The End of the World as We Know It?

PR Conversations talked to Silvia Cambiè (top left) and Yang-May Ooi (below left), authors of the recently published International Communications Strategy: Developments in cross-cultural communications, PR and social media about their new book and the changing world facing PR practitioners today.

One of the key principles of public relations is to keep your audience in mind. Who are the target readers of this book?

Business communicators and PR practitioners. The communication sector is going through unprecedented changes. We are experiencing a shift brought about by a combination of new technology and new practices coming from emerging markets.

What unfulfilled need do you think this book fills, or in other words, what is its unique selling proposition?

The termination of the one-way globalisation of Western culture is very much at the core of International Communications Yang-May OoiStrategy (ICS). This phenomenon has strong implications for communicators. The book gives readers tools and ideas for dealing with the new world order.

Given the social media revolution that you document, isn’t the appearance of this book and the current proliferation of PR books contradictory, or at least ironic?

Different media suit different forms of expression. Social media enables online conversations and allows people to take advantage of the immediacy offered by almost instantaneous online content publication and sharing. Books – whether in the International Communications Strategyform of print or digital form – offer time and space for longer discourse and in-depth explorations of issues. There will always be room for such different modes of communication.

The three phenomena that you highlight (the emergence of the BRIICS, technology and social media and so-called social businesses) are all vast topics worthy of in-depth consideration. Why combine them in a single volume rather than writing three books?

Change in our sector is happening fast. We needed to provide our readers with a comprehensive overview of all major trends affecting international communications while highlighting the interactions between these components.

In the section on integrative thinking, you oppose the concepts of assertive inquiry and advocacy. Which do you think this book is and why?

ICS is very much in favour the assertive inquiry model as a means of promoting effective cross-cultural leadership.

What are the main challenges that companies operating in an international context face in managing relationships with internal stakeholders?

The exposure to external stakeholders and their perceptions is certainly one of the main challenges. These days, thanks to social media, the messages companies send out are played back to their employees. Employers can no longer afford to segment their communication and differentiate between internal and external stakeholders. Messages need to be aligned and this requires a certain degree of openness and accountability. The additional difficulty in an international context comes from the need to be mindful of cultural nuances. The tone needs to be adjusted to the style of the environment companies are operating in.

You cite the Obama campaign as the textbook example of a political campaign integrating the full spectrum of social media successfully. Outside of the political sphere, did your research turn up any other examples of exemplary integration across the gamut of communications channels?

We came across many businesses and associations using social media innovatively and successfully but at the time of writing, seamless integration across a wide range of communications channels seemed to be fairly rare. One of the messages of our book is that social media needs to be taken seriously as one of the many communications channels available to businesses and organisations. The key is to integrate it within their overall communications strategy and not out on a limb by itself. We anticipate that as social media becomes part of the mainstream consciousness,  we will start to see it absorbed much more widely into the fold of business communications and used as a matter of course in a more integrated manner within the next few years.

Critics of your book could claim that while you present a multitude of interesting case studies, your narrative is extremely anecdotal and provides little new data. How would you respond?

The book is not meant as a theoretical exercise but rather as a collection of concrete solutions to problems practitioners are dealing with on a daily basis.  The case studies we present support a precise structure.  To quote a recent review of ICS in Communication Director, “a specific case study is discussed to reinforce the points the authors introduce. Each illustrates communication techniques that have been successful – or, at times, unsuccessful – in a variety of situations and locations.”

The data we use is anything but old, but …  is indeed controversial.  Like the research conducted by Zayed University on the leadership style of Emerati women business leaders and their highly effective communication style. We are aware that references like this might attract criticism given the ground-breaking nature of the subject.

Your book has been nominated for the FT Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year. In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a truly exceptional business publication?

A publication with a vision grounded in the real world.

Questions were contributed by Judy Gombita, Toni Muzi Falconi, Joao Duarte and Kristen Sukalac.

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4 Replies to “The End of the World as We Know It?

