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Cultural Sensitivities & Regional Differences in Comms

Freek Janssen
Published on August 03, 2016
By Freek Janssen

Subtleties in human-to-human communication are so complex that it's difficult, if not impossible, to capture them in rules.

Consider the fine art of irony, for example. We are living in an age where computers have the intelligence to engage in conversations that are very close to the way humans communicate. However, whether artificial intelligence will ever be capable to understand or even use irony is still a subject for debate.

Concept image of a world map made up of connecting pins and threads.

Subtleties in communication are pivotal in communicating effectively with our audiences – journalists, social media communities and influencers alike. The better we know and understand the person we are talking to, the better we are able to adapt our message to their preference. 

Many of those subtle differences in communication depend on national or even regional culture, despite globalization. The preferred tone of voice, timing, message and even medium may strongly vary between countries. As a Dutch PR, I have done my share of liaising with Belgian journalists in the past. Although our countries share a border and even a language, the cultural differences in media relations couldn’t be bigger. While the Dutch media tend to prefer a straight-forward approach to pitching, Belgian journalists are much more relationship-oriented. In other words: if they have an existing relationship with your client, they will be more likely to consider covering your story.

Being aware of cultural differences is vital in PR. Successful campaigns rely on local knowledge. Our recent Global Media Guide
 serves a helpful snapshot into the global media relations landscape. It turns out there are many trends that are dominant across the world; journalists have less time to work on stories, local stories are always preferred above generic ones and engaging content is key on social media. There are however some very interesting specific cultural characteristics of traditional and social media.

Read our Global Media Guide here:

A Few Highlights:

Data-driven Deutschland

The German public, for example, is highly critical of overly promotional messaging and buzzwords – which has resulted in journalists being very data-driven. Be prepared to provide points of proof such as survey results and reports when reaching out to the media to see results.

There is also high consumer awareness around security and privacy in Germany. Over 30% of consumers choose not to visit a website based on sensitivities around their personal data. Always ensure your website has a clear and visible security policy to avoid losing out.

Engaging España
As in all Latin countries, people in Spain always seek engagement, even with brands. Prepare and develop a content engagement strategy for your brand on social media and digital channels before launching a campaign.

UK consumers: useful over sales-focused content
Consumers in the UK tend to be more cynical than in other markets. Therefore, when writing social media content, you should avoid creating sales-focused or promotional material. Instead, aim to provide humorous, engaging or useful content.

Cheeky Aussies
Australians have a unique sense of humor, which may seem cheeky or irrelevant to outsiders. Tapping into that humor is a great way to get your message across.

Assertive Koreans
South-Korean reporters are usually not shy and can be quite aggressive in asking for information on market strategies, profits and revenues, and proprietary information. Therefore, when dealing with Korean media, one should use relevant local information in positive analogies and examples to underscore a point.

Informal Americans
In the US, scheduling informal meetings with journalists to discuss their interests and perspective on PR approaches is a good way to establish a strong relationship. Although this does not always result in coverage, a journalist who you’ve met with face-to-face will be more likely to reach out when looking for sources.

Formal Belgians
Belgian journalists don’t respond well to overly informal approaches. Always make sure to observe formalities during introductions and when sending pitches.

Funny French: critical but enjoy a good joke
The French like to complain and criticize. And it’s even worse on social media. Don’t be shy to add some humor to your tone of voice, as the French still enjoy a good joke.

Of course, these are just generalizations. And by nature, generalizations never apply to every individual and tend to be exaggerated a bit. Nevertheless, it shows that it is important be aware of cultural differences and subtleties when engaging with international audiences.

Looking for more? 

Check out The New Rules of Global Comms white paper to learn how the right global communications model can impact return on marketing investments.

Cover page of the white paper 'The New Rules of Global Comms.'

We are curious to learn about your experiences and best practices too. Feel free to comment or get in touch!

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