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Communicators came to Canada and saw the future.

Communicators Came to Canada and Saw the Future

For all their promises to the contrary, most conferences tend to focus on events and activities occurring now, not what we can expect in the future.

The recent IABC international conference in Vancouver, B.C. was different: It showed communicators the future in two areas--tomorrow's work place and the techniques we will use to reach audiences made up of people of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds; and the environmental trends that will change the way we and our organizations operate.

No two countries share more similar cultural traits than Canada and the US, but once across the border, an American in Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver wonders why the temperature never exceeds 50 degrees no matter how hot it gets. Changing Fahrenheit into Celsius , miles into kilometers or English into French causes cultural differences quickly to bubble to the surface.

Communications who came to the conference from 18 countries witnessed firsthand the importance of dealing sensitively with language and culture--headlines screamed each day about the intent of Quebec to defect from Canada over matters of provincial sovereignty. It loomed as the ultimate consequence of all the communication lessons and practices the conference held in store. One speaker began his introduction saying: "Welcome to Canada, or least what's left of it after the news this morning."

So, as if in a real-life vision of the future, 1,200 communicators spent May 20 to 23 exploring solutions to the cultural questions that baffle and bewilder businesspeople in today's mercurial global economy.

The 21st IABC international conference began Sunday, May 20, the Councils InFocus sessions held in the Hotel Vancouver. As a sample of the InFocus sessions, the Internal Council featured Maurice Lafonteine, master and president of the Royal Canadian Mint, Ottawa, Ont.; W. K. McCourt, executive vice president of B.C. Telephone, Vancouver, B.C.; and Ronald K. Watkins, president and cEO of Nebraska Public Power district, Columbus.

In explaining how he worked with his chief communicator in imtroducing the Canadian Maple Leaf gold coin into Malaysia, Lafonteine joked, "When you're CEO, you just show up, do what you're told, and smile a lot."

On a more serious note, McCourt credited an improved communication program recently conducted for B.C. Telephone's employees with substantially increasing employee morale. However, he said morale didn't improve until all levels of management received commumication skills training. He had mandated a course in communication for all managers and asked every one of them to develop a specific, measurable communication goal. He also urged communicators to become facilitators and consultants with the key challenge of convincing managers of the importance of communication.

Watkins, who the next day was given the IABC Excellence in Communication Leaderhip award, said: "A business can't succeed without effective communication. If employees are not well informed, they will simply follow their own agenda and not buy into company goals and plans." He sparked a round of applause from the audience when he said: "Perhaps I can serve as an ember of hope that you can make communicators out of engineers, scientists, financial executives and others to whom communication does not come easily."

The Multicultural Future

The multicultural thread tied the four-day conference together and wrapped the event into a package that will help communicators plan for the future. In Eastern Europe, however, that future won't be coming as fast as elsewhere.

To anyone who expects Eastern Europe to be switching to capitalism in a hurry, Chris Bunting, ABC, says don't hold your breath. Bunting ought to know--his company, Continental Golin/Harris Communications, Inc., Toronto, Ont. was responsible for the pervasive global media coverage that accompanied the recent opening of McDonald's in Moscow. Bunting is chairman and CEO.

"After 72 years of communist rule, even the language has been altered to suit the circumstances," Bunting said. "The word 'now' was redefined under the Communists to mean 'sometime'," Bunting added in a general session panel discussion addressing the topic "Think Globally, Your Competition Is."

Expanding upon the need to be sensitive and aware of the local language, Bunting added: "In a changing world, national cultures will gain, not lose importance. They provide stability in a changing world. Dominance of English as the language of business is causing others to insist their language is used."

Another communicator in the fast food industry--Ben Morse, director of corporate communication for Burger King--observed that capitalism is alive and well in the milelong line at the Moscow McDonald's. Enterprising Soviets buy large baskets of burgers, then head for the back of the line to resell them at a tidy profit.

Morse described a similar supply-and-demand situation at the Burger King restaurant in West Berlin shortly after the wall was torn down. "Business increased 1,000 percent and held that way for three weeks," Morse said.

Morse, who addressed communicators at the InFocus luncheon, said his biggest cross-cultural problem is preparing and distributing employee videos in 16 languages in order to control Burger King's product consistency and quality. As an indication of how quickly the need can surface, this full-scale multicultural/multilingual effort began at Burger King only 18 months ago.

Earlier tries at international communication had met with considerable difficulty. The company attempted an international program in 1980 and it took 8-1/2 weeks just to get copy approved. A still earlier unfocused effort left it to franchisees in various countries to obtain translations. As a result, they found restaurants in some countries serving hamburgers smothered in gravy and others adding even more imaginative touches to the Burger King menu. The need for global control (but with local input) was clear.

