The following quote is an excerpt of a paper from one of my students (not necessarily the best but certainly not the worst) in the Global Relations class I am currently teaching at NYU’s Master of Science in Public Relations and Corporate Communication. “…for the PR professional it’s crucial to be able to understand and get adjusted to these cultural differences and be able to speak the cultural language in order to get the message across. This can be illustrated with a story about some missionaries that went to Africa to preach about Jesus and had a challenge to translate a following verse from Bible:” Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” The notion of snow was not familiar to the natives, but they had climbed the coconut trees many times and could associate white colour with the inside of a coconut; so the missionaries linked the unknown to the known, and changed the verse into: “Though you sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as the meat of a coconut.” I think that’s a great example of how we can learn to adjust to the local cultures and be heard while trying to listen what they would be willing to hear and in what way…”Only a few years ago nine out of ten professionals, in reading this would have said: ‘well, what’s new with that?’. This is what we have been doing since the Ed Bernays rationalization of the scientific persuasion model and is correctly stated. Not only, but this conceptualization of our profession has very much contributed to the expansion of democracy, self expression, quality of life and happiness for many generations in every country of the world (not to mention other less desirable collateral effects…). This quote epitomizes, amongst other paradigms, the basic concept of marketing which is and has been at the very base of the outstanding growth our economies have registered in many , many years.
In my view, but I very much welcome other opinions, the focal point of the quote is the phrase
“I think that’s a great example of how we can learn to adjust to the local cultures and be heard while trying to listen what they would be willing to hear and in what way…”
Basically, this implies that we listen to our stakeholders ‘…what they would be willing to hear and in what way..’. Isn’t this what at least 50% of our research is done for today, while the other 50% is activated to receive confirmation that our opinions are correct?
Maybe this is the focal point from which we should conceptualize a more advanced and effective approach to public relations practice.
What I mean is that if I listen to what stakeholders expect as a decisional consequence of how the organization I represent intends to define its operative objectives in the pursuing of its general aims, and if by the term ‘listen’ I imply that I will make every possible effort, by using every possible listening tool, to ‘understand’ by stepping out of my preconceptions and knowledge, only to step back in when I ‘interpret’ the sense and potential consequences of these expectations to the dominant coalition, so that they may be considered when deciding the operative objectives the organization will pursue, then I would probably be making one giant step forward to adding value to today’s most complex management challenge facing all dominant coalitions: i.e. how to improve the quality of decisions and implement them with the least stakeholder opposition as possible. Or not?