Many types of organizations virtually and physically interact and communicate with publics and/or audiences outside their own country of origin to build a dynamic set of relationships. Trade, direct foreign investment, political coalitions, worthy global causes, information flow, and social networking, among other phenomena, are increasing the complexity of these relationships dramatically.

The purpose of this section of the Institute for Public Relations’ Essential Knowledge Project is to summarize the primary lessons or findings of academic research on global public relations (GPR) as it is defined in this section. After introductory statements that testify the importance, growth, and impact of the field of study and practice, specific sub-sections aim to encapsulate essential findings from various theoretical perspectives and sectors, such as contextualized studies and multinational businesses and organizations, as well as agency and government sectors. The text is hyperlinked to direct readers to where cited references or sources can be acquired or consulted for additional insights.

Many types of organizations virtually and physically interact and communicate with publics and/or audiences outside their own country of origin to build a dynamic set of relationships. Trade, direct foreign investment, political coalitions, worthy global causes, information flow, and social networking, among other phenomena, are increasing the complexity of these relationships dramatically. Moreover, this complexity results in greater interdependence and interconnectivity among societies, groups of ideology-driven or cause-driven individuals, and organizations worldwide (Sharp & Pritchard, 2003). This reality parallels the evolution of public relations as a profession, practice, and field of study in every corner of the planet (Bates, 2006; Sharp & Pritchard, 2003).

The growth of the world’s interdependence and the role that public relations and communication management play in this dynamics have motivated the creation and development of several institutions that advocate for, represent, and contribute to the profession and professionals, such as the Center for Global Public Relations of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte since 2009, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations International Group since 2004 (CIPR), the Confédération Européenne des Relations Publiques since 1959(CERP), and the Commission on Global Public Relations Research of the Institute for Public Relations since 2005 (IPR). Other examples of organizations that support the practice are: The Federation of African Public Relations Associations since 1975 (FAPRA), the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management since 2000 (GA), the Inter-American Confederation of Public Relations since 1960 (CONFIARP), the International Association of Business Communicators since 1970 (IABC), International Professional Interest Section of the Public Relations Society of America since 1995 (PRSA), and the International Public Relations Association since (IPRA), and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School since 2003.

In addition to the public relations institution representing the global industry and practice, national associations are growing in importance and making valuable contributions to the documentation of the practice in specific countries or regions. For instance, the association of agencies in France-SYNTEC Conseil en Relations Publiques-sponsored research on the awareness and use of non-advertising communication in French businesses. Moreover, Sweden has a professional association with one of the largest proportional representation of the total number of professionals of various industrial sectors of any other public relations trade group worldwide, and South Africa counts as an institute with one of the world’s most elaborated systems of accreditation recognized by the country’s higher education authority.

Other organizations contribute to the discussion about the role of businesses and citizens in a globalized society, which provide useful information for current and upcoming global public relations professionals. Business for Diplomatic Action published, among other materials, a hardcopy and online resource titled World Citizens Guide. Since 1999, Edelman offers the results of a trust and credibility survey among global opinion leaders titled Trust Barometer. Hill & Knowlton sponsors an Annual Corporate Reputation Watch with the views of MBA students at 12 top-ranked international business schools in the United States, Europe, and Asia since 1998. Concerning the composition and raking in the global communication industry, PRWeek and Advertising Age offer a trade analysis every year. Almost every major global public relations firm makes available case studies from their most prominent accounts representing various world latitudes. Major global public relations agencies are found in networks of independent agencies (i.e., IPREX Worldwide Public Relations Services, International PR Network, Pinnacle Worldwide, Worldcom Public Relations Group) and global communication conglomerates (i.e., Dentsu, Havas, Interpublic, Omnicom, Publicis, and WPP).

The international or global perspective of public relations is currently included in every introductory textbook and encouraged by major trade bodies. For instance in 2006, the U.S. Commission on Public Relations Education made available a report titled “The Professional Bond: Public Relations Education for the 21st Century” that includes a section on global implications. The report recommends that “[c]urrent curricula must be updated to reflect the international and intercultural reality that is modern public relations today” (p. 15). Similarly, on the professional side, the Arthur W. Page Society report titled ”The Authentic Enterprise” published in 2007 acknowledges that businesses and institutions are facing a rapidly changing landscape, in which the reality of a global economy is affecting greatly.

The aim of this section of the IPR Essential Knowledge Project is to review the academic literature and research on global public relations as it is defined below, approaching a multidisciplinary perspective. The emphasis is made on public relations that crosses borders instead of country-specific public relations. The growth and increased quality of the literature in the last decade testify the relevance and significance of the profession, practice, and field of study globally. Specifically, the section presents the variety of GPR practices used by agencies, governments, activist groups, and multinational organizations.

Defining Global Public Relations

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It is estimated that there are anywhere from 2.3 to 4.5 million public relations professionals globally (Muzi Falconi, 2006). They are assisting their organizations not only in building and maintaining multiple relationships at home-where organizations have their headquarters-, but also constructing and keeping those bridges abroad in other host locations and transnational environments-especially with activist groups, global media, and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs). Interactive communication technologies and the activist groups that use them, also known as ”globalutionaries,” are increasing the complexity of global public relations practices (Wakefield, 2008, p. 151). Thus, “[c]orporations and other mainstream entities are compelled to respond to global competition and to interest groups who can band together across borders and apply pressure in a given country or globally,” Wakefield (2008) stated (p. 139).

At times, the idea of a home or host location may be difficult to capture because there are situations and active actors who are transnational in nature; they function as a global network or matrix with communication flow in every direction (Molleda, Connolly-Ahern, & Quinn, 2005). In other words, many organizations are no longer limited to interact and communicate with home publics (where their main offices are located), but additionally with host (where they operate internationally) and transnational publics (simultaneously acting in several locations and communication dimensions or media platforms). Therefore, this section of the Institute’s EKP defines global public relations as strategic communications and actions carried out by private, government, or nonprofit organizations to build and maintain relationships with publics in socioeconomic and political environments outside their home location. The definition goes hand-in-hand with Wakefield’s (2008) conceptualization of international public relations:

The important elements in an international program, therefore, boil down to where the entity is located and to which publics it must build relationships. If the publics are located down the street or only within the same nation as the organization’s home base, interacting with them does not constitute international public relations. (p. 141, italics in original)

Additionally, it is the view of the author of this section that global public relations is also simultaneous strategic communications and actions with home, host, and transnational publics. That is, “…practitioners must take pre-emptive steps to ensure their voices [meaning their organizations] are heard in cross-national conflicts [transnational crises], particularly through the cultivation of relevant media representatives, both at home and host countries” (Molleda et al., 2005, p. 98).

Professional Cultural Competence

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GPR professionals would be likely to succeed in and to pursue further international assignments when acquiring adequate preparatory background or cultural competency (Freitag, 2002). Freitag conceptualized an ascending cultural competence model, which includes: Initial preparation in relevant course work or training in culture, political and economic aspects, and foreign languages; international assignment seeking behavior; international assignment itself; perceived success and satisfaction; increased cultural competence; and further international assignment seeking behavior. Each component is a condition for the achievement of a higher stage of the model. Thus, the author concluded: “The ascending cultural competence model posits that increased preparation will result in commensurate increases in levels of perceived satisfaction and success in international assignments and in the desire to seek those assignments” (p. 223). For instance, cumulative foreign travel appears to be positively associated with the perception of success in international assignments, and also likely job satisfaction and the desire for additional international assignments. This professional behavior seems to characterize successful GPR professionals.

