:30 PM provided they don’t run into a friend or relative first! It’s typical for more formal business meetings to start later than planned or scheduled too. Being “late” in a Latin American context doesn’t signal a lack of interest or personal disrespect whatsoever. When I’m handling business in Latin America, I add an hour to a scheduled meeting times. This simple rule has saved me multiple hassles and countless misunderstandings! When working with project or submission deadlines, I actually schedule them ahead of when they should be delivered to provide a “buffer” to my Latin American colleagues. ¡Vive las diferencias!
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