Culture is the collective expression of values, customs, traditions, and beliefs that shape the way people perceive and interact with the world. Large, global companies turn to public relations to drive and communicate their corporate culture ethos inside and outside their walls, serving as the bridge that connects businesses to their diverse stakeholders across borders.
Effective Communication Across Borders
By definition, public relations is about communication. Building strong, lasting relationships with clients, investors, and stakeholders relies on the ability to convey messages clearly and effectively. When dealing with a global audience, understanding cultural nuances becomes essential. Different cultures have distinct communication styles, preferences, and sensitivities. What may be seen as an appropriate tone or message in one culture can be misinterpreted or be experienced as offensive in another.
Organizational-wide, systemic efforts behind diversity, equity and inclusion over the last few years may have highlighted the importance of culture within an organization, but this is not a new concept. Public relations has a significant role in bringing these efforts to light, and impacts how those efforts are perceived once they are put into place.
Consider HSBC’s “Different Values” campaign. Operating across different countries and across cultures, HSBC infused cultural sensitivity into its public relations and marketing strategies. It conveys an acknowledgment that comprehending local customs, traditions, and client expectations is paramount in the ever-evolving financial landscape. Through compelling ads featuring individuals from various countries, the campaign artfully highlights the subtleties of cultural norms.
HSBC’s campaign established a personal connection and showcased the company’s commitment to understanding and respecting the cultural values of its diverse range of clients. It celebrates cultural differences as strengths rather than challenges and as a result, enhances its leadership role as a truly global financial institution.
Building Trust and Credibility
Trust is the cornerstone of financial services. Building trust requires a deep understanding of the cultural values and expectations of the target audience. In many cultures, relationships and trust are built over time through face-to-face interactions and personal connections. In contrast, some cultures may prioritize data, facts, and figures as the foundation for trust. PR professionals must be sensitive to these variations and adapt their strategies accordingly.
In many Asian cultures, including China and Japan, establishing trust often involves long-term relationships, face-to-face meetings, and personal connections. Western banks that fail to recognize and adapt to these cultural norms will face challenges in gaining the trust of potential clients, as the emphasis on personal relationships differs from the transactional approach common in Western financial contexts. Successful adaptation to these cultural values has been crucial for building trust and credibility in these markets.
Consider also the Scandinavian financial services sector, where cultural norms in Sweden and Denmark tend to prioritize transparency, data-driven decision-making, and a strong reliance on facts and figures. In these environments, individuals often build trust based on the credibility of information presented and the efficiency of financial transactions. Public relations professionals aiming to establish trust in these markets would need to focus on providing clear and verifiable data, emphasizing transparency, and aligning their messaging with the cultural preference for evidence-based trust-building rather than relying solely on personal connections.
Navigating Regulatory and Legal Frameworks
The financial services industry operates in a highly regulated environment. Regulations can vary greatly from one country to another, and understanding these differences is vital to maintaining compliance and avoiding legal issues. Cultural factors often influence local regulations, and an understanding of the cultural context can prevent PR professionals from inadvertently stepping into legal pitfalls.
For instance, take a bank expanding to a Muslim-majority country. If the bank’s advertising campaign was to highlight interest-based products, this could inadvertently offend the local population and lead to public backlash and regulatory scrutiny given that interest charged on loans or deposits is proscribed in Islam. Had the PR team been more attuned to the cultural context, they could have adapted their communication strategy to align with local values and avoid both legal and reputational challenges.
For PR professionals working with non-Muslim audiences entering Muslim-majority markets, acknowledging the well-known issue of aligning campaigns with cultural sensitivities is crucial. To navigate this, prioritize cultural intelligence, providing clients with cultural training and fostering an understanding of local values. Tailor communication materials to align with customs, engage local expertise, collaborate with influencers, and continuously monitor cultural trends for adaptation. By proactively addressing cultural considerations, PR professionals can guide non-Muslim audiences in successfully entering these markets while avoiding inadvertent cultural missteps.
A strong understanding of diverse cultures can help avoid these issues, fostering better compliance and successful international engagement.
In the dynamic world of financial services, understanding cultural intricacies is not just an option; it is necessary for success. Strategic marketing communications and PR are the vehicles for that success. Effective communication, trust building, and compliance with local regulations all depend on cultural sensitivity.
It is the responsibility of PR professionals as much as financial institutions to immerse themselves in the cultural landscapes of their clients and their target audiences, ensuring that corporate and financial communications strategies are not only well-informed but also respectful of diverse perspectives. Cultivating this cultural awareness is the key to forging strong and lasting connections with clients, investors, and stakeholders worldwide, making it a driving force behind the success of financial services public relations. Embrace culture as an essential tool in an ever-evolving PR arsenal, and watch your global reach flourish.