According to Freitag (2002), his “model predicts that practitioners with no international experience will be more likely to express the desire to gain that experience if they have acquired the appropriate preparatory background” (p. 223). Anecdotally, the author of this EKP section has noticed over nine years of university teaching experience that students who successfully complete a course on global public relations are more likely to express their desire to work abroad or represent a foreign interest at home while working for domestic or global communication firms or businesses and organizations. Moreover, those students who achieved an international-type of job made a smooth transition from their academic settings to the industry. Fleisher (2003) wrote a conceptual paper on the development of competencies in international public affairs (in this section GPR), which can be used to further understand the practical implications of Freitag’s (2002) study.

Contextual or Environmental Perspective

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Any multinational organization with operations in several countries faces particular challenges to practice public relations as it is conducted in its home country. These challenges are imposed by a unique set of geographical, cultural, political and legal, socioeconomic, and communication media environments. In 1993, Hugh Culbertson and three former students published a book with a series of applied studies to understand an organization’s or client’s social, political, economic, and cultural contexts, as well as to analyze the theoretical foundation needed to articulate these contextual environments (Culbertson, Jeffers, Stone, & Terrell, 1993). The authors highlighted the usefulness in articulating and analyzing these contexts to develop strategies of issues management and environmental scanning, which allow professionals to foresee trends, opportunities, and threats.

Scholars then studied the association between public relations models and the organizational and societal contexts faced by all kinds of organizations. This was a component of the Excellence Project on Public Relations and Communication Management sponsored by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) towards the end of the 1980s. “The extent to which each of the six [public relations] models [i.e., press-agentry, public information, two-way symmetrical, two-way asymmetrical, personal influence, and cultural interpreter] is practiced seems to be a function of management worldview or definition of the nature of public relations, the education and knowledge of practitioners, and the extent to which the culture and political system in which an organization exists is participative or authoritarian” (J. Grunig, L. Grunig, Sriramesh, Huang, & Lira, 1995, p. 184). The latter aspects consist of the contextual or environmental framework multinational businesses and organizations face in the countries where they operate.

A theoretical framework to study and understand the impact of contextual, environmental factors on the practice of public relations has been documented, as well as a series of country profiles introduced my academic researchers (Sriramesh & Verčič, 2003, 2009). The authors defined the environmental variables that help to select best-suited strategies and techniques: Country infrastructure (i.e., political system, level of economic development, and activism level), media environment, and societal culture.

According to Sriramesh and Verčič (2003, 2009), to effectively perform in given society, public relations professionals and their organizations need to understand the following aspects associated with the three major sets of contextual variables:

  • The value of public opinion and pluralistic views, which are closely related to the level of sophistication of the practice;
  • political ideology present in the government and the classification of the political system, as well as its respective policies of economic development;
  • types and number of competing groups seeking legitimacy and power through public opinion and elections;
  • the acceptance and lack of alternative views, which in emergent democracies may be only encouraged in theory;
  • covert or overt forms of self- (including professional), social, government censorship;
  • level of economic freedom and level of centralization of economic decision-making, and consequently the extent of entrepreneurship, which allows for a dynamic public relations industry;
  • private sector power to influence economic decisions, as well as the relationship between private and public sectors; moreover, vast public sectors become primary publics for organizations (read Taylor & Kent’s 1999 study on government as the most important public in former Soviet republics);
  • level and availability of technological development relevant to the practice;
  • national rates of poverty and illiteracy, which determine the complexity of the communication mix;
  • history, types, and extent of activism, knowing that activists force organizations to be socially responsible and fulfill societal expectations;
  • power and independence of the judicial system, as well as the interaction between the judicial and executive branches of government;
  • legislation that regulates public relations, any of the specialized sub-practices, and/or related communication activities and professions, including legal versus social and religious codes;
  • corporate culture as a distinctive corporate personality of an organization, including leadership type, years since its foundation, industry type, and size;
  • how people in a given country behave toward and perceive organizations;
  • characteristics and dimensions of societal culture, including idiosyncrasies and traditions;
  • media infrastructure and level of professional standards of journalists and editors, including media control (that is private or government ownership; direct or indirect government control; identification with country’s political philosophy and its political parties and the potential control over editorial policy);
  • the level of media outreach; that is the ability of media to diffuse messages to different audiences according to their patterns of media consumption;
  • and the level of access to the media for organizations, agencies, and activists, as well as the value of information subsidies, such as news releases, news conferences, face-to-face interviews, etc.

In addition to the well-documented country-specific chapters included in the edited book of Sriramesh and Verčič (2003, 2009), other authors have gathered and reported primary data on specific aspects of a country’s environment and the implication for the practice and evolution of public relations. Braun (2007) documents the influence of the political system on public relations in Bulgaria. Similarly, Molleda (2008), Molleda and Moreno (2006), and Molleda and Suárez (2005) introduce the implications of the political and socioeconomic environments on the public relations industry of Venezuela, Mexico, and Colombia respectively. A comparative analysis of the three aforementioned Latin American countries is available from Journalism and Communication Monographs, a publication of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) (Molleda & Moreno, 2008).

Essential Findings on the Cultural Environment

The cultural characteristics of a society appear to determine the specific public relations practices in a country. Most scholars have studied this impact through the identification and analysis of Hosftede’s cultural dimensions, such as individualism/collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity/femininity, as well as the theoretical perspectives on culture by Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner and Hall (for examples see Ihator, 2000; Sriramesh, Kim, & Takasaki, 1999; Sriramesh, 2009; Taylor, 2000).

In 2008, Gaither and Curtin used the Middle Eastern crisis of the Danish company Arla Foods to furthering their cultural-economic model based on the circuit of culture (for a comprehensive explanation of this theoretical cultural perspective to the practice of global public relations read Curtin & Gaither, 2007). The international crisis Arla faced was produced by a series of 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper in 2005. The corporation’s national identity motivated a boycott of its products by Middle Eastern consumers. The authors concluded:

  • “[S]imply trying to adopt local values may not be the best strategy. When words are not consonant with previous actions, consumers may refuse to believe that a real change has taken place. Conversely, home audiences may feel betrayed.” (p. 126)
  • “[P]ower does not always lie in the hands of the large multinational corporation. Muslims felt empowered to boycott, and the boycott extended to the media, which refused to run Arla Foods ads and [public relations] materials. Yet Arla was able to begin turning the crisis around despite operating within a context of relative disempowerment and a lack of access to media. Key to Arla Foods’ strategy was deconstructing the sometimes conflicting national and organizational identities that emerged.” (p. 131)

Following are additional specific public relations practices that are likely to be influenced by culture in Asia:

  • Press-agentry/publicity has been found to be the most frequently practiced model (Sriramesh, Kim, & Takasaki, 1999). For instance, Indian, Japanese, and South Korean professionals “typically used the media to disseminate only positive information aimed at enhancing the image of their organizations” (p. 280).
  • Personal influence is greatly used, especially to carry out media relations practices (Sriramesh, Kim, & Takasaki, 1999). The authors said that “[p]ublic relations practitioners build personal influence with . . . key individuals [i.e., government regulators, media members, and tax officials] by doing favors for them [entertaining and providing them with food or/and drinks, and giving presents] so that they can solicit favors in return when the organizations need help” (p. 285). This also is a sort of hospitality relations or socializing. In particular, South Korean professionals often “send gifts and Ddukgab (money for buying Korean cakes) to key government officials and members of the media” (p. 286).
  • The giving of press junkets is a common practice (Sriramesh, Kim, & Takasaki, 1999).
  • An element of Japanese public relations is kou-chou (public hearing), which means “an effort to know what . . . [the publics of an organization] think before making changes in management strategies” (Sriramesh, Kim, & Takasaki, 1999, p. 283). This practice is accomplished by directly collecting information from journalists instead of the publics themselves. Interacting with journalists in Japan happens in press clubs or “convenient liaison centers for reporters to gather their news,” which have specific membership rules and functional protocols (p. 287).