Nobody said multilingual communication was going to be easy. Morse explained how his company's Hispanic videos are prepared: "They are recorded by a Columbian in Puerto Rico, produced at our headquarters in Miami, then sent to spain for Castillian translation."

Cultural differences can create communication challenges in one's own country, too. "Black people aren't just dark white people," said Chuck Morrison, vice president of Black and Hispanic (US) markets for Coca-Cola, Atlanta, Ga. In marketing soft drinks he pointed out that blacks' buying preferences are very different from whites--African Americans consume as much as 42 percent of orange and grape flavors, but only 8 percent of diet cola drinks. Not only are Coke's commercials produced in many languages and dialects, but other community projects and events are targeted to reach black and Hispanic consumers who buy 24 percent of his company's product.

Morrison described the importance of speaking to people of the various Latin-American cultures in their own colloquial language. "If you don't, you'd literally be better off doing nothing at all,c he said. "At least then they wouldn't have a negative impressin of your company," he added. He cited the importance of stressing education as a means to success in the Latin-American community. And, in marketing to blacks it is necessary to understand the importance of the extended family. In all cases, he said, successful marketing goes beyond commercials and demands an understanding of the consumer's culture in order to succeed.

Another US company communicating across cultural as well as geographic borders is Federal Express, Memphis, Tenn. Tom Martin, manager of communicaton, described his communication operation which has a staff of 65 in the US and 10 in other countries. From the US headquarters they produce 300 printed magazines, brochures, newsletters and booklets a year, in addition to a daily video new show satellited to the company's 82,000 employees, 16,000 of whom are outside the US. Federal Express Company's goal is to provide identical service everywhere in the world, unlike some companies that modify their product or service to suit the dictates of the host country.

Communicating the

Environmental Future

The other topic that promises to demand communicators' time and energy in the future is the environment.

"The media won't be able to sustain the public interest in the environment for more than a year," said Jean Cormier, APR, president of Cormier Communicators, Vancouver, B.C. in a general session titled: "Business and the Environment: Is Partnership Possible?"

Disagreeing with that statement, Colin Isaacs, former director of Canada's Pollution Probe Foundatin, said: "Politicians are now involved in environmental issues, so every time they speak, the subject will appear in the media. Marketers also see an opportunity to make money from environmentalism, so they, too, will be keeping the subject alive in the media. Also, environmental disasters, like the Exxon oil spill and the two recent (Canadian) tire fires will keep the subject alive for many years."

Also on the panel was Robert D. Chickering, president of American Enviro Products, Inc., producer of the first biodegradable diaper. His firm had monumental difficulties "trying to be green," and he outlined the kinds of problems he encountered with governmetns at all levels, as well as with environmentalists representing large animals, microscopic animals, salt water protectors, fresh water protectors, those concerned about trees, those concerned about water, and on and on...

Chickering's fear: That government and environmental roadblocks will stifle research and encourage companies to continue to do things the old way. "If that happens,c Chickering said, "we all will lose." Environmentalists will not get products that are better for the environment, and businesses will lose opportunities to make money.

Isaacs, who now heads the Environmental Policies and Issues Department at Hill and Knowlton, Toronto, Ont., said Canadian companies generally fall into one of four categories regarding their approach to environmentalism:

1) The altruists--Quaker Oats Canada is an example

2) Those who feel environmentalism represents a moneymaking opportunity

3) Those who take action in order to stave off further regulation-e.g. chemical companies

4) Those who don't care a whit. He says only the smaller companies today fall into this category

"I have never seen an issue (environmentalism) take hold so quickly in the boardrooms of Canada," said Isaacs. He added that most employees want to work for companies that are doing all they can to protect the environment.

More disagreement flared over the question of consumers being wiling to pay higher prices for environmentally superior products. Isaacs said they would. Chickering indicated that while a recent survey said 83 percent of consumers said they would pay more, his experience indicated differently. His product normally sells for a dollar more than the non-biodegradable variety, but in one market area he lowered the price to match his competitors', and sales increased 66 percent.

Cormier noted that consumers are curiously silent about curtailing the use of their automobiles, a major contributor to air pollution. "We have lots of demonstrations for the environment here in Vancouver, but they're always over by five p.m. so we can jump onto our yachts and go visit the environment." He continued: "We're prepared to sacrifice jobs--not mine, not yours--only jobs that don't exist yet. We'll stop the building of a plant to help the environment even if it sacrifices 100 jobs."

