Sep 26th 2016

Speaking the language of International PR

If you’re a frequent Tweeter or a budding linguist, you might already know that today is the European Day of Languages. An initiative of the Council of Europe, it has been celebrated on the 26th September every year since 2001. In honour of the day, events are being held across Europe to promote linguistic diversity and language learning for all.

As a linguist myself, I’ve always been of the belief that English-speaking countries like the US and Britain have fallen on the lazy side of language learning and aren’t as adept or willing to learn a foreign language as other nations. In Germany or Scandinavia, for example, the general grasp of English and other languages is pretty impressive. Yet it’s been well documented in national newspapers here in the UK that language teaching is in crisis. Uptake of foreign languages at GSCE or A-Level standard isn’t as strong as other subjects, which led The Guardian and the British Academy in 2015 to launch the ‘Case of Language Learning’ to investigate why Brits are so stubbornly against anything but their mother tongue.

‘English is the language of business,’ so people say. But I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, English might be more accessible as a language to other cultures and most of our foreign colleagues may speak the language to a relatively good degree. But language learning, as the Guardian pointed out, is vital for the UK’s future prosperity and global standing, trade purposes, diplomacy and national security. And I would think this would be even truer in the wake of Brexit, as we start to break ties from the single market and other EU countries.

In PR, we often have to work with external agencies across EMEA and beyond to help drive international PR campaigns for clients. I have led some of these projects where, rather than give orders in English to those I’m working with, I find that speaking to European PR professionals in their own language, trying to get a grasp of cultural differences that may impact the campaign and ensure salient information doesn’t literally get ‘lost in translation’ can be impactful and integral to the overall success.

In fact, an interesting article in Influence magazine highlights there is a certain ‘naivety around the importance of language in the English-speaking PR industries.’ As well as emphasising the importance of language skills within international campaigns, the article explains how, if getting the language right for international PR campaigns can make or break success, then it’s imperative to work with international agencies or teams to discern how linguistic or cultural challenges can impact our clients’ objectives. For those of us that have run international campaigns before, we know there are no one-size-fits-all ‘campaigns in a box.’ It’s not just the content that needs to be translated or localised, but also the tactics we employ within our campaigns.

At Babel, we welcome working with partner agencies whatever the size, wherever they are based, in order to achieve our clients’ PR goals. We’d like to think that we’ll do our best to research their markets, understand their challenges and work with them to create a campaign that translates well in their region and will achieve success for all.

We should all be making an effort to meet colleagues halfway – whatever our profession or line of business. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to learn Chinese in a day, it could be something as simple as learning a few important phrases and greetings here and there to break the ice in an email, or to make the effort to explain something super technical in plain words in their own tongue. And what better time to try than today, the European Day of Languages. Andiamo, allons-y, vamos!


Sarah Alonze
Sarah Alonze DIRECTOR