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Communications across cultures - review of the World PR Forum, Toronto

Language and cultural differences

Russell Goldsmith | 29th June 2016

Russell Goldsmith reviews his trip to the World PR Forum in Toronto, where the theme of the conference was 'Communication Across Cultures'

Last week I had the privilege of attending the World PR Forum, organised and hosted by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) on behalf of The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management.


Fantastic turnout for luncheon keynote address by @MFFahmy11 "PR in the Age of Terror" at 

I was there wearing two hats as naturally the theme of the conference, which was ‘Communications Across Cultures’, struck a chord with what we continue to preach at Conversis about the need to understand different cultures as well as the languages people speak, when communicating internationally on behalf of a brand.
However, I was also recording podcasts with some of the conference speakers on behalf of the organisers to feature on my own csuite podcast channel – it’s a little hobby of mine that I’ve been doing since my time on the CIPR’s Social Media Panel.
There were so many great presentations to talk about it’s hard to pick out the highlights, but for me, some of the key take-outs that relate to what we do for a living here at Conversis were from the following: Fred Cook, CEO of Golin presented with Arun Sudhaman, President and Editor-in-Chief of The Holmes Report, on the Future of PR, sharing the findings of the latest Global Communications Report, a key part of which focussed on the skills required in the PR industry, but it was Fred’s initiative that he has introduced at his company that really blew me away. As Fred explained, Golin have recently launched an ‘Unternship’ programme, which is proving a real success for them. Below is the video of Golin’s first Untern, Akinbola Richardson, which Fred showed in the presentation – it’s quite incredible.

A Recap of Akin’s Unternship Adventure from Golin on Vimeo.

Engaging @fredcook at  Now 4 communications specialties Explorers, Creators, Creativity + Catalysts.

Golin created the concept off the back of Fred’s personal background and how he built his own career, which, as he says himself, was quite unauthodox.   After reading his book ‘Improvise: Unconventional career advice from an unlikely CEO’, the General Manager of their Dallas office said she would never have hired him in a million years, and they therefore realised it was a problem that they are always looking to hire people who fit the same mould.  The unternship was their answer, and runs as a competition to find different kinds of people, and the winner gets to travel at Golin’s expense for three months all around the world, doing things they’ve never done before.  Fred explained that they’ve just finished their second unternship in the US, have just chosen their first in London and are now in the process of choosing one in China. 

Now I’m not suggesting that Conversis copy this initiative (we’re a little smaller than Golin) but as a concept I think it’s fantastic.  What we do have, though, is a very multicultural office - at last count we had 13 nationalities represented in our Bicester office - and that brings its own benefits in a similar way to what Golin are looking to achieve.  We get to take advantage of all those different backgrounds and cultures and that makes for a great working environment, both internally, and with the key relationships we’re building with our clients.

You can listen to Fred talk about this topic in the podcast I recorded with him: 

Independent Consultant, Janet Morgan, was the keynote speaker on the Day 2, the Monday (yes, we were working on a Sunday, which was Day 1!) and she talked about ‘The Culture Gap’.  In her talk she highlighted research that showed the top obstacles to communications, the top two unsurprisingly being Language Barriers and Cultural Differences.

Global leadership styles. Two standout across 62 cultures - charismatic, team-oriented  @jbmorang

One in five Canadians weren't born in Canada so can you assume that they all like hockey says @jbmorang 

You can listen to Janet talk about this in a pre-conference podcast I recorded with her: 

Saving the best til last though, for me, the highlight of the conference was Tuesday’s keynote by Paulo Soares, Director, Corporate Communications, at Vale, described by The Economist as “the biggest company you have never heard of”.

Vale are Brazil’s largest logistics operators and one of the largest mining companies in the world.

I had previously interviewed Paulo for my podcast before the event, in those initial conversations, Paulo came across as a well-mannered but rather quiet individual. Then he got on stage for his keynote....

Lynn @lynnScherloski

What an amazing presentation by Paulo Henrique Soares @valenobrasil @WorldPRForum   

....and I honestly laughed out loud for an hour – well, at least until the very sobering video he played at the end.
Paulo’s session was on ‘Challenges In Internal Communications Across Cultures in Global companies’ but he started off by giving a bit of background to his own personal journey of growing up and travelling and how he learned about international relations and how to live in a world of different cultures, each with unique characteristics. He kept the audience laughing with examples of words that, as a non native English speaker, he has difficulty distinguishing the difference between, for example Chicken v Kitchen, or Angry v Hungry v Hungary. He then went on to share a number of initiatives that Vale are doing and how they are working, a few of which he talked about in the my podcast ... 

... before talking about how different people see each other, and given the fact he’s from Brazil, one of the funny videos that he used to explain this situation was ‘Things Brazilians Are Sick of Hearing’

Vale have over 110k employees across 30 countries and that creates huge challenges when communicating internally when considering the different languages and particularly the cultures across countries as diverse as the ones they are based in.

Paulo believes the key for successful global internal communications is to ‘Think globally, act locally’ and so at Vale, they look to work with their colleagues around the world to co-create internal communications solutions.

An example of where this has come together to benefit the business is in the company’s internal 'Day of Reflection' which aims to unite the company around the importance of safety by showing a series of sombre videos of people who have lost loved ones at work – none of whom worked at Vale. Vale’s number of fatalities is decreasing and this campaign works as Paulo believes empathy connects people.

Aside from attending an incredible conference, meeting some brilliant people in the industry, and getting to see Toronto (I also hired a car on Saturday, my day off, and drove to Niagara Falls), I would say the highlight for me was meeting and interviewing the CEO of McDonald’s Canada, simply because he gave me the best business card ever – check it out below – FREE BIG MAC!