Four Tips for Practicing Public Relations in Latin America

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This article is the second in a series adapted from Alaimo’s book “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.”

As part of the research for Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication, my new book on how to practice public relations in countries and cultures around the world, I conducted interviews with senior communicators in 31 nations about best local practices. In my first blog for the Institute for Public Relations, I explained factors that practitioners should consider before adapting their campaigns for a new market. These next articles will explain best practices in different regions around the world.

Here are four tips for practicing public relations in Latin America:

1. Be Responsive to Citizens. Pamela Leonard, General Manager of Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Chile, says that countries such as Mexico and Chile are currently experiencing “a citizen moment, a moment of change of traditional power in politics, companies, and media.” Leonard reports that “today, citizens have a lot of power and are really the influencers.” She says that this is revolutionizing the way that public relations is practiced by placing greater importance on corporate social responsibility and responding to the demands of citizens. “Companies today have to take time to get to know the expectations of the public – not only their clients, consumers, and partners, but also citizens,” Leonard says. “What are their wants, their worries in general? What values are they defending now?” She says that it is also important for organizations to communicate how their activities and presence will benefit “Mrs. Juanita” – a Chilean expression for the average person.

2. Plan for the Region’s “Polychronic” Approach to Time. While in “monochronic” cultures such as the United States and United Kingdom promptness is expected, polychronic cultures take a more fluid approach to time. One government affairs professional explained that “if someone says, ‘Let’s do this tomorrow at 10 a.m., at 10:05 in the U.S. we’re late. In Brazil, a week later we’re not late; we’re just getting talking.”

When May Hauer-Simmonds worked as an account executive for Burson-Marsteller in Guayaquil, Ecuador, she was responsible for adopting a global strategy developed by executives in Miami, Florida for the Ecuadorian market in order to launch a new Sony product. Instead of hosting an event in Ecuador that started at an exact time, the agency organized an open house so that, regardless of when journalists arrived, they could still participate.

3. Invest in Relationships. In Latin America, communicators practice what scholars call the personal influence model of public relations. This means that they invest in building professional relationships with people before getting down to business.

Eunice Lima, the São Paulo-based Director of Communications and Government Affairs for the global aluminum company Novelis, says that working with the press is “quite different from other parts of the world … We have more focus on building relationships. It’s very personal.”

Relationships are often built at the local level. Mateus Furlanetto, Head of Institutional Relations for the Brazilian Association for Business Communication, known as Aberje, says that a public relations professional from São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro – Brazil’s largest cities – would be considered a foreigner if he or she attempted to implement a campaign in the Brazilian countryside.

Personal relations are especially important in rural areas. Serge Giacomo, Head of Communications and Institutional Relations for GE in Latin America, says that “outside of a city, it becomes really personal. The top management of your company needs to be part of the same circle as the mayor and local officials, the local elite, and even the priest. In order to work with those audiences, you need to belong; you need to be part of the same group.”

4. Consider Partnering with Telenovelas. Angela Giacobbe, Manager of Communication and Sustainability for the Brazilian maritime and port logistics company Wilson, Sons, says that a successful public relations strategy can be partnering with Brazil’s ultra-popular telenovelas, or soap operas, which cause the country’s streets to empty during final episodes and are exported to nations around the world, including Portugal, Angola, and China. Giacobbe says that product placement on such shows has been found to promote effective brand recall and many soap operas have also partnered with non-profit organizations pro-bono in order to deliver messages on social issues such as adoption, cancer, and missing persons.


GoKl-invKara Alaimo, Ph.D., is a global PR consultant, assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University, and a former communicator at the U.N. and in the Obama administration.  Follow her on Twitter: @karaalaimo.

Posted in [Blog], Global PR.

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