Culture clashes highlight the difficulties of global comms

The cover feature focuses on the PR market in Japan and the challenges that country is facing as it addresses a loss in confidence in institutions such as government, media, and business in the aftermath of last year's earthquake and tsunami.

The cover feature of this month's issue focuses on the PR market in Japan and the challenges that country is facing as it addresses a loss in confidence in institutions such as government, media, and business in the aftermath of last year's earthquake and tsunami.

The 3/11 disaster prompted a reevaluation of many things in Japan. It also hastened a recognition that the country would have to temper its traditional reserve and open up to communicating externally in a way that doesn't tally with Japan's culture. The director of global communications for the Prime Minister's office, Noriyuki Shikata, describes this culture of not trying to be conspicuous or extravagant as "modesty is the best policy."

This, allied to Japan's traditional press club media relations system, reminds us every part of the world has a distinct way of doing business and "doing" PR and communicating.

In China, global network agencies have struggled with the local custom of paying journalists "expenses" for doing stories. And in other parts of the world it is commonplace to simply bribe media in return for coverage.

Edelman recently had problems with its Russian offering after acquiring long-time local affiliate Imageland. The cultures couldn't ultimately mesh and Edelman is now closing the agency and starting up a separate firm.

It is a factor in agencies struggling to offer consistent service across the world and one of the things that most annoys global clients, although they surely experience similar problems in their own businesses.

Agency networks can either acquire homegrown firms that might be too ingrained in local business culture and inherit practices that aren't acceptable under measures such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Or they can grow their own agencies and suffer from a lack of knowledge of local culture, and barriers such as punitive tax regimes for foreign companies investing abroad, as can be the case in Latin America.

To achieve true global reach takes hard work, experience, expertise, and - most importantly - tenacity and patience.

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