The Dos and Don’ts for Being Culturally Competent with Your PR Plan in 2024

Recognizing the pivotal role DEI plays in effective brand engagement, Jenny Medina Morris, Managing Director of Omniculture Communications, highlights the intricacies of language and culture. Read on for her advice for honing cultural competence, especially in planning and executing impactful marcomms campaigns.

Jenny Medina Morris (left) and Darice Gall (right), Executive Director at Women of Tomorrow FL, at the Connect Gala of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas (CT)

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) have become not only a trend in the last few years, but also the main ingredient for brands looking to truly engage and build relationships with a broader audience as part of their communications and PR strategies. 

This effort can be a significant challenge when considering factors such as language and culture, for example what makes Latinos tick, it’s not the same that makes African Americans, or Asians tick. Each demographic group has their own views on how they receive and interpret messages.

Because planning and executing a culturally relevant PR or communications campaign is more complex that translating a press release, here are a few basics dos and don’ts to be more culturally competent and help your PR plan get the ball rolling.

Jenny Medina Morris (left) with Jessica Cerdeña, author and medical anthropologist from the Department of Anthropology at Yale University, presenting her latest research on understanding the biosocial roots of health inequities. 

1. DON’T judge the book by the cover.

Be aware the biggest misconception is thinking that ethnic groups are a homogenous group that looks alike. For example, not all brown skin people are Latinos, they could be from India, and not all black people are from Africa, they could be Afro-Latino, French, Nigerian or from Brooklyn.  In the same way, assuming all Asians are Chinese when they could be from Japan or Taiwan. Likewise, Portuguese speakers could be from Brazil or Portugal, and on and on. So, determine your audience and keep in mind ethnic groups have a beautiful palette of color with differences and similarities, as well as cultures and subcultures.

2. DO your research to understand your target culture.

Research can help you to uncover cultural insights to understand the cultural nuances of your target demographic. After you select the insights, you transform them into cultural strategies to achieve your brand’s goal. Crafting a strategic PR plan with cultural sensitivity will ignite a meaningful connection. You don’t need an extra budget for market research; for example, you could search demographics data online by the latest Census Bureau, interview people with your target cultural background from the community and listen to their feedback. 

3. DON’T pitch the same story to the ethnic media.

I have heard from Spanish media editors that stories pitched by agencies usually are not culturally relevant to their Hispanic audience. So, it’s important to customize your pitch to your target population and location. Find out what the current events are in these communities and find the best angle that engages them. For example, pitching your story for the Miami market, where the majority are Cubans, might not be relevant for Texas, where the majority are Mexicans, or New York, which is predominantly Puerto Ricans among Hispanics. Avoid using the same content strategy for the general market if you want to gain media coverage in an ethnic market.

4. DO networking with multicultural colleagues.

I don’t mean exchanging business cards in your next happy hour event, I mean to truly build a genuine relationship with colleagues with different cultural backgrounds in PR, marcomms, or media industry. Building a diverse and inclusive network will enrich your views, experience, and future collaborations. Also, consider connecting virtually on social media and follow interesting profiles. Our PR work is based on connections, so let’s practice what we preach.

5. DON’T translate your press releases, trans-create them.

You can translate a birth certificate word by word from English to Spanish, but not your marketing content, because it will lose its purpose, voice, and tone in a second language. You need a bilingual copywriter with a keen knowledge of the language and culture to ensure your press releases or any other marketing content will be trans-created to achieve the same result as your original copy. Be aware, some phrases can’t be translated. For example, to advertise their leather seats, American Airlines used the slogan “Fly in Leather,” which translated in Spanish for the market in Mexico as “Vuela en Cuero,” which means “Fly Naked.” One simple mistake in one word badly translated could cost you the whole campaign.

Finally, have your team on board on executing your culturally relevant plan with a consistent message across platforms, and look to integrate all your team areas of expertise. Your effort will be in vain if your plan stays on paper and is not executed properly. Involve your team in the cultural process to embrace diversity and deliver your DEI messages all year round, go beyond Juneteenth and the Hispanic Heritage month, develop cultural strategies from your next Tik Tok video to your next podcast. Monitor and assets your PR plan until you see results. Nothing is written in stone, and being more culturally competent requires flexibility to adjust and understand a new market. At the end of the day we all are human regardless of our diversity.

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