Essential Findings on the Communication Media Environment

Concerning the influence of communication media’s infrastructure and professional practices, the work of Kruckeberg and Tsetsura (2003) is relevant. They have developed and applied an International Index of Bribery for News Coverage, which contributes to the understanding of the threats to practice professional and ethical media relations. The index ranks 66 countries for the likelihood that journalists working for local and national media will request or even accept cash for news coverage from businesses, government officials, and other primary news sources. The index was developed as a composite measure with the perception of leaders of the industry on the issue of media bribery in their country of operation. In addition, the index uses other eight variables for which objective third party data were available:

  • Long-time tradition of self determination by citizens;
  • comprehensive corruption laws with effective enforcement;
  • accountability of government to citizens at all levels;
  • high adult literacy;
  • high liberal and professional education of practicing journalists;
  • well-established, publicized and enforceable journalism codes of professional ethics;
  • free press, free speech, and free flow of information; and
  • high media competition (multiple and competing media).

Particularly, Tsetsura (2005) uses the bribery index to analyze the situation in Poland. Most recently, Tsetsura (2007) furthers research in the area by developing an exploratory study of global media relations practices. The index and the various studies and conceptual papers on bribery for news coverage are relevant readings for GPR professionals to closely scrutinize their media relations practices in various countries and perhaps an ethical reasoning framework to elevate the specialized function and, most important, to avoid corrupting the channels of communication between their organizations and the target publics or audiences.

Taylor (2009) studied the relationship between public relations practitioners, including international donors and international non-governmental organizations, and media representatives in Kosovo. She argued that “practitioners who represent NGOs and government organizations must acknowledge their role in the proliferation of protocol journalism” (p. 28). Protocol journalism is a concept that is emerging in transitional media systems meaning that “the reporter attends ‘protocol’ events such as speeches and news conferences and merely restates what politicians said with no additional analysis or scrutiny” (p. 25). Taylor concluded that protocol journalism is undermining media credibility in Kosovo; thus, “by making a concerted effort to help the media become the valuable members of civil society that they should be, public relations can fulfill its relationship-building function and solidify its role in civil society” (p. 29).

Transitional Public Relations for Emerging and Transforming Countries

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Ławniczak (2007) wrote about the role of public relations in a global competition to promote alternative political and socioeconomic models of market economy. In other words, he explained the consequences for the public relations profession of significant transformations in a country or region’s political and economic systems, using examples from China, Germany, the European Union as a supranational entity, Peru, and Poland.

Multinational Corporations and Organizations

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Research has been conducted on the influence of organizational aspects of transnational or multinational corporations (MNCs) on the management of the public relations function, such as organizational culture (Sriramesh, J. Grunig, & Dozier, 1996), internal communication (Mounter, 2003), excellence construct and programming (Wakefield, 1997, 2000), and political alliances (Kennedy, 2007). Concerning the relationships between MNCs and host publics, three studies have been published in recent years (Bardhan & Patwardhan, 2004; Brooks & Waymer, 2009; Oh & Ramaprasad, 2003).

Oh and Ramaprasad (2003) used the halo effect theory to understand the relationship between MNCs and their host publics in South Korea. The results indicated that the image of an MNC’s country of origin and its historic relationship with the host nation, play a relevant role in determining the public perception of that MNC in the host nation. The authors concluded that a positive halo effect is beneficial for effective public relations activities while a negative halo effect may be an obstacle to accomplish strategic goals and objectives.

Bardhan and Patwardhan (2004) conducted qualitative research to explore public relations in MNCs in India, which is considered a nation with a history of resistance to foreign businesses. The authors concluded that MNCs can be effective and succeed in historically resistance host environments through culturally attuned involvement, intervention, and respect for local publics, proven through socially responsible performance and actions over time.

Brooks and Waymer (2009) used critical discourse analysis to investigate the issues management strategies of a Canadian-based gold producer in Venezuela. They concluded that “any effort of public relations, and consequently issues management and discursive construction of legitimacy in Latin America should stress the social role of its organization, and emphasize an active but intelligent involvement in changing and improving societal conditions” (pp. 35-36). They also argued that “Crystallex [the mining corporation] was better able to manage its legitimacy issue once the organization became seriously involved with the communities and placing a deserved emphasis on corporate social responsibility” (p. 36).

Coordination and Control Mechanisms, Centralization—Decentralization

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These are the questions facing all MNCs: (1) where should decision-making power reside? (2) How should foreign operations report to headquarters? (3) How can the company ensure that it meets its global objectives? (Daniels, Radebaugh, & Sullivan, 2004, 2007). The answers to these questions require new ways of thinking or a transnational mentality composed by worldwide learning, multinational flexibility or national responsiveness, and global efficiency (Bartlett & Goshal, 2002). “The new paradigm ought to account for a more comprehensive approach that creates thinking and acting at both the local and global levels of the organization,” Wakefield explained (2001, p. 641). Wakefield listed some conditions to achieve excellent GPR management:

  • Being globally effective
  • balancing the global and the local
  • public relations in one unit (integration) or single coordinated department
    • “They will create global strategies to preserve the entity’s reputation, to retain consistent messages and identity, and to participate and handle problems that might cross borders” (Wakefield, 2001, p. 644)
  • horizontal and team-oriented structure
  • consideration of agencies

The balance between the global and the local is achieved via coordination and control mechanisms. Martinez and Jarillo (1989) defined a mechanism of coordination as “any administrative tool for achieving integration among different units within an organization” (p. 490). Control is defined as management’s planning, implementation, evaluation, and correction of performance to ensure that the organization meets its objectives (Daniels, Radebaugh, & Sullivan, 2004, 2007). The aim is to keep a MNC’s direction and strategy on track. Management’s toughest challenge is to balance the MNC’s global needs with its needs to adapt to country-level differences.

These are examples of control and coordination methods: Corporate culture; reports; visits to subsidiaries; management performance evaluation; cost and accounting comparability; evaluative measurement; information systems; global, cross-functional, and virtual teams; advisory personnel; management rotation and socialization; training programs; assemblies and special global or regional meetings; and keeping international and domestic personnel in closer proximity (Molleda, 2000a). Concerning the extent of centralization or decentralization in the establishment and execution of GPR policies and procedures, shareholder relations appears to be the most centralized function and community relations the most decentralized practice (Molleda, 2000a). Media relations, government relations, and consumer relations show a medium level of centralization, and internal communication or employee relations a low level of centralization. Integrative communication devices are used to achieve a glocal balance, such as annual reports, websites, intranets, conferences, teleconferences, videoconferences, newsletters and bulletins, and codes of conducts and ethics (Molleda, 2000a).

