Improving intercultural awareness for effective global public relations

In our interconnected world, the ability to communicate effectively across cultures has never been more important, especially in public relations (PR). Intercultural awareness, which involves understanding and respecting the diverse cultural backgrounds of the people we interact with, is essential for building meaningful relationships and ensuring our messages resonate with varied audiences.

Why Intercultural Competence Matters

Globalization has brought about a highly connected and diverse market. PR practitioners must develop intercultural competence to function within this complex context. This competence is about the ability to understand, appreciate, and communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds. It allows the PR practitioner to build a relationship with individuals and groups across different cultures. This is at the heart of public relations because it is a core value.


Cultural sensitivity is one aspect of intercultural competence. Being able to be aware and respectful of cultural differences and avoid doing things that might be considered offensive is of great importance. Cultural sensitivity allows us to communicate well with a diverse audience and ensure that messages and campaigns do not offend the cultural and religious sensibilities of the people.

For example, take the case of the Chevy Nova. In the 1960s, General Motors launched the Chevy Nova to the U.S. market with great success. When they decided to expand to Spanish-speaking countries, sales just did not take off. It was later found out that “Nova” translates to the Spanish phrase “no go.” This could have been averted had there been better cultural insight. This example shows the importance of understanding cultural differences in our global economy.

Challenges in Intercultural Communication

Despite the significance of intercultural communication, it also poses some serious challenges. The two most common challenges that occur when dealing with people from other cultural backgrounds are miscommunication and cultural misunderstandings. Such misunderstandings usually crop up as a result of differences in communicating styles, values, and norms.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, challenge intercultural communication has to face is language barriers. Even if both parties speak the same language, cultural expressions and idiomatic expressions may still confuse. For example, some phrases or gestures considered appropriate in one culture will be highly insulting and inappropriate in another. This gives rise to significant obstacles to the proper delivery of PR messages.

Cultural stereotypes are also a challenge in intercultural communication. These stereotypes can lead to assumptions and biases that affect how messages are received and interpreted. For example, a campaign that inadvertently reinforces negative stereotypes about a particular cultural group can damage the reputation of an organization and alienate key stakeholders. PR practitioners must recognize and address these biases to ensure their messages are inclusive and respectful.

Another challenge is the difference in expectations and norms across cultures. In some cultures, formal and hierarchical communication is practiced; in others, it is informal and egalitarian. PR practitioners should be aware of these differences and adjust communication strategies accordingly. If not done, it may deliver messages that are either misunderstood or rejected by the audience targeted.

A usually used example of intercultural expectations is of an American company selling high-end technical goods to a potential Chinese buyer. At dinner, the head of the Chinese delegation was received by a junior member of the U.S. team, who asked him to “sit where you like,” after which the Chinese delegation felt insulted and reconsidered the deal. The Chinese respect their hierarchy and cannot consider equality; the Americans are different in this regard.

Strategies to Improve Intercultural Awareness

To navigate the challenges of intercultural communication, PR practitioners must adopt strategies that enhance their intercultural awareness. Here are some suggested approaches:

  1. Adapting Communication Styles: PR practitioners must be flexible and adaptable in their communication styles. This involves tailoring messages to fit the cultural context of the target audience. For example, in high-context cultures, where communication is often indirect and relies heavily on context, PR messages should be crafted to convey meaning subtly and respectfully. Conversely, in low-context cultures, direct and explicit communication is more effective.
  2. Engaging with Local Communities: Building relationships with local cultural groups helps PR practitioners to understand their values and preferences. This should be followed by a higher level of engagement with cultural groups, through community events or even focus groups and social media. This helps practitioners to have knowledge of the cultural landscape and develop campaigns relevant to the target audience.
  3. Utilizing Local Expertise: Hiring local experts or consultants who have a deep understanding of the cultural nuances is highly recommended. These experts can offer guidance on culture, language usage, and potential sensitivities that may arise from the campaign and ensure that PR campaigns are appropriate and effective in the culture.
  4. Culturally Inclusive Content Creation: Content creation should be inclusive to avoid the exclusion of some audience members. The use of inclusive images, language, and narratives will ensure that the target audience is reflected in the content created. The content also should not stereotype any cultural groups but represent different groups in the multicultural reality of the target audience.

It should be noted that intercultural awareness is an important PR practitioner’s asset: it helps improve the efficacy of communication, develop better relationships, resolve conflicts, and improve brand reputation. This all means that further development of intercultural competence by PR professionals is necessary for future success in a more globalizing world. These insights are appropriate to infuse into PR practices, helping navigate the complexities of a globalized marketplace and produce more effective, respectful strategies in communications.

X-posted on Clāra’s Insight

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EloQ Communications

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