While living with the global pandemic for over a year now, business communicators are ushering in a new normal by innovating the way we communicate. Here, I share examples of global communication trends, based on lived experience — from technology opportunities, to troubleshooting live media events online, advice on how to move the needle on global sustainability through communications and more.
Case Study: How COVID-19 Brought Massive Changes to Global PR
When we were first hit by COVID-19, practically all live events transitioned online and ushered in digital transformation (DX). All my technology brand customers turned to video platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and YouTube Live. We also increased the usage of cloud data storage, through Microsoft SharePoint and Box, to eliminate email attachments and reduce ransomware cyber risks. Additionally, we started actively utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) with translation apps such as DeepL and Grammarly.
These communication methods have quickly expanded to bridge our customers and reporters residing in Japan with the rest of the world in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Spain, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S., all on a regular basis.
Cross-cultural, Multilingual Content Bonds People
By now, everyone is much more flexible with schedules, making the most of the mornings and evenings. This enables our speakers to engage with reporters and audiences even more personally.
For online media events, it is critical to be aware of microaggressions because there are so many silent, unspoken aspects of cultural sensitivity. For example, in Japan, many citizens do not feel comfortable speaking English, although many journalists have a high understanding of written English. People here feel shy asking questions or delivering opinions in front of others. Our PR team must work to eliminate any dismissive or demeaning attitudes, behaviors and expressions in every business communication event.
There are two important elements when creating a positive atmosphere for these events. One is to encourage speakers to be humanistic experts and show sapient leadership, and the other is to reach out to reporters behind the screen to ensure they are supported.
First, brief your speakers to talk slowly with a smile, especially when speaking English. Prepare your speakers to share some personal stories so that interpreters can add a human touch on top of hard facts and news. The interpretation is unique to global PR, so you must secure extra time and budget and guide your speaker to keep pace with interpreters.
Second, pay attention to journalists’ social media posts to try and understand their perspective. At online media events in 2020, many reporters commented that they could no longer take high-resolution photos, which were critical for their audience. To address this, we purchased ring lights for our speakers and assigned dedicated staff members for screen-capture operations.
Another tip, particularly in Japan, is to tell your speaker to put “san,” a casual honorific title, after Japanese names. This “san” makes the conversation friendly, whereas omitting “san” sounds like your speakers are intentionally or unintentionally impolite to your reporters.
Other Technical and Practical Tips for a Virtual Media Event
The host of any video platform must mute the noise for all participants, highlight the speakers and present the slides. Managing those configurations can be tricky, because there are so many features that change over time.
One common challenge for online media events, especially in Japan, is Q&A. You might not get questions after your speaker’s presentation — and silence online with a speaker in front of the screen is unbearable. It is awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved.
To avoid this, the emcee can facilitate by having speakers recap, summarize and comment on their own content. The emcee also can jump in with casual comments to warm up the online venue and encourage questions. Having several pre-prepared questions is a good idea.
PR teams also try to keep each session short. For example, in Japan, a press conference now usually spans 50 minutes, leaving 10 minutes for journalists to take a break and switch interview log-ins. This saves time and energy for those reporters, too. This 50-minute session must include the interpreting time.
For official media engagements, it is recommended to record together with a timed screen capture as a substitute for a photo shoot. This will help you share the video, photos, announcements and summaries with your target audience later, not only as a recap of the event but also as an inclusive outreach.
Backup and Business Continuity for Communication Teams
It’s important to have backup scenarios. Remember, people easily panic when something goes wrong. In one case, we experienced network accessibility loss and had to fix it just before an international press conference started. Although my team had confirmed that a network service was available, we discovered the provider’s Wi-Fi service was not activated for our online media event and our backup Wi-Fi devices did not work.
We ended up creating a hybrid format where one of the two speakers and half of the reporters were on-site and the remaining online. While staff was preparing our on-site client to go through the presentation deck, two others supported journalists on-site and one managed to get a LAN cable for the fixed network. We logged on and started the event as scheduled.
We succeeded only because we worked as a team, allowing flexibility for each person to find the solution. Before an event, identify risks such as platform outage, network loss, power outage, battery shortage, data protection and more.
The Rise of Lighter Communications and Problem-solving for Sustainability
One of my best online speaking experiences was at a webinar for IABC’s Asia Pacific (APAC) region concerning diversity and inclusion for innovation. I spoke from home, and it was facilitated by Kristy Christie, IABC APAC chair. My senior colleague German Saa, who leads our international team, also joined and facilitated dialogue by throwing in questions. As a result, one speaker, one operator and one friend enabled a cozy and passionate session attended by more than 30 people. We repurposed the content for Japanese audiences with the IABC Japan chapter, headed by Takeshi Tsukiji.
Under the leadership of Kenzaburo Ikeda, we also conducted a Japanese media survey that revealed 136 respondents from national media outlets pay keen attention to three main topics: digital transformation (DX), the pandemic and regional restorations. In other words, Japan’s revitalization will depend on the cure for COVID-19, facilitation of DX and restoration of local cities.
More than 70% of respondents answered sustainable development goals (SDGs) are effective in solving global challenges, yet 80% replied that only half of the 17 goals will be fulfilled by 2030. Open-ended responses analyzed by our senior researcher, Yoshiko Fujita, included journalists' comments like “do not use SDGs as a PR tag for your brand” and “prove your SDGs efforts with actual products and services.”
This shows how Japanese reporters are skeptical about the wide-reaching global agenda, because it is overwhelmingly huge.
Don’t take it as daunting. As business communicators, we can make an impact on our mass audiences and eventually the world with sincere, humane, heartfelt communication plans. SDGs are not just a fancy showcase of problems, and PR is not a disguising tool. Instead, we can promote diversity, inclusion and innovation through effective communication programs and accelerate SDGs achievement, as discussed at my IABC Converge roundtable on cultural diversity, sensitivity and inclusion.
In a nutshell, global PR in today’s digital era must value sensitivity to your audiences. The key to success starts with understanding the diversity in your market. Then, define the priority of both market and media, and design your event to be engaging by utilizing studies and leveraging tips from experts. This will help your communications support businesses as they successfully navigate the pandemic and grow toward the future.
Kazuko Suzuki Kotaki is deputy director at the PR Research Institute of Kyodo Public Relations, a top PR agency based in Tokyo. She brings in her valuable expertise in public relations and corporate communications specialized in technology and sustainability, based on more than two decades of marketing, media relations and business communications, both as in-house and at agencies. Suzuki Kotaki supports her clients in sparking their innovations and communicating their contributions to a better world through business. She initiates research centered on diversity, equity and inclusion to remove social injustice. Suzuki Kotaki actively engages in public speaking, interviews and writing contributions and collaborates with world-renowned people. She capitalizes on her Japanese upbringing to support local audiences to overcome the high language barrier and leverages AI to communicate beyond languages. She is the wife of a network engineer and the mother of an eight-year-old son.