Molleda (2000a,b) examined the relationships between the public relations function of subsidiaries and their parent companies as well as other subsidiaries and/or sister companies. His research looked at coordination mechanisms (i.e., socialization, formalization, and centralization) used to manage the GPR function. Positive associations were found between integrative communication devices (e.g., website, intranet, and annual reports), communication quality (e.g., relevance/importance, amount, and timeliness), parent company-subsidiary relationship quality, and integration. Positive associations also are found between corporate socialization and both global efficiency (i.e., the use of common public relations resources by both headquarters and subsidiaries) and worldwide learning (i.e., sharing successes and failures of public relations practices in various world locations); between integration and communication quality and overall transnational mentality (i.e., the presence of global efficiency, worldwide learning, and multinational flexibility or national responsiveness in managing the global public relations function).

Molleda’s (2000a,b) study found that more than 60 percent of the MNCs reported a medium-level of centralization, meaning that 50 percent of the coordination and control in the hands of the headquarters and the other half under the responsibility of the subsidiaries. More than 50 percent of the public relations executives at a subsidiary report having a mentor at the MNC’s headquarters. More than 40 percent of public relations managers have worked at the headquarters and more than 30 percent at a sister subsidiary or company; both reported the length of the stay to be less than one year. The public relations personnel also reported to keep in touch with the parent company via trade shows and special events, committees and meetings, annual assembly of shareholders, teamwork and taskforces, and training programs.

Another study that directly addressed the issue of GPR integration is reported by Wakefield (1997) who conducted a Delphi study with professionals and scholars in various countries. Wakefield stated 14 research propositions. The fourth of those propositions dealt with normative integration:

Excellent international public relations is integrated, meaning that worldwide, practitioners report to the public relations department at headquarters and work under a single umbrella (as opposed to, for example, public relations in one country under marketing, in another country under human resources, etc.). It is recognized that senior managers in each country are responsible for activities in that country and that the senior practitioner must work closely with that senior manager. But if something negative happens anywhere, headquarters is ultimately responsible. Public relations must be connected worldwide to build consistent programs and respond quickly to problems that arise. A senior practitioner at headquarters must supervise all communication programs, and local practitioners must be trained to carry out the same organizational philosophies, themes and goals. This requires close cooperation and communication between offices and headquarters. (p. 218)

International business scholars offer several studies exploring the relationships among units in MNCs. Some scholars explored coordination and control of the public relations or public affairs function , such as Meznar (1993) and Blumentritt (1999). Others studied coordination and control function as it pertains to marketing activities (Hewett, Roth, & Roth, 2003) and advertising (Laroche, Kirkpalani, Pons, & Zhou, 2001).

Meznar (1993) explored MNCs’ use of coordination and control mechanisms to cope with the complexity of global public affairs management. He explored the relationships between two public affairs strategies, buffering and bridging, using the boundary spanning literature, and the coordination and control systems used to manage the public affairs function in MNCs. Buffering is a defense strategy with which an organization seeks to alter or influence social contract terms. In contrast, bridging is an adaptive and collaborative posture an organization holds to assimilate and accommodate itself to the changes in both the political/legal and social environments.

Meznar reported a strong positive association between the control mechanisms-goal internalization and performance evaluation-and the use of bridging and buffering strategies. He also found a strong positive relationship between the control mechanisms and the centralization of the public affairs function. Similarly, he found strong positive correlations between coordination mechanisms-impersonal and personal-and the use of buffering, bridging, and public affairs centralization. Other sets of associations are reported by Meznar, such as public affairs effectiveness and goal internalization, impersonal coordination, and an increase of both buffering and bridging activities.

Blumentritt (1999) studied the organizational characteristics of foreign subsidiaries and their effects on the subsidiaries’ government affairs activities, such as lobbying and relationship building with influential local and national officials and their agencies. He found that the more a subsidiary’s top management believes in government affairs as a strategic function, the more the subsidiary will formalize these types of public affairs activities. He also reported a positive association between the extent of economic integration with affiliates and the subsidiary’s degree of inter-subsidiary coordination of government affairs activities.

Laroche et al. (2001) developed a model of advertising standardization in MNCs and suggested that advertising standardization depends on the degree of control exercised by the MNC over a subsidiary. The authors also suggested that standardization can go beyond advertising and affect standardization of approach in other communication activities as well.

Hewett et al. (2003) made an attempt to integrate the external and internal pressures that subsidiaries experience. The authors asked, “Under what conditions should specific activities and capabilities be the responsibility of subsidiaries rather than headquarters?” (p. 567). The researchers claimed that an answer to this question is a source of competitive advantage for MNCs and “deviation from an ideal profile for either a greater headquarters or a greater subsidiary role in marketing activities will result in lower product performance in individual markets” (p. 573).

Similar results are introduced by Lim (in press) concerning the GPR function of MNCs. He noted that on one hand, “global integration of public relations” that is defined as “a closely coordinated, and strategically controlled international public relations strategy” will allow MNCs to speak in one unified integrated voice across the national borders and to share “organizational mission, goals, values, communication themes and best public relations practices.” On the other hand, however, different countries will present MNCs with different settings and with different challenges and to a certain degree require MNCs to digress from the unified global strategy and lead to MNCs “designing and customizing public relations programs to be adaptable to local environmental uncertainty and national regulatory barriers”.

Lim (in press) recommended looking for a balance between global integration of public relations and local responsiveness, by applying the so-called “Integration-Responsiveness Grid.” This framework allows MNCs to evaluate which strategy, integration or responsiveness, will be the most beneficial for each specific place and time. Lim (in press) suggested that public relations may be a “multi-focal strategic area where internal efficiency and external effectiveness could be achieved simultaneously.” The mission and strategy of MNCs public relations is upheld on the global level, while specific tactics are adapted to local environments and implemented locally.

Corporate Foreign Affair Policy

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Fleisher (2003) defined two kinds of international public affairs (global public relations in this EKP section) of which a manager needs to be aware: “(1) impacting public policy and the non-market environment in individual nation states, and (2) impacting public policy and the non-market environment of regional or global organizations comprising multiple national governments” (p. 77).

Lobbying host governments may be carried out by multinational corporations (MNCs) alone or joining forces with domestic companies in the host nation. Kennedy’s (2007) study on transnational political alliances (TPAs) offered insights on the cooperation of MNCs with local companies to influence public policies of the host government. He concluded that the understanding of why MNC are effective in lobbying host governments requires an appreciation of the broader economic and political context. He also asserted that “shared interests with local industry substantially raise the likelihood that foreign industry will prevail” (p. 194).

