Challenges of International Public Relations

by Michael Wolfe; Updated September 26, 2017
International public relations specialists encounter many challengers

International public relations is a profession in which communications specialists attempt to project a particular image or message for a client to not just a single group of people, but to a worldwide audience. International PR is far trickier than national PR, as the professional must navigate a number of cultural differences.

Language

The foremost issue facing international PR specialists is the language barrier. Although English is the most common language, not everyone speaks it, meaning that the clients' message will likely have to be translated into different tongues or else rendered graphically, which severely limits its contents. Translations can also present its own problems, as the specialists must be able to find a reliable translator for each language, one who is alert to the nuances of speech and the written word necessary for good PR.

Cultural Differences

Because of differences in attitudes, beliefs and language, even a simple message may have very different meanings when transmitted to various cultures. Companies can often find themselves in large trouble for unintentionally violating a cultural norm. In one famous example, McDonald's, attempting to break into the Middle Eastern market, placed the Saudi Arabian flag on one of its fast-food wrappers. McDonald's didn't know that the flag contained a verse from the Koran, and in the Islamic religion throwing away printed words from the Koran is considered sacrilegious. This foible in international PR cost the company millions of dollars as it rushed to replace the wrappers.

Politics

Many PR specialists will also run into challenges relating to the politics of particular countries, all of which have different codes of laws regarding speech. For example, in areas of Europe, while it is perfectly legal to show a half-naked woman on television, in much of the Islamic world it is inappropriate for women to be shown without their headscarves. This means that the message must either be tailored to each market, or else be so innocuous as to offend no one.

Communication Channels

According to the website About Public Relations, another challenge for international PR is using the correct medium to communicate the message. Although television and the Internet are common in the Western world, in less-developed countries, people commonly communicate by radio, newspaper or word of mouth. This can make it difficult to effectively communicate a message to an international audience using only one medium.

About the Author

Michael Wolfe has been writing and editing since 2005, with a background including both business and creative writing. He has worked as a reporter for a community newspaper in New York City and a federal policy newsletter in Washington, D.C. Wolfe holds a B.A. in art history and is a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.

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