PR is not only about what we say or do to make someone/something look good. It is mostly about perceptions. And as in all communication, perception is mediated by the vehicle through which we transmit a message.
In international PR, however, the message and its interpretation are not only mediated by the chosen vehicle of communication, but also cross-cultural specificities we might sometimes not be fully aware of. We live in an increasingly globalized world, yet the scope of globalization when it comes to the perceptions, feelings and mindsets of people all over the world shall not be overestimated.
When we embark on an international PR campaign there are two main potential scenarios: we count on a local contact/agency to work with us (translation of message, adaptation for the targeted country and so on)or we are on our own. With help or not, it is key to start drafting the campaign by asking ourselves some questions.
Do we need to communicate in a different language or would English do? It might sound unimportant, but even though English is widely spoken, some journalists might feel more comfortable speaking their own language. This is mostly a cultural question, and must be addressed at the starting point of the campaign design. A little basic research on a country’s culture will give you clues on this, e.g.,: is English/the language you can speak widely spoken? Are there any reticences when it comes to speaking foreign languages? How “internationally minded” is the media in the targeted country?
If English or another language you really master would do, are there any changes in the meaning/writing of words that you should be aware of? Meaning is specially important, as the significance of some words varies from country to country, even when the same language is spoken. Checking local idioms and keywords would also be always a plus in the long-term.
For instance, and as a native Spanish speaker, I know that words like chaqueta (Spanish for “jacket”) should not be used in Mexico (look it up if you want to laugh), and my long time in France taught me, among many other things, that collaborateur has a painful second meaning (to cooperate with the enemy against your own country during war), or that répéter doesn’t only mean “to repeat an action” but to tell something to someone else in a potentially “gossipy” way. Even fruits can change names from country to country (and in some cases the change entails connotations you absolutely don’t want to seem to be referring to).
If another language is required, how to go about it? For example, your French PR outreach won’t work in English, or at least not in France, sorry; and when you call to little, non-mainstream institutions or media in Russia and Brazil, good luck with what happens when English meets beautiful but really strong accents.
Do you need a native person to write your press release from scratch? Will a good translator do? How to make sure that a translation touches the right buttons when it comes to key words and relatable vocabulary?
And an even better question: if your press release has to be written in a language you don’t manage, how will you follow-up to that? Italians, for example, have a lot of fun when you repeat to them what Google Translate gave you. Either you learn some basics for the exact conversation you need to have (as I did in the last case, but with extra, “real-life person teaching me” type of help), sit and wait or find help.