This article is the fifth in a series adapted from Alaimo’s book “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.”
As part of the research for “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication,” my new book on how to practice public relations in countries and cultures around the world, I conducted interviews with senior communicators in 31 nations about best local practices. In my first blog for the Institute for Public Relations, I explained factors that practitioners should consider before adapting their campaigns for a new market, in my second blog I offered tips for practicing public relations in Latin America, in my third blog I discussed tips for practicing public relations in the Middle East and North Africa, and in my fourth blog I provided strategies for practicing public relations in Europe. In this post, I will focus on Asia.
Here are five tips for practicing public relations in Asia:
Communicate your positive social impact. David Brain, President and CEO of Edelman’s Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa business, notes that as the region’s astonishing rate of economic growth has slowed in recent years – from an annual range of 2-10 percent to 0-6 percent – governments are under pressure to prove that they are performing and to protect domestic businesses. “This can make them unpredictable towards businesses and brands, especially ‘foreign’ ones,” Brain says. “So it’s more important than ever to show your wider economic, social, and environmental contribution in this region.”
Use mobile platforms. Brain says that because the average daily commute in Asia and the Pacific is one hour and many people spend this time on their phones, mobile strategies are a must for this region.
Address people as a group. Unlike in individualistic cultures such as the United States, Asian cultures are very collectivist. This means that people conceive of themselves as members of groups. You should craft your messages accordingly. For example, Coca-Cola launched its wildly popular “Share a Coke” campaign in Australia in 2012 by printing popular names of Australian people on the outside of their cans – a practice they went on to replicate in many individualistic countries, such as the United Kingdom and U.S. By contrast, in Japan – a collectivist and nationalistic society – instead of printing individual names on cans, the company printed codes which consumers could use to download music and share it with their friends, through a partnership with the Japanese company Sony. In China – another collectivist society – Coca-Cola customized bottles with nicknames that are popular online, song lyrics, and movie quotes.
Actively solicit ideas from your team. While in the U.S. employees are taught that they will get ahead by speaking up when they have creative ideas, Laura Liswood, Senior Adviser to Goldman Sachs, warns that in China, for example, people are taught that “the loudest duck gets shot.” This is explained by the high power distance of Asian cultures. In other words, Asian cultures tend to be very hierarchical and people typically defer to those in positions of authority. Therefore, junior staffers who have creative ideas – or disagree with you – may be reluctant to voice their views.
In The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, Erin Meyer suggests that, if you are working with colleagues who will not criticize your ideas because you are their boss, you ask your team to meet and brainstorm without you first and then report back on their ideas, so that they do not defer to your proposals. Another option, which Phil Gilbert, a manager at IBM, calls popcorning, is to have everyone write their ideas on post-its and put them all on a board. Gilbert argues that “when you give voice to more people, the best ideas win, not the loudest ones.”
Make local friends. As in Latin America, in Asia communicators practice what scholars call the personal influence model of public relations. This means that they build professional relationships with people before getting down to business (in China, the local term for this is building guanxi).
Such investments in relationship building often lead to important insights. For example, David Lian, General Manager of the Zeno Group in Malaysia, helps businesses working in Malay communities form relationships with local peoples. Lian says that, in Malay communities, it is important to engage with the head of the Kampung, or village. “Being Asian, we respect our elders,” Lian says. “The head villager is usually 60 or 70 years old, so he commands a lot of respect in his community. Normally, you come with a gift, accept his hospitality, and then make the ask.”
Lian says that when he and his colleagues promoted a telecommunications company in a local village, they often organized something called a jamuan – a Malay word for a feast – by inviting about ten villagers to dinner at a local restaurant. “In exchange for the food you give them, they sit down and answer your questions,” he says. After learning more about one village, his agency organized a carnival on behalf of their telecommunications client, in order to introduce their brand to local people at the event. Lian recalls that “the insight was that, being a village, they didn’t have a lot of entertainment and they enjoy the simple things of life, like a carnival.”
Kara Alaimo, Ph.D., is a global PR consultant, assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University, and a former communicator at the U.N. and in the Obama administration. Friends of the Institute for Public Relations can get a 20% discount and free shipping on her book using the promo code FLR40 here. Follow her on Twitter: @karaalaimo.