The article focused on China and concluded that the power of economic incentives for political cooperation overcomes the country’s hostile political environment that discourages TPAs; that is, economic incentives minimize the obstacles to political advocacy. Among the factors determining political cooperation are: Nature of the partnership (i.e., depth, duration, and substitutability), political institutions (i.e., regime type, government-business relations, and significance of nationalism), MNC characteristics (i.e., duration in country, size, headquarters-subsidiary relationship, and subsidiary manager qualities), local company characteristics (i.e., length of existence, ownership, regional locations, and management quality), and policy issue. Depending on the combination and extent of the previous factors, Kennedy enumerated selected political actions to achieve TPA’s effectiveness, including the depth of the cooperation, strategy, approach, and participation level.

Chen (2004) explained a conceptual model of MNC-government bargaining and illustrated it with a case study of Amway in China. She said that “the model argues that the bargaining between an MNC and a host government is affected by the exercise of relative power, the degree of mutual dependence and the quality of agency relationships an MNC forms with different levels of the government” (p. 396). Direct sales activities were banned in China to stop pyramid schemes and inventory-loading scams in 1998. Amway used a set of strategies to achieve the lifting of the ban: Closely working with and showing commitment to the Chinese government; also showing commitment to its employees and the direct-sales profession, and lobbying U.S. trade and politicians so they pressure the Chinese government. These are some of the conclusions offered by Chen:

  • A challenge for public affairs specialists in China regarding issues management is to reach the ‘right’ interpretations of laws and policies that might become an issue for their MNCs to resolve.
  • Professionals “must be alert to the power struggle among different authorities and their respective stakes to interpret issues correctly” (p. 409).
  • To determine their MNCs bargaining power, professionals should analyze: “1) mutual dependence between the MNC and the government based on both actors’ alternatives and commitment to resources, 2) structural changes of Chinese political and economical systems and 3) possibility of creating new agents and the quality of agency relationships” (p. 409). These latter strategies “are shown to be the most effective strategy for MNCs to increase bargaining power in China” (p. 410).
  • “When the Chinese governmental agent perceives the MNC as the insider and having guanxi [interpersonal and interorganizational relationships as a primary element of this collectivistic society] with it, it usually provides more favours to the MNC and makes more effort to advocate and support the MNC’s interest” (p. 410).

Cross-National Conflict Shifts, Transnational Crises

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Molleda and Connolly-Ahern (2002) defined cross-national conflict shifting (CNCS) as:

There are organizational decisions, actions, and operations that affect publics in one country and have an impact internationally. This impact seems to be greater at the home country of the organization or organizations involved, which could be explained by the relevance and proximity of organization for the home publics. Domestic conflicts are increasingly shifting worldwide because of the growth of international transactions, transportation and communication, especially information technology. (p. 4)

To this end, incidences and conflicts are not isolated to the country where they originated (Molleda & Quinn, 2004). The authors found that decisions, behaviors, and operations of a transnational corporation could affect a variety of publics, including host publics in a foreign country and/or also affect transnational publics in many locations and home publics at its headquarters. This could, in turn, tarnish an organization’s reputation and even result in negative financial and legal consequences at a transnational level.

Few studies have focused on the nature and extent of cross-national or transnational communication processes, results of which could inform current understandings of CNCS within a crisis context. Wang (2005) conducted one such study, however, that interprets the DuPont Teflon crisis using CNCS theory combined with elements of crisis response. Results from these types of analyses of existing cross-national conflicts provide an understanding of the interactions occurring among and between publics given situational contexts and environmental factors.

Taylor (2000) conducted a study of the Coca-Cola Company’s response to an incident where its product allegedly caused Belgian children to become ill. The study focused on the company’s actions considering culturally accepted perceptions of “uncertainty avoidance” and “power distance” and its affect on the organization’s reputation and public’s responses. Transnational publics actively engaged the organization. Their actions, specifically the brand boycott by publics in France and Spain, in addition to the host country (Belgium), affected shareholder value and its relationship with stakeholders, among others. Freitag (2001) conducted a study similar to Taylor (2000) demonstrating the cultural and international complexities and cross-national impact of the Firestone tire crises, as portrayed by media in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Venezuela, and New Zealand.

Kim and Molleda’s study (2005) combined the CNCS with crisis management by analyzing the Halliburton’s bribery probe case in Nigeria. Halliburton is an energy company based in Texas that was once directed by Dick Cheney, U.S. Vice President. To analyze Halliburton’s response to the issue, the study applied Coombs’ seven crisis communication strategies, which are attack, denial, excuse, justification, ingratiation, corrective action, and full apology, to this incident in Nigeria.

Molleda, Saloun, and Parmelee (2008) conducted qualitative text and quantitative content analyses to test and advance the theory of cross-national conflict shifting with a review of research conducted since 2002 and the analysis of a recent transnational crisis. It does so by analyzing the international news agencies’ coverage on lead-tainted toys manufactured in China and sold in the United States and other markets worldwide.

During this crisis, the world’s largest toy company Mattel was effective in its communication in a traditional crisis management response sense, providing transparent and timely communication, a critical element of effective public relations and particularly critical in product recalls. While Mattel integrated some Internet technologies into their communication strategy, they could have enhanced their ability to contact key publics and the scope of their communication reach by adding more participatory and interactive communication strategies to their communication mix, such as participating in online forums or blogs. However, from a global strategic communication perspective Mattel failed to fully integrate the needs of host, home, and transnational publics in its approach. Failing to take their share of responsibility for the recall until after the third recall was issued undoubtedly damaged relationships with many key publics and placed their reputation under further scrutiny.

The Chinese government and manufacturing companies did not take a proactive approach in their crisis communication strategy. Defense of their actions was not communicated until late into the conflict and once communicated likely escalated the conflict instead of assisting in resolving the issue for the various publics. Had Mattel and the Chinese government jointly approached the problem acknowledging from the onset their shared role in the crisis and shared responsibility in resolving the global crisis, the role of activist groups may have been somewhat negated and the crisis may not have taken such a grand size and scope.

Molleda et al. (2008) summarized some lessons learned for the practice:

  • Transnational businesses and national governments involved in a cross-national conflict should analyze and project the highest picks of news coverage to proactively respond and follow up other actors’ responses through mediated, interpersonal, and controlled communications.
  • Knowing the world locations from where the news stories are filed by news agencies and global or large media outlets would allow for better coordination and control of the crisis response strategies. The availability of culturally appropriate spokespeople and the timely provision of information subsidies according to time zones would result in a coordinated and consistent strategic communication function.
  • A close look to the series and chronologically published headlines and lead paragraphs facilitates the identification of key terms that define a transnational crisis and its main actors. In this study, the most cited terms were “tainted”, “safety concerns”, and “poor quality”. The study also found significant associations between these key terms and the transnational businesses and national governments involved. The symbolic associations and the issues raised by the key terms should be a component of key messages and response actions of a strategic communication plan during the crisis. These terms may change during the chronological cycle of the cross-national conflict shift. What is important to reiterate is that government and transnational business representatives are the most cited and quoted sources in global and national news coverage. Thus, an efficient coordination and control of responses and actions, as well as location of information subsidies provision would increase the likelihood of a successful crisis-control program.
  • Finally, international news agencies appear to have different professional standards and policies regarding the use of news sources. In this study, AFP and Xinhua cited and quoted Chinese sources more often, and AP cited and quoted a variety of other sources, including activist and consumer groups. This may indicate that some news sources may have various levels of access to the media to share their positions. Understanding the reporting practices of influential media outlets and agencies would refine the development and provision of information subsidies with key messages, actions, and other responses of the actors involved in a transnational crisis. This may allow for a better coordination and control of strategic communication responses globally.

