Thursday, December 27, 2007

Globalization: How Living in Madrid Helped Me Understand the Role of PR

I spent last summer studying Spanish in Madrid. I had never traveled outside the U.S. before, and while I packed for my trip, I thought about my expectations for the summer.

I wanted to converse in Spanish over tapas and sangria at a sidewalk café in Plaza Mayor.

I wanted to bargain for a beautiful piece of local art with a street vendor in the narrow streets of Toledo.

I wanted to take Spanish-speaking tours through castles filled with history, knights' armor, and intricate architecture.

I wanted to bask in the sun on the coast of the Mediterranean in AndalucĂ­a while people-watching for countless, lazy hours.

Sitting here now, browsing through my pictures from the trip, I realize that I did all of these things. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to live in another country because I gained a little world perspective from each of these experiences.

I also see how living in Madrid benefitted my future as a PR professional. As a communicator, I realized what it means to separate yourself from your own culture and to embrace someone else's. I learned to appreciate cultural differences without losing sight of my own beliefs and traditions. I finally understood globalization, and what it means for the future of corporate America.

As our world becomes flatter, it's important to develop cultural competency. There are a lot of examples of PR campaigns and media coverage that show a prominent Western bias—and we have to be careful of this, especially those in PR. It is the responsibility of PR practitioners to provide counsel to our clients, and to know how audiences will receive certain messages. We have to think about where campaigns are being launched and understand exactly how a different culture might decipher a speech, ad, or article.

  • Will it have the same effect as it would in the U.S.?
  • How does the message translate from English to another language?
  • Will it offend anyone?
  • Will the audience understand the concept or humor?

These are important questions that should be common sense, but sometimes in our hurry to develop the next big campaign, we forget to evaluate all the possible outcomes, especially from the perspective of another culture.

There's no escaping globalization. Cultures are cross-pollinating, melding into one another while simultaneously trying to remain as distinct as possible. Being an effective communicator does not stop at the edge of the United States, but the skills we develop should allow our clients' messages to transcend borders and cultures. But that doesn't mean we should impose our own culture on anyone else—it's finding that balance that is key.

**I know how lucky I was to live abroad, and that not everyone can do it. Believe me, I never thought I would be able to do it either. Before I received this opportunity, I took several courses about international relations, foreign languages, and world history. I can't stress enough how valuable these classes were in preparing me for work in a global economy. I'm taking two more this semester if any of my peers from USF want to join me. Let me know, and I'll give you the course information.

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