I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Nadine Hoffmann, an assistant professor of communication currently teaching public relations (PR) at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. Hoffmann is a kind, articulate and well-educated woman. Her soft voice held a slight lilt, echoing her pleasant accent as we spoke. She is from Germany and received her undergraduate degree from a university there, later completing a master’s degree and Ph.D in the United States. Because I was situated on Weber State University’s (WSU) campus here in Ogden, UT and she was in New York, Hoffmann graciously accepted my invitation for a phone interview. What I learned as she answered all my questions changed my perspective on how to successfully work in international PR.
Hoffmann worked internationally for Faber-Castell, the world’s largest pencil supplier in Germany. During her tenure there, she worked in the international PR department. Hoffmann was responsible for distributing messages from Faber’s headquarters to PR divisions worldwide. Her job was to ensure the same message was received and interpreted the same way at every division. In this position, she also organized international events and regularly hosted journalists at Faber’s production facilities. Because she worked with divisions in South America, Faber paid for Hoffmann to take Spanish classes which allowed her to become fluent in the language.
Hoffmann had the opportunity to take part in international trade fairs and meetings which allowed extensive interaction with colleagues all over the world. “PR is never a boring job; you always get to experience different adventures. You may do things you never thought you would do as part of your job,” said Hoffmann. This is the glamorous part of PR; sometimes you do not know what your day will look like, and the anticipation makes the job more exciting. Hoffmann pointed out that with every job comes tasks that may seem redundant or boring. You must always make the best of any given situation by having a good attitude. She said crisis situations were especially challenging. “You are responsible for the fate of your employer, which can be a little scary. You sometimes never know what the next call will bring. It is definitely stressful,” she said.
Hoffmann helped me understand the need to be an effective communicator; not just for the company I work for, but in interactions with journalists. She said, “There has always been a need to build relationships between journalists and PR practitioners. There is a larger reliance on PR professionals than ever before because more content needs to be produced by fewer journalists.” Hoffmann shared an experience where she sent a news release to a journalist and was surprised to see it printed word-for-word in a publication. “This is the consequence of having less journalists,” she said. We are more responsible for our content and its validity.
In building relationships with journalists, you must be honest and reliable. Hoffmann emphasized that sometimes journalists may come to you and need an item quickly because of a deadline. “As much as you would like to help, sometimes you cannot make it within their deadline. You must always do your best to help, but sometimes you may not receive requested information in time. When that occurs, honesty is key,” Hoffmann said. You never want to disappoint journalists because you are not able to make their deadlines. When you are honest, communicative and reliable you are more respected as a PR practitioner.
Social media was an entirely different animal when Hoffmann was working for Faber-Castell five years ago. “I actually started the company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts,” she said. She pointed out that social media was more experimental then, it was a new form of communication to play around with. There was no content or audience strategy to speak of. “Now, social media is a tool to reach goals and objectives. Do not just post a picture every day; incorporate a strategy about why that particular picture was posted,” Hoffmann said. Social media is also the perfect platform for two-way communication between a company and its public. You really have the opportunity to listen to and understand your public.
Along with understanding how to use social media appropriately are other essential skills needed to be a successful PR practitioner. “Being a good writer, editor and researcher are crucial in public relations. But more important than those factors is having a good attitude,” said Hoffmann. Everything we learn now may be obsolete in the next five years. “Being willing to learn about new subject matter and thinking strategically and critically will help you adapt to a rapidly changing field.” Hoffmann concluded by sharing tips for success in international PR. “Learn through your experiences. Live abroad and experience a different culture. This can be accomplished by volunteering your time or interning internationally. You will have the opportunity to appreciate a new culture, and respect it,” she said.
Hoffmann also emphasized the need to know at least two languages, even though she says English is the language of international business. By learning another language, you show you are really interested in international and intercultural environments. When you understand these environments, you begin to see the way PR works in other cultures. Expectations, standards and values are often different from your own. If you want to work internationally, you must develop intercultural sensitivity through your experiences. She recommended looking into the Fulbright program (http://www.us.fulbrightonline.org/) and seeking out international volunteer opportunities online.
Dr. Hoffmann shared a wealth of outstanding and helpful information. She has been a college student before and understands the need to succeed by learning and experiencing everything. She offered a little gem of advice before we ended our conversation. “Do not expect to get out of college knowing everything. Part of college is learning how to learn; how to think critically and adapt in ways so you can teach yourself important skills. If you get that out of college, you are bound to be successful.”