American PR pros need to look beyond their borders

Americans can be insulated, oftentimes not thinking beyond our borders and clinging to a sense of superiority. During the recent elections not a debate aired without "America is the greatest" rhetoric.

Americans can be insulated, oftentimes not thinking beyond our borders and clinging to a sense of superiority. During the recent elections not a debate aired without “America is the greatest” rhetoric.

Recently, I was a one of 27 jurors in Warsaw reviewing 342 entries from 42 countries for the International Public Relations Association's (IPRA) Golden World Awards for Excellence. While there were excellent campaigns submitted by PR agencies, NGOs, corporations and nonprofits from the US, it was those from Greece, Ukraine, Italy, Lithuania, Japan, Turkey, and Switzerland that stole the show. Their work proved that PR impacts awareness and behavior as evidenced through quantifiable media coverage, increased Web traffic, sales, and ROI. Many operated on bare-bones budgets.

For example, when Turk Telekom, the biggest provider of integrated telephone services in Turkey, wanted to reduce its cost of issuing paper invoices, its PR team created an awareness program to launch the first e-billing service in Turkey where the vast majority of homes are not online. Since the campaign began, nearly 1 million Turkish households switched to e-bills, saving more than 4,200 tons of paper annually, it reported. Turk Telekon is in the process of creating branded forests and replanting 50,000 trees, beyond the 50,000 “saved” trees.

Another interesting example was from the Ukraine, where a PR team was challenged with making a book about the holocaust of interest to teens. Like American youth, Ukrainian teens don't opt to read a history book unless there is an exam the next day. Yet the breakthrough PR campaign placed Babiy Yar on the top 10 list of bestsellers, becoming one of the most discussed works of historic literature ever among Kiev youth.

To achieve that success, the agency created fictional personas in social networking communities, and then on the anniversary of the tragic Babi Yar memorial, all fictional characters “died,” leaving a mourning stripe on their avatars and the message: ‘I am dead. Today I was killed by Nazis along with 50,000 others.' This link led to the book's Web site. Offline, the agency implemented guerrilla tactics at soccer matches and shopping malls with bold statements on posters and mirrors such as, “This reflection could be alive. During WWII every other Kiev citizen died: page 308.”

I have always been a firm believer that the best education is on the job. Judging the Golden World Awards has been my summer school for many years, and I look forward to many more summer studies with my colleagues.

Deborah Charnes Vallejo is VP, director of PR at Bromley Communications. She has been a judge of the IPRA annual awards ever since she won the Golden World Grand Prize in 2001.

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