The effective, multicultural practice of public relations

February 1, 2012

The changing demographics of the United States demonstrate the need for public relations to become a diverse profession that understands and practices multicultural communication and provides equal opportunities for minorities and women. In an organizational context, diversity in public relations is essential as organizations function in multicultural environments.

A diverse organization can benefit from the multiplicity of experiences, backgrounds, attitudes and networks that their employees bring to the organization. Practitioners should advocate for diversity of all types in the PR function and in the organization.

As practitioners work for diversity and equity in the organization, they should also examine the products and messages that they produce — looking at the text and images, becoming reflexive throughout the process, and disengaging any biases, stereotypes and misconceptions from the work.

For the profession to succeed, according to academics Dr. Bey-Ling Sha,  APR, and Dr. Rochelle Ford,  APR, “all of us must learn to consider multiple diversities as constituting integral and integrated aspects of the field rather than as ‘Others’ that are somehow different and separate from ‘mainstream’ public relations.”

And in her University of Maryland thesis regarding multicultural communications, Virginia Sheng concluded, “Membership in a specific group does not — by itself — determine the effectiveness of one communicator over others.”

Sheng further identified several components of the multicultural PR practice:

  1. Interdependence: Multicultural public relations recognizes the organization’s cultural publics as fellow human beings who can affect the organization as well as have it affect them.
  2. Cultural sensitivity: Multicultural public relations perceives and recognizes the cultural dimensions or patterns that can affect the perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of the organization’s cultural publics.
  3. Value of diversity: Multicultural public relations acknowledges and respects the diverse perspectives that may be brought about by the organization’s cultural publics.
  4. Symmetrical communication: Multicultural public relations utilizes open, two-way communication techniques in order to foster long-term relationships and mutual understanding between the organization and its publics.
  5. Conflict resolution: One way that multicultural public relations promotes and maintains positive relationships between the organization and its cultural publics is through negotiation and compromise as means to resolving conflict.

Furthermore, Sheng outlined several characteristics of practitioners who work in and with diverse audiences:

  • They are aware of how their own background may shape their perspectives and attitudes about other cultures.
  • They have multicultural relations skills that can help them communicate effectively with others who are culturally different.
  • They must have mediation skills that can help them negotiate across cultural lines in conflict situations.
  • They must understand that cultural sensitivity can be learned through extensive education and experience, and that membership in a specific group does not determine the effectiveness of one communicator over another by itself.
Natalie T. J. Tindall, Ph.D.
Natalie T. J. Tindall, Ph.D., is the 2012 PRSA diversity committee chair. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University in Atlanta, and is a PUHR affiliated faculty member.


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