During the question-and-answer session, a conference attender from Mexico commented that they can't forget the subject of environment-talism so easily in her country because they recently instituted a one-day-per-week ban on auto use.

The Future of the

Communicator's

Job

For many communicators attending the conference the future is already here--they have experienced the epidemic corporate restructuring and are operating with a staff a fraction of its former size. Or, they have struck out on their own, like conference attender Terry Taylor-Allen, Georgetown, Ky., who specializes in water resources writing after several years of working for a water utility company.

One well-attended session dealt with the subject: Consulting in an Organization." Lou Williams, ABC, APR, head of L.C. Williams, Chicago, III., discussed ways to manage the inhouse communication operation as if it were an outside agency. Several members of the audience commented, such as John Onoda, corporate communication director, Levi Strauss, San Francisco, Calif., who explained that he is developing a system of charging divisions and departments within the company for communication and public relations services.

Kathleen Calby, employee communication manager, Ameri Trust, Cleveland, Ohio, said she has more work than before her staff was downsized since everyone in her company feels she serves only as a go-between with freelancers and no longer emplements projects. Another participant, Peter Davis, C&S Bank, Atlanta, Ga., commented that in recent months he has increased his involvement in direct supervision of freelancers to reduce costs.

Communicators for whom the future means operating their own businesses heard Karen Lee, ABC, K.J. Lee & Associates, Vancouver, B.C., explain how to get the business off to a solid start. "The biggest difference between being employed and being in your own business is that when you're employed your boss tells you what to do; when you're in your own business the client asks 'what should we do?''' Lee gave guidelines for setting rates, projecting cash flow and marketing your business. "The most important ingredient," she said only half joking, "is an employed spouse."

The Future of the

Future

Futurist Frank Ogden told communicators at the Wednesday general session that we are in for some dramatic technological changes in the near future. NHK Broadcasting Company in Japan has developed equipment to simulcast television shows with Japanese and English audio. It serves as a boon to Japanese people interested in learning English. The system also is in use in South Africa where braodcasts are made in English, Afrikaans and 10 other dialects.

The next step--already in the works by Fujitsu-is for simultaneous telephone translation. Says Ogden, "You call Japan and speak English. The person on the other end speaks Japanese, but both languages are simultaneously translated. The charges for the use of the software will be buried somewhere in the phone bill."

Other technological breakthroughs Ogden discussed were:

--A satellite dish the size of a cafeteria tray

--A portable phone using less costly repeater technology (rather than cellular) which already is available in London, England, for US $200 and a $15 flat montly fee.

--Home building technology using sand instead of wood, reducing the cost of materials to about US $200 (retail) instead of the more than $9,000 for wood (wholesale) currently needed for the typical home.

--Other industry-altering inventions such as ceramic knives and scissors that never need sharpening.

IABC's Future

Wrapping up the conference, Ron Martin, ABC, Wednesday May 23, took over as chairman of the IABC executive board. In addressing conference attenders he said:

"As I've traveled to IABC chapters this past year, I've said that I think we, as communicators, have answers to three of the most important questions business and our various societies are asking today:

"First, how can we survive--and prosper--in a global economy?

"Second, how can we use and benefit from new technologies?

"And finally, how can we live and work together in a multicultural world?'''

His vision of the next year includes answers to those questions. He urged members to develop skills in other languages. He said he was pleased that the 199~ Gold Quill awards program will be trilingual--accepting entries in English, French and Spanish. "In addition to language studies, shouldn't IABC also begin developing international work and exchange and travel programs?''', Martin asked. He hopes to see a delegation soon travel through Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania. He hopes to see the number of IABC chapters jump from 13 countries today to double that in five years.

REgarding the need for increased abilities in technology, Martin said: "In IABC we're playing catch up in introducing technologies that will allow us as a global organization to communicate quickly and efficiently. We're establishing a new task force to recommend ways to reduce our reliance on print and paper and to begin delivering some member services electronically."

And on the value of cultural diversity Martin said: "Each of us is unique. Each of us has our own cultural heritage. And that diversity enriches IABC. I have elevated multiculturalism to portfolio status on IABC's executive board, and I'm especially happy that our first director of multiculturalism will be from Mexico City (Bruno Newman, ABC).

"I, for one, have never been prouder to be part of our profession and to be a member of IABC. ... But, if I had to leave you with one thought today, it would be simply: The best is yet to come."

"I would like IABC's third decade to be remembered as the 'quality years'."
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:International Association of Business Communicators 1990 International Conference held in Vancouver, BC
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Words:2729
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