April 9, 2018
In August of 2017, I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa on National Women’s Day. Standing in front of an exhibit about the 1956 women’s march in Pretoria brought me back to the Women’s March in January of last year in Washington, DC. Although there are obvious differences, 60 years and 8,094 miles between the two events, it was one of the many moments during my graduate program where I was reminded how important human connection and mutual understanding is to communication.
The George Washington University Global Advocacy and International Public Relations Masters, my graduate program, pushes me to think beyond borders. Students are encouraged to identify how to move an issue, policy, or message forward in a way that resonates with people of different backgrounds.
While I’ve developed tactical skills, the most important takeaway for me as a communications practitioner has been recognizing the importance of history and the need to build relationships based on mutual understanding.
The exhibits at the Apartheid Museum brought us closer to our classmates who know South Africa’s tumultuous history well, and illustrated the important role history plays in communication. Apartheid ended in part because people spoke up for what they believed in. They spoke out, engaged politicians to legislate for change, sought media coverage of the issues and used music to champion their cause.
The Apartheid Museum visit gave context to the current state of life in South Africa and opened a window through which we could try to better understand the history of a nation that is incredibly diverse, resilient, and full of potential. We could connect with our classmates in a way I would have been unable to before.
Whether it’s understanding a country, a person, an issue or brand, successful communication is ultimately about connection. That is something I strive to bring into my daily work and to every interaction I have be it with a coworker, client, reporter or brand ambassador. Relationships are the background of every successful partnership.
Also, it’s helped me think “outside the box” and think critically about PR strategies in a global environment. More and more businesses, universities, and policymakers are expanding their reach beyond borders and as communicators we need to embrace and incorporate that shift. An understanding of global context and the ability to build cross-cultural relationships is key to the future of the PR industry.
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