Updating the Generic/Specific Theory of International Public Relations: More Factors to Consider When Practicing in New Markets

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

According to the most well-known theory of international public relations –Verčič, Grunig, and Grunig’s (1996) generic/specific theory –when practicing public relations in a new country or culture, practitioners should account for five dimensions on which nations differ: their political-economic systems, cultures, extent of activism, levels of development, and media systems. In my book published this week, I add two new dimensions to this theory: social expectations and local influencers.

As part of the research for Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication, I conducted interviews with 74 global public relations practitioners from 31 countries. I asked them how they advise global organizations to adapt their public relations strategies for particular cultures and what factors they need to take account of when implementing global public relations strategies in their countries.

The results indicate that, in addition to Verčič, Grunig, and Grunig’s five dimensions, public relations practitioners should account for two additional factors when adapting global public relations strategies for new markets:

1. Social Expectations: Local peoples’ expectations of organizations differ dramatically in countries and cultures throughout the world. For example, Serge Giacomo, Head of Communications and Institutional Relations for GE in Latin America, explained that, in communities in Latin America, citizens expect corporations to assume responsibility for actions completely unrelated to their businesses, such as building roads and schools. By contrast, in countries such as the United States, such activities are seen as falling strictly within the province of the government. African and Asian practitioners likewise indicated that local communities have high expectations for corporate social responsibility.

2. Local Influencers: Another important factor that practitioners must understand is who is influential in a particular society. For example, in the U.S., much of the content that gets re-tweeted and goes on to “trend” on Twitter is generated by the traditional media, such as The New York Times, CNN, and ESPN (Asur, Yu, & Huberman, 2011). By contrast, Chen Liang, Account Executive for the global public relations firm Ruder Finn, reported that, in China, many people do not view the government-censored press as a reliable source of news, and therefore turn to public figures such as actors, independent journalists, professors, and writers who have garnered reputations for sharing reliable information on social media. Local influencers can be critical to the success of public relations campaigns in different markets.

Practitioners should take account of these factors before developing public relations strategies for new communities, so that they understand how they will be judged locally and what stakeholders will be most critical to the success of their campaigns.

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.

References

Asur, S., Yu, L., & Huberman, B. A. (2011, August 21). What trends in Chinese social media.
Paper presented at the SNAKDD Workship, San Francisco, California.

Verčič, D., Grunig, L. A., & Grunig, J. E. (1996). Global and specific principles of public
relations: Evidence from Slovenia. In H. M. Culbertson & N. Chen (Eds.), International
public relations: A comparative analysis (pp. 31-65). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates.

Posted in [Blog], [Research Library], Global PR.

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