Want a New Perspective? Take a Trip!
By Laura Vandiver, TVG Vice President of Research and Strategic Insight
I love learning about other cultures—it’s the cultural anthropologist in me. So when I was given the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica in November to meet with some of our national and international public relations partners, I was thrilled! I think sometimes we get stuck in a certain way of thinking about and doing business, and there’s nothing like having some cultural immersion to shake up your perspective a bit.
Meeting in Costa Rica, at the sleek El Mangroove resort in Guanacaste, was a brilliant idea. It’s beautiful, tropical, and has all the modern conveniences that even the pickiest traveler might want. The Costa Ricans call this pura vida, or “pure life”—and it describes the fresh, healthy and laid back lifestyle of the country. Having said that, the location is not only great for vacationing, but also makes it an interesting place to do business. Central America is home to many emerging markets, but not as many politically stable governments. Costa Rica and Panama are considered ideal—they are politically stable and primed for economic growth. The Costa Rican marketplace is courted by many of the biggest companies in the world, but that doesn’t mean they handle clients and do business the same way we might in the U.S.
Take this example, for instance. One of our partners had a business meeting in Honduras. He exited the plane, only to be greeted by six machine gun-armed guards. They took him to an armored car where they handed him a pistol and said “Here. Take this, just in case.” When was the last time one of your business meetings started this way? How would you have handled the situation? While this may be an extreme example, it offers a couple of key takeaways:
1. Know what you’re getting into with your client before you start. Outline your expectations and theirs—and make sure everyone is clear and on the same page.
2. Be prepared for anything! In PR, our clients rely on us to see what’s around the corner. You need to be prepared for a potential crisis, or else you could become part of it.
Another aspect of interacting with colleagues in other countries is learning about their best practices. Clearly, what works in one culture may fall completely flat in another. This goes for how you might pitch new business, how you make a presentation, the fee structure, the kind of technology you use, and so on. Everything is impacted by cultural norms in some way. Learning what has worked for our international partners makes us smarter about how we interact with potential clients around the world, and gives us new ideas and approaches to try with all of our clients. It’s how we stay a small company with both a local and global impact.
So, if an opportunity arises for you to work with a business partner or client internationally, take it. The lessons you can learn are not something you can get at the home office. Pura vida!