Interactive Online Communication

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A Web content analysis of 39 North American, Asian, and European oil and gas corporations studied the organizations’ sustainability efforts through online reporting of economic, social, and environmental disclosures (Gill, Dickinson, & Scharl, 2008). North American corporations disclose the greatest economic and environmental information, and European corporations provided the greatest social information as an indicator of sustainability. Gill et al.’s research provides a comprehensive list of sustainability indicators to guide online communication practices of organizations across cultures and geographical regions.

Fortune 500 global corporations use relationship maintenance strategies as features of their websites (Ki & Hon, 2006). The strategies are: Positivity, openness and disclosure, access, sharing of tasks, and networking. The corporations use openness most frequently; that is, the inclusion features such as company overview, news releases, annual reports, and stock prices. In contrast, these corporations use networking the least on their websites. By networking, the researchers meant, “any evidence on the web site with any specific activist public such as environmental, union, and community groups” (p. 33).

The information technology and industrial sector-using Standard and Poors’ global industry sector categorization-most frequently displayed positivity and openness on their websites. Ki and Hon (2006) explained that positivity is “any attempt to enable ease of website use” (p. 32), with indicators such as ease of navigation, inclusion of a sitemap, and availability of a search engine. The websites of utilities and consumer staples displayed high levels of access, meaning the presence of telephone numbers, company addresses, and staff e-mail addresses.

Fletcher’s (2006) conceptual paper on cultural sensitivity and the design of websites is recommended to analyze the impact of culture on online content, design, and structure. The interconnection among these aspects must be considered if a website is used as a strategic channel for communication in a cross-cultural context. Similarly, Tsikriktsis (2002) investigated the link between culture and website quality expectations. The analysis revealed that two of the Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (masculinity and long-term orientation) are associated with higher website quality expectations among users.

Financial Communication

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Multinational corporations (MNCs) voluntarily disclose three types of information: Strategic, nonfinancial, and financial (Meek, Roberts, & Gray, 1995). There are variations of the type and amount of voluntary disclosures according to size, country or region of origin, industry sector, and international listing status:

  • Larger MNCs voluntarily disclose significantly more annual report information, especially financial and nonfinancial, than smaller MNCs.
  • Continental European MNCs provide significantly more strategic information than U.S. and British companies. The voluntary disclosure of nonfinancial information appears to be a particularly European phenomenon.
  • U.K. MNCs are less inclined to provide financial information than either U.S. or Continental European MNCs.
  • Listing status is important in explaining voluntary strategic and financial disclosures.
  • Companies in the oil, chemicals, and mining industry seem particularly inclined to provide nonfinancial information, perhaps reflecting greater sensitivity toward social accountability issues. (p. 566)

The authors suggest that MNCs “regardless of size or home country, provide more information in their annual reports than the regulation require”; thus, it seems that “complying with minimum requirements is not enough” (pp. 567-568). MNCs should monitor competing organizations and public expectations on type, quantitative, and quality of financial, nonfinancial, and strategic information disclosed to adjust their reporting practices worldwide.

Communication Between Governments and Publics

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Public Diplomacy

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The interplay between public relations and public diplomacy has captured the interest of scholars (e.g., Kruckeberg & Vujnovic, 2005; Signitzer & Wamser, 2006; Signitzer & Coombs, 1992; van Dyke & Verčič, 2009; Yun, 2006). For instance, Signitzer and Wamser enumerated the types of public relations programs, instruments, and media used in public diplomatic activities:

Whereas, according to public diplomacy, fast media such as radio, television, newspapers, and news magazines are suitable for conveying hard political information (including political advocacy), slow media such as academic and artistic exchanges, films, exhibitions, and language instruction are better for cultural communication (with a view to creating a climate of mutual understanding). A deeper insight into differing goal structures is given by the Public Diplomacy Foundation (1999b), which distinguishes the U.S. activities of public diplomacy into (a) information activities with the subsection of (b) international broadcasting and (c) educational and cultural exchanges. (Signitzer & Wamser, 2006, pp. 457-458)

Wang (2006a) conceptualized the role of sub-national actors in nation branding through public diplomatic effort. He concluded that “the national government needs to adopt a multi-layered outlook towards public diplomacy strategies and programmes rather than monopolising the practice of communicating with foreign publics” (p. 40). Wang (2006b) reviewed and re-examined the concept and practice of public diplomacy as a growing field of study in an ever-changing global environment, and discussed implications for future research.

Wang (2007) also provided an historical analysis of the purpose of U.S. public diplomacy through an examination of the objective and responsibilities of three government agencies (i.e., the Committee on Public Information, the Office of War Information, and the United States Information Agency). The analysis demonstrated that U.S. public diplomacy has been primarily an ad hoc instrument of foreign policy to meet wartime demands. It also has been characterized by the promotion of U.S. values of democracy and freedom. U.S. public diplomacy “has expanded to include multiple modes of engagement, while at the same time there has been constant tension concerning the role of public diplomacy as a strategic, policy function versus merely as a “mouthpiece” within the foreign affairs apparatus” (p. 21).

The U.S. public diplomatic strategies after 9-11 were examined by Zhang (2007). His research aimed to address (1) the origin of the metaphors (i.e., “Axis of Evil,” “Old Europe,” “Responsible Stakeholder,” “Color Revolution,” etc.) and their immediate context; (2) the vehicle clusters that the rhetors used to elaborate the master metaphors; (3) the images the metaphors conveyed and the projected relationship between the rhetor and the audiences; and (4) the effects of the metaphors and the realities that the metaphors hide. The author argued that “the metaphors highlighted the moral and ideological considerations as manifested in the archetypal metaphors of Democracy vs. Tyranny and Freedom vs. Oppression, but hid aspects of the real politik motivations” (p. 37, italics in original). According to the author, “the metaphors have significantly influenced world opinions” (p. 37) and “to a great extent reflected the U.S. national defense strategy in the post-September 11 world” (p. 37).

Zhang (2006) used the case of the international relief efforts for the Asian tsunami disaster. This research found that “the conceptualization of public diplomacy as symbolic interactionist process [theory and discourse analysis technique], in which nations actively participate in constructing and negotiating meanings of symbols and performing actions based on the meanings” (p. 31). The author also concluded: “The actors had to observe and interpret meanings of other participants’ acts and perform acts based on the interpretations” (p. 31).

