July is Global Affairs Month at PRSA. Learn more about the programming here.
The Air China flight descended through the smog and I saw Beijing for the first time in 2003. I would see that magnificent, architectural playground of a skyline change dramatically over hundreds of flights before Beijing was done with me.
I was on a “look-see” trip to decide if I would accept an assignment leading PR in Northeast Asia for DaimlerChrysler. It was my first time in Asia and I’d only had a passport a few years prior. China’s car market was starting to heat up; it’s now the world’s largest by far.
My knowledge of the Middle Kingdom was minimal. My qualifications were that I knew the German/Mercedes and American/Chrysler sides of what was the world’s biggest merged company. This experience was important as the company was assembling an integrated team for its new regional office, just as its Beijing joint venture would be the first operation to build Mercedes and Chrysler vehicles in the same facility. This assignment came to fruition because I kept saying yes to previous opportunities, I worked very hard and was very lucky.
I threw myself into understanding mandarin and Chinese history and became a serial networker. So many of the best and brightest journalists, executives, diplomats and PR folk descended on Beijing as part of the buildup to the Beijing 2008 Olympics. It was a moveable feast of fascinating characters and I literally learned something new every day. A tour of duty in one of the most important and complex markets on the planet was at one time considered to be a prerequisite for the C-suite.
My two-year assignment in Beijing extended to 11 years in China where I also led corporate communications for Ford Asia Pacific. I ended up spending 15 years abroad with assignments in Stuttgart, Beijing, Shanghai, Dubai and Hong Kong before coming back to the United States.
I was a PRSA member off and on during my time abroad, including serving as an international delegate at large in 2014. As part of that experience, I connected with sister PR organizations in Australia, India, Thailand and China to discuss collaboration and share best practices. PRSA is well-known globally and there is considerable interest in the popularity and value of Accreditation in Public Relations.
I’m your international delegate to the Assembly this November and would love to hear from you about how PRSA can bring more value to you and globally. I also serve on your Global Affairs Task Force, which is made up of very switched-on leaders from corporate, agency, nonprofit and academia.
July is Global Affairs month at PRSA and I’m using the occasion to interview communications leaders on global best practices, so watch this space (and please send your own best practices).
My time living abroad had a profound impact on me personally and professionally. Living abroad forces one to see other perspectives with more nuance. It honed my ability to empathize, be more inclusive, hold competing views and synthesize complex topics quickly.
It’s an expat cliché to say that you learn a lot about yourself while living in a different country but it’s true. I reconsidered what it means to be an American, and drilling down, to be a southerner, even what it means to be me. If you don’t know what you stand for you soon figure it out.
When setting up a new operation for Ford’s Middle East and Africa (MEA) region in Dubai, communications practices were as disparate as the 63 countries in the region. Pay-for-play media entreaties are still common in emerging markets. On more than one occasion referring to PRSA’s Code of Ethics helped provide an objective global benchmark that facilitated healthy discussions on how practices need to evolve.
While leading global communications at INFINITI in Hong Kong, the team often discussed aspirational attributes of the ideal global PR professional. Our list grew, but included:
- We’re journalists and storytellers. We need to find the facts, understand the news and communicate compellingly.
- We’re diplomats. Let’s understand different points of view and find common ground.
- We’re consultants. Let’s bring full-service expertise of the business to our internal clients.
- We’re diverse. Our different backgrounds are our superpower and help us bring different points of view in how we are inclusive and how we approach opportunities.
- We’re tenacious. Being responsible globally truly means being always on. Our mission in dealing with issues was “no surprises for leadership.”
- We have an informed point of view. We keep up with news and opinion leaders and how they affect our industry.
- We’re life-long learners. Super apps like WeChat in China can do everything and we need to understand their potential.
- We’re trusted. We operate with the highest level of integrity in everything we do.
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” This quote resonates with me about rapid response and being always on. It’s often wrongly attributed to Mark Twain (see Jonathan Swift).
Here’s an actual Twain quote I adore. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
With that in mind, please send your global best practices or thoughts on how PRSA can better serve its international members to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hale Global Communications founder Trevor C. Hale helps companies and leaders articulate and amplify their stories. Having led global communications for Fortune 100 companies in APAC, EMEA and the Americas, he now collaborates with clients and firms across mobility, AI, crypto, leadership, ESG and luxury sectors. He is the 2022 PRSA international assembly delegate.
[Illustration credit: Who Is Danny]