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Conversis releases new report: The importance of understanding language and culture when managing an international crisis

International brand reputations at risk because of language and cultural misunderstandings.

Both British and US PR executives have experienced shortfalls when managing crisis communications, due to misinterpreted cultural nuances and the lack of language and cultural skills amongst their staff.

This study of UK and US based communication executives with an international role shows that whilst almost all (99%) are confident they communicate the sensitive messages of a crisis situation across local markets by taking consideration of cultural nuances, mistakes continue to happen, mainly due to cultural misinterpretation or mistranslations.

Garry Muddyman, CEO of Conversis said ‘The digital age has fundamentally changed the way communications professionals have to manage crisis communications and we hope this report gives the first insight into how they are approaching the linguistic challenge these changes present. Social Media is now an integral part of our personal and business lives.’

The results also pointed out that a lack of language skills had resulted in a quarter of respondents not being able to respond to an issue in a timely manner and 13% even admitted to this particular skill shortage leading to a deterioration in their relationship with their end client.

Almost one half of the respondents admitted to having experienced a faux pas due to misread/wrong cultural reference in a campaign and in an alarming 68.3% of those cases these led to severe ramifications. 

86% of respondents create Governance Documents, First Response Kits and Process Manuals in more than one language besides English when putting together crisis communications plans, with 46.2% of those in the US translating these documents into more than 11 languages compared to just 15.4% of those based in the UK.

Francis Ingham, Chief Executive, ICCO and Director General, UK & MENA PRCA said ‘This report should be a wakeup call for our industry, on both sides of the Atlantic. We simply do not invest enough time, effort and – yes – money in communicating in other languages, and in understanding other cultures. The costs of that failure are never higher than when crisis hits.’

Finally, with regards to the speed of providing crucial first response holding statements in local languages in the case of a crisis situation, 92.6% did so in under five hours, with 39.5% having a first statement ready in less than two hours. However, localised specialist follow up statements take a little longer. Just over 36% of respondents said they deliver them between two and six hours, with 26.8% and 23.9% providing them between six and twelve hours, and 12 and 24 hours respectively.

The findings of this report along with the valuable comments from top PR executives that were interviewed for further insight, show how important it is to keep in mind when preparing for a crisis, not only that the message needs to be accurately translated, but also put into local context and tuned in with the respective cultural nuances. You can download a digital version of the report from the Conversis website

4th May 2016


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