Focusing on the North Korean nuclear crisis of 2005-2006, Hwang and Cameron (2008) conducted an online experiment to test which contingent factors (e.g., dominant coalition characteristics, external threat, and external public characteristics) were strong predictors for public estimation (grassroots or general public) about a government stance on the international governmental conflict between North Korea and the United States. Results found that “perception of the three major contingent factors … is overall strongly associated with people’s estimation about the government stance” (p. 47). Moreover, the results indicated that “perception of situational factors could be more strongly associated with how the public estimates the U.S. government’s stance toward North Korea than perception of the dominant coalition’s characteristics (leadership style) at this point and situation” (p. 47). The authors discussed some practical implications:

… in order to better predict grass-roots response to policy decisions that may later cause disrupting domestic polity and unity, the PR practitioners could take into account perception of threat and external public characteristics by the populance. Better understanding a particular type of public opinion which we might call grass-roots threat & external public appraisal will perhaps lead to greater consonance between diplomatic moves and the will of the people. (p. 47)

The trend of public diplomacy scholarship and practice is the participation of non-state actors in the process of communicating and relationship building among citizens of different nations with implication for government foreign policies. Zhang and Swartz (2009) studied the media strategies of a U.S.-based NGO, the Washington Profile, which engages in public diplomatic-oriented activities by providing international news services through the latest communication technologies. The results showed that:

… independence from government involvement is a crucial value, and the organization makes every effort to preserve its independence from government funding. … [T]he NGO news service shies away from explicitly promoting U.S. values and institutions as well as advocating U.S. policy. Instead, it attempts to educate readers by providing balanced pictures of the United States with in-depth news reporting and analysis. Such efforts give more credibility than government-sponsored news programs. And at the same time “imperceptible influence” is exerted. (p. 53)

Zhang and Swartz then articulated an NGO media diplomacy mode, which include values (i.e., independence from government, journalistic objectivity and balance, and reader education), perceived effectiveness (i.e., reaching audiences, affecting elite groups, and return of investment), and factors affecting effectiveness (i.e., use of local journalists and editors as decision makers, the Internet, censorship by governments of the target region, vision of the NGO leaders, dialogue approach, non-governmental funding, and target elite niche audience).

Image of Nation

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The use of authenticity in global branding and nation building of a country has been documented and analyzed by Molleda and Roberts (2008). They documented the case of the new Juan Valdez as Colombian coffee ambassador to the world, particularly using Gilmore’s and Pine’s (2007) five genres of authenticity: Natural, original, exceptional, referential, and influential. Molleda and Roberts explained that the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia-a government agency-implemented a national public relations plan to renew and increase the identification and pride of Colombians and particularly coffee growers with their coffee industry and their land, while expanding the reach of the campaign to global audiences to furthering the association of coffee as a world commodity with a country of origin, Colombia. The authors concluded that the five genres were present in the “glocal” campaign to introduce the new Juan Valdez, which is a world-known marketing communication icon since 1959:

  • Natural authenticity because coffee is a commodity that exists in a natural state.
  • Original authenticity considering that Colombia was the first country to stamp country-of-origin to a world commodity.
  • Exceptional authenticity, meaning that Colombian coffee’s production is based on human care since the moment the beans are hand-picked until they are delivered to the world market by an authentic coffee grower functioning as spokesperson or international icon.
  • Referential authenticity because the background and experience of this idyllic coffee grower is a human story focused on shared memories and longings of the Colombian community of coffee growers and worldwide coffee consumers, and conveys the values of this industry.
  • Influential authenticity because the campaign called for the preservation of the coffee culture of Colombia and, in addition, the protection of the natural environment expressed by an accord signed between the Federation and Rainforest Alliance.

A group of South Korean and U.S. scholars modified and tested a model of country reputation in multidimensions (Yang, Shin, Lee, & Wrigley, 2008). The original model was articulated by Passow, Fehlmann, and Grahlow (2005). The authors examined the reputation of South Korea as it is perceived by people living in the United States. The model includes the following dimensions: Emotional appeal, physical appeal, financial appeal, leadership appeal, cultural appeal, global appeal, and political appeal (this latter dimension was added by Yang et al.). The tested model was found reliable and valid. Results indicated that a favorable country reputation resulted in stronger intentions to support the country. Public awareness is critical in enhancing the perceived country reputation, strongly influenced by personal experience with the country. The communication channels most preferred by participants to receive information about South Korea were: Online media, personal communication, national television and newspapers, and cable TV. Personal, online, and national mainstream media were highly associated with a favorable country reputation. The researchers concluded that “the multidimensional measurement model of country reputation will demonstrate the areas of strength and weakness for country reputation management” (p. 437).

“[C]ountries can have modest success improving their reputation through the use of image repair discourse, according to Zhang and Benoit (2004, p. 166). The authors studied Saudi Arabia’s attempt to repair its damaged reputation after September 11, 2001. A typology of image restoration strategies includes denial, evasion of responsibility, reducing offensiveness of event, corrective action, and mortification.

Zhang and Cameron (2003) analyzed a Chinese government-sponsored campaign in the United States in 2000. The content analyzed media coverage in three major national newspapers. They said that the campaign had some effects on the news coverage of China despite the existence of extraneous factors; that is, two non-campaign-related events relevant to China during the period of implementation. They concluded: “It was ironical that the Chinese government sought a positive media image, but only reaped a minor reduction of media coverage” (p. 24). They continued by saying that “it appeared to be wiser for the Chinese government to have taken Manheim’s suggestions that the objective for an international public relations campaign on a negatively covered client should be first to reduce visibility of the country, which may facilitate later efforts improving the valence component of the country’s image, instead of launching a massive shoot-and-run campaign” (p. 24).

U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (U.S. Department of Justice)

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Organizations and governments from other countries develop public relations and communication programs to influence U.S. publics. Their representation must be registered at the Department of Justice, which hosts the records and regulates the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which was enacted in 1938. Lee (2006) assessed the characteristics of 151 countries’ public relations activities in the United States by analyzing FARA reports. Lee concluded that “(1) business organizations and central governments were major clients of international public relations in the U.S., (2) meeting with government officials and congressional leaders was the primary type of activities followed by information dissemination, and (3) economic purpose led by trade promotions was the primary motive for these activities” (p. 97).

In 2007, Lee also studied the news coverage of 97 countries included in the 2002 FARA report, asking: What are the predictors of the intensity and nature of the media coverage of other countries in the United States? The study found that the prominence of a country in the U.S. news coverage can be attributed to the public relations efforts carried out on behalf of a country in the United States. Specifically, Lee said that “the number of public relations contracts by other countries’ governments in the U.S. explained the variance in prominence in the US news media after controlling for multiple national traits and social significance predictors” [i.e., GDP, population, and geographical size, as well as political, social, and cultural significance] (pp. 162-163).

Zhang (2005) used the records archived by FARA to analyze the extent to which countries implement communication plans in the United States according to their position in the hierarchy of the world system (i.e., core, semi-peripheral, and peripheral nations). The primary findings of this research are:

  • The average number of public relations and/or media relations firms representing core nations has decreased and the number representing semi-periphery nations has increased since 1997.
  • However, the lower the country is on the hierarchy of the world system, the less effort it places into communicating with U.S. publics; core nations seem to have more intentions, resources and capabilities to communicate with U.S. citizens.
  • Besides building policy agenda and improving country image through U.S.-based communication strategies and tactics, the researcher found other categories that include facilitating business and increasing publicity and awareness.