  1. I genuinely enjoyed reading this post as it is always nice to see how the nature of social media and the expectations that the industry places on it, evolve over time. This post was published in 2009 envisioning the dynamic and changing world of Public Relations (PR) accelerated by technology such as new media. Two years down the line and we are still struggling to see the seamless integration of this phenomenon into the overall communication strategy.

    According to Spark (2011:36), “the public relations industry, much like other parts of the economy, is going through massive changes, brought about by rapid and continuous evolution in communications technologies. PR professionals are under pressure to keep pace with the changing ways that people are communicating and with adapting their business models to the quick pace of change in a world where information flows faster than ever before”.

    This quote sets the scene in terms of PR and the new world order of communications implied in the core message of the posted article. However, the issue of successfully implementing this new world order presents itself in the financial sector. It is understood by many in this industry that social media and mobile channels are the way forward; however, these channels pose certain risks due to a very rigid business model that employees are confined to work within.

    The financial industry is strictly regulated and there are certain legal frameworks and rules that need to be followed when communicating to and with the company’s stakeholders. Threats include tight legislation and policies set in place by financial boards and government; reputational risk; clients that are not yet familiar with technologies such as SMS and email, let alone social networks; and a lack of management and executive board buy-in. For me, I believe this has resulted in financial institutions entering into the social media playing field for superficial reasons. To explain, social media is used as yet another one-way communication tool instead of using it to generate feedback from clients (two-way feedback loop). As mentioned by Heather in another social media-related post from 01 March 2011, “you need to respond and not just transmit”. Social media in the industry is used to send messages without acknowledging the fact that clients want to close the loop via engagement and dialogue. From a personal perspective, many financial institutions are engaging in social media merely “to be seen” because pure engagement opens up a multitude of risks that these institutions are not willing to take.

    Taking the above risks into consideration, it is also important to note which companies are doing it right. The financial world has much to gain by following exceptional examples. I recently read an article in the FinWeek centred on the Chief Executive Officer of FNB, Michael Jordaan, opening a Twitter account. He says he uses Twitter to make notes for himself on things that he finds interesting (Jordaan, 2010). This fact makes him fascinating to follow because each of his tweets has a personal sentiment and as well as a strategic purpose.

    “Before you condemn Jordaan’s dalliance with social media as frivolous, consider the fact that the CEO’s adoption of a medium such as Twitter may just be symptomatic of something far bigger – both internally for FNB and a sea of change in the way we all interact with companies, particularly those eager to position themselves as technologically innovative and responsive to their customers” (Whitfield, 2011:15).

    FNB began embracing Twitter in 2009 in an attempt to engage with clients and “… as part of a strategy to extend their ethos of helpfulness. FNB’s involvement in Twitter is also serving a market research function. It provides almost instant feedback on what customers are thinking” (Wertheim-Aymes, 2009). They have followed the social media path with great success and the fact that the CEO believes enough in the value-add of this technology sets an incredible example that other financial institutions should seek to follow.

    In conclusion it might be important to remember that, in the long run, the risks of not engaging may be higher than those of actually engaging. A study conducted by Alterian (2010), illustrates that 77% of those surveyed felt that their brand is at risk by not being as engaged with clients as it should be.

  2. There’s a fascinating analysis ( in the 26 September of The Economist that relates to the issues your book raises about the emergence of developing countries in the global business environment. In a nutshell, the analysis says that the Far Eastern Economic Review, which was just closed down, dies because it’s advertising-based business model was no longer viable. The underlying reason, it claims is that the “Asia” market it was created for no longer exists: a pan-Asian cadre of colonial administrators or their post-colonial successors. As these countries have spread their wings and “nativized” their leaership cadres, buying preferences have shifted to national tastes, thus fragmenting the market. Quite the food for thought.

  3. Interestingly, the BBC announced yesterday that it is going to incorporate social media into its website. I’m going to be watching developments there with interest. The Beeb has a global presence already in radio, TV and print as well as online so by adding social media to its arsenal, it is clearly signalling its recognition of social media as an influential mode of communication.

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