This article is the third 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 and in my second blog I offered tips for practicing public relations in Latin America. In this post, I will focus on the Middle East and North Africa.
Here are four tips for practicing public relations in the Arab world:
Avoid Literal Translations Between Arabic and English. Fawaz Al Sirri, founder of the Kuwaiti public relations agency Bensirri PR, advises practitioners to develop their messages in Arabic from the start, because it is extremely difficult to translate between Arabic and other languages. R.S. Zaharna explains that “trying to translate literally, or even ‘thinking in Arabic and writing in English,’ produces sentences that are a paragraph in length, have little or no punctuation, and abound with compound and complex sentence structures and LOTS of adjectives.” The same difficulties of translation apply in reverse when attempting to translate other languages into Arabic.
Use Social Media. More than half of the population of the Middle East and North Africa is under the age of 25. The region’s large youth population are avid users of social media, online videos, and mobile applications, which they often use to bypass traditional press censorship and social regulations. The most popular platforms in the region are Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
Engage Local Influencers. In this relationship-oriented region of the world, engaging local influencers is a particularly effective public relations strategy. Ali Al-Kandari and T. Kenn Gaither report that “non-Arab practitioners are encouraged to engage with Arab political, religious, tribal and social leaders. Establishing ties with leaders might be helpful, if not in achieving change in attitudes of the people they exercise power over, then in keeping those people’s attitudes or actions neutral. Non-Arab practitioners must know that they need to approach those leaders with great respect, showing their importance and influence on their trusted circle. Practitioners must never show to leaders that establishing relationships with them is done with the purpose of achieving specific goals, even if it is implicitly understood by both parties. Showing such an intention might be harmful as it shows that the relationship is built on materialistic aims.”
Demonstrate Emotion When Talking About Heated Issues in Media Interviews in Order to Gain Trust. While U.S. audiences expect people on television to be “emotionally cool or reserved,” in The Al Jazeera Phenomenon: Critical Perspectives on New Arab Media, Zaharna notes that the opposite is true in this region: “In the Arab world, a variety of factors contribute to a preference for an emotionally expressive and engaging on-screen presence. First, because of the nature of Arab families and group social habits, television watching tends to be a group experience. It also tends to be an active experience, with the audience often commenting more than the television commentators. The physical distance between the viewers and television is not intimate but rather public, usually ten feet or more. Televisions in public settings, such as cafes, are common with a distance of up to twenty feet. Finally, compared with the dominant Anglo-American culture, the Arab culture is more emotionally expressive and more accepting of emotional expression.”
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. Follow her on Twitter: @karaalaimo.