Thursday, November 6, 2008

Public Relations - how not to do it!

I was watching the US Presidential elections, switching between channels to see different perspectives and I came across BBC America (which I watch quite frequently, as it’s the only news station in the US that tells you anything about the rest of the world). BBC America had an MC and four panellists, who switched at various intervals. I happened to tune in at the end of an interview as discussion switched back to the studio. There were two Americans and two Brits on the panel.

The first American to speak gave a classic example of everything not to do while trying to communicate effectively (much I think to the embarassment of the other American present). He started off by telling the MC the reporter should be sacked, and then launched into an unbelievably arrogant dressing down of the BBC and the rest of the world, as if he was the parent and the rest were disobedient children without his insight and knowledge. If ever someone wanted a negative example of a stereotypical American, this was it. Key phrases that really jarred were such as, “You (BBC) are a guest in this country”. He was seemingly oblivious of the fact he was a guest on the BBC!! It is even more ironic that this person was previously an Ambassador! (One does not have to wonder too much to see why there are international public relations issues!)

Am I saying it’s impossible to have very different positions in effective international public relations? Of course not. In fact, I very strongly disagree with some of the BBC’s political reporting. The problem is not having different values, perspectives and positions - the problem occurs when we communicate those in a fashion which bring our character to the fore and not the problem. Some tips to consider when trying to communicate a vastly different position are these:

How does the receiving audience receive such information in their own country and culture in a way that they interact with it?
Have I focused down to my main point? It’s very hard to deal with differences all at once.
How can I communicate in such a way that I appear approachable, teachable and humble.
Will it help to use “third party questions”? (E.g. “How do most people in___ see this issue?”)
These are just a few suggestions. Obviously coming to constructive resolution or a way forward requires some more experience and skill.

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