Kiousis and Wu (2008) analyzed the impact of the representation of foreign agents by agencies in the United States. They found that increased public relations counsel appears to be related to a decrease in the amount of negative news content regarding foreign nations and an increase of positive valencefor stories about foreign countries actually run. Moreover, the number of positive news stories about a foreign nation is related to positive attitudes of the U.S. population toward that country. This latter finding was measured with the analysis of public opinion polls. The authors enumerated implications for the practice: (a) Public relations counsel can reduce amount of negative coverage; (b) it also can enhance tone of individual stories published; (c) difference between quantity and quality of coverage may be considered to formulate media relations strategies for foreign nations within the U.S. context; this should be considered by practitioners when developing campaign and program goals and objectives

GPR Agencies

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Specific research on GPR agencies is lacking in the public relations body of knowledge. One exemption is a study on the impact of national culture on interorganizational networks, which was defined as the number of shared public relations firms among 35 Japanese and U.S. companies (Jang, 1997). The author concluded that U.S. “companies were more central and had more links than Japanese companies” (p. 338). The author also said that companies formed clusters according to their area of business or industry, which reflects the specialized practices of public relations firms. Jang suggested that U.S. “companies were more active in public relations efforts than Japanese companies, regardless of their business types” (p. 338).

More recently, Montenegro (2001) conducted a survey among CEOs of the leading global public relations agencies with offices in Latin America. The main findings of this study were summarized by Montenegro (2004):

  • Multinational clients represent the highest percentage of revenues for the Latin American operations of GPR firms;
  • The primary reasons for the firm’s expansion to Latin America is the potential of the sub-continent and the need of clients to have a presence in the region, which includes the presence of competitors in some countries;
  • Most of the firms targeting Latin American countries have a coordinating office in Miami, Florida because of the city location between the agencies’ headquarters and the market, the existence of bilingual human resources, and the diversity of domestic and pan-regional Spanish-language media. Some firms with a Latin American orientation operate from Atlanta, Argentina, Madrid, or Mexico City;
  • The most demanded services are media relations, corporate relations, and technology, followed by public affairs and government relations;
  • Agency employees often received in-house training at least twice a year;
  • The first-tier market in the region includes Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, followed by a second-tier market (i.e., Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela);
  • Guatemala serves as a hub for Central American operations;
  • Burson-Marsteller has the largest proprietary network of branches and subsequently the largest number of staffs;
  • Pan-regional campaigns are coordinated from regional headquarters;
  • It is culturally expected that management and supervisors develop a closer relationship with employees than in North America or Europe;
  • Other obstacles reported are different service standard, political barriers (e.g., elections and strikes), the observance of multiple religious holidays, and technological barriers, such as occasional  Internet connection failures;
  • Clients have a misconception that low cost and high returns characterize doing business in Latin America;
  • The major obstacle to serve clients interested in the Latin American market is their cultural ignorance and their knowledge of business costs and acceptable practices;
  • Despite the aforementioned obstacles, research participants expected the continuation of growth in revenue and in the number of offices in the region;
  • Finally, Argentina seems to be the most developed market for public relations in the region because domestic companies understand the practice as a management function of organizations in charge of developing relationships with key publics and/or audiences.


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This section of the Institute for Public Relations’ Essential Knowledge Project presented an overview of research findings on global public relations. This section defined GPR as strategic communications and actions carried out by private, government, or nonprofit organizations to build and maintain relationships with publics in socioeconomic and political environments outside their home location. Lessons and implications for the practice were summarized from academic literature that studied, among other specific aspects, ideal traits of professional competence; the public relations function and its management in different types of multinational organizations, government, and agencies; and the contextual factors that shape national environments where relationship-building efforts are carried out.

The documentation of GPR Essential Knowledge does not stop here. In fact, this is an ongoing process that will have to be complemented as soon as more research is identified, and studies are published in major academic and, perhaps, trade publications. An attempt was made to include an interdisciplinary perspective. Mainly, international business and political sciences studies joint the public relations body of knowledge in this endeavor. Readers are welcome to share resources from other fields of study that may inform research and practice in global public relations. Similarly, most of the GPR literature presented in this section comes from journals and books published in the United States and the United Kingdom. Readers are encouraged to also share key works with essential findings from other corners of the world.

References Cited

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Molleda, J.C., & Moreno, A. (2006). The transitional socioeconomic and political environments of public relations in Mexico. Public Relations Review, 32, 104-109.

Molleda, J.C., & Suárez, A.M. (2005). Challenges in Colombia for public relations professionals: a qualitative assessment of the economic and political environments. Public Relations Review, 31, 21-29.

Molleda, J.C., Connolly-Ahern, C., & Quinn, C. (2005). Cross-national conflict shifting: Expanding a theory of global public relations management through quantitative content analysis. Journalism Studies, 6(1), 87-102.

Molleda, J. C., & Connolly-Ahern, C. (2002). Cross-national conflict shifting: Conceptualization and expansion in an international public relations context, paper presented to the convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Communication, Miami, Florida, USA, August.

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Additional Relevant Bibliography

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Culbertson, H.M., & Chen, N. (Ed.). (1996). International public relations; a comparative analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Curtin, P.A., & Gaither, T.K. (2007). International public relations: Negotiating culture, identity, and power. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Daniels, J.D., Radebaugh, L.H., & Sullivan, D.P. (2007). International business environments and operations (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Freitag, A., & Stokes, A.Q. (2009). Global public relations: Spanning borders, spanning cultures. UK: Routledge.

Kunczik, M. (1997). Images of nations and international public relations. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Ławniczak, R. (Ed.). (2005). Introducing market economy institutions and instruments: The role of public relations in transition economies. Poznań, Poland: Piar.p Publications.

Ławniczak, R. (Ed.). (2001). Public relations contribution to transition in Central and Eastern Europe: Research and practice. Poznań, Poland: Biuro Usługowo-Handlowe.

Morley, M. (2002). How to manage your global reputation: A guide to the dynamics of international public relations. Washington Square, NY: New York University Press.

Moss, D., & DeSanto, B. (Eds.). (2002). Public relations cases: International perspectives. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Newsom, D. (2007). Building the gaps in global communication. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Parkinson, M.G., & Ekachai, D. (Eds.). (2006). International and intercultural public relations: A campaign case approach (pp. 306-319). Boston, MA: Pearson Education/Allyn & Bacon.

Sriramesh, K., & Verčič, D. (Eds.). (2009). The global public relations handbook: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Sriramesh, K. (2004). Public relations in Asia: An anthology. Singapore: Thomson Learning Asia.

Sriramesh, K., & Verčič, D. (Eds.). (2003). The global public relations handbook: Theory, research, and practice. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Tilson, D.J., & Alozie, E.C. (2004). Toward the common good: Perspectives in international public relations. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

van Ruler, B., & Verčič, D. (2004). Public relations and communication management in Europe: A nation-by-nation introduction to public relations theory and practice. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter.

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Cull, N.J. (2008). The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American propaganda and public diplomacy, 1945-1989. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Harris, P.R., Moran, R.T., & Moran, S.V. (2004). Managing cultural differences; global leadership strategies for the 21st century (6th ed.). Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

Melissen, J. (Ed.). (2007). The new public diplomacy: Soft power in international relations. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Schmidt, W.V., Conaway, R.N., Easton, S.S., & Wardrope, W.J. (2007). Communicating globally; intercultural communication and international business. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Sthol, M., Sthol, C., & Townsley, N.C. (2007). A new generation of global corporate social responsibility. In S. May, G. Cheney, and J. Roper, (Eds.), The debate over corporate social responsibility (pp. 30-44). New York: Oxford University Press.

Online Resources

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Communication Conglomerates

International organizations of journalists and media professionals

Related Resources


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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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