Communicating across borders: PR do's and don'ts

Communicating across borders: PR do's and don'ts

I was recently inspired by Micah Warren’s Muck Rack post “These aren’t PR Tips.”  

After all, how many times have you walked in to a PR conference or read a clickbait article that suggests clever ideas for making your PR life easier? 

What surprises me the most about these articles and tips is that I almost never hear about the type of clients or geographies and emerging market economies that agencies and communicators often have to tackle. 

A report from McKinsey & Co. is especially telling in this regard—by 2025, almost half of world’s biggest companies will be based in emerging markets.

This means that the magnitude of local instances such as domestic elections, a public health crisis, any natural disaster, or financial crisis can impact businesses and thereby, communication plans infinitely.

So why is communication across borders being left out of PR chatter? What happens when crisis breaks out in a country while you were sleeping?

In my daily PR role, I work at a bilateral trade organization that has presence across two diverse countries— the United States and India. Our reputation transgresses borders. Both countries have a robust media landscape and navigating each market is can be complex, and at times, frustrating.

Here are five tips on remaining nimble-footed in a fast-changing world when communicating across borders.

1. Take time to learn the media landscape

This may almost seem like a no-brainer, but it surprises me that most communication pros do not know the big players in the media landscape of the countries where they work.

This requires a lot of careful research, but completely worth the effort. And this is something you shouldn’t only rely on your PR firm for. The universe of journalists, opinion-makers and publications that you build for yourself will only be as strong as your initial research.

I have taken time to know the international bureaus and editors who report from the country. I also track the in-country reporters who cover issues of relevance to my organization. It is an ongoing process and honestly, there is no magic list out there. I also work on adding a few reporter contacts to our press list everyday either through Twitter, LinkedIn or just good old email. The possibilities are endless. 

This research goes a long way in keeping up with the news cycle. After all, what is news in the U.S. may not be getting the same coverage in India. For instance, on the day of the U.S. elections, the news cycle in India focused heavily on the fact that India had devalued it most-used currency. How’s that for a PR nightmare?

2. Build your media universe

Press styles across countries are as diverse as the people themselves. But one common factor that sticks is the 24 hour news cycle.

If your chief spokesperson is traveling to other countries, make sure that they meet the press. Even if there isn’t much going on in the news cycle, a meet and greet where the spokesperson can brief the press is always a good engagement tactic. Not everything will result in an interview or a profile, but think long-term and about building the media universe for your organization.

3. Engage the press

One of my favorite bosses always said, “Be camera ready!” I love this phrase and work with it in different ways— particularly by keeping a tab on the big-picture news item and being prepared for questions from the press.

When you operate across time zones, time is of essence in issuing statements or press releases.

For instance, if I know that a major piece of legislation will be passed by the government, I prepare a statement in advance. This statement may not be issued but might just provide an initial outline.

4. Write for the press

Give the press a monthly brief or a big-picture blog on what your organization has been working on. Sometimes reporters may not be directly working on the most granular issues, imagine the bridges your writing can build— by joining geographies that are vastly different.

People and the press have different views of talking across cultures— even when they are using English as a universal language of communication.

Here is a tip: stay consistent with your spellings. And while writing, best not to go with the colloquial way of framing sentences (this is after all business writing) and follow the standard AP style to format our prose.

5. Stay lean

When you work across geographies, it is likely that your days (and nights) can seem crazy.

Here is what I have learned— give up on something! We don’t need to be engaging on all platforms. Is Instagram really needed when you may have growing following on Twitter and Facebook? Is it worthwhile going after a print interview (which can be read online and have a far greater distribution) versus prime time television which is likely to get more local viewership. Tough questions that may not have easy answers, but no one said this job was easy.

Sukanya Sen works as a communications professional. Have more tips for communicating across geographies? Write to her at 83.sukanya@gmail.com.

Photo via Pixabay

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