I was recently invited to participate with a client in a week-long gathering of their PR practitioners from around the world. The company, Amway (for American Way), began in Ada, Michigan in 1959 as a model of entrepreneurialism and free enterprise. It now conducts 90 percent of its business outside of the U.S. Over those 51 years, it built itself into a diverse, multicultural company that operates local businesses in approximately 80 markets around the world. This is very different from a U.S. company that opens a few offices around the world headed by executives sent from HQ.
So how did my experience differ from a meeting of U.S. colleagues and what did I learn in the process? First, I really had to listen. Although the meeting and conversations were all conducted in English, the varying accents took a tremendous amount of concentration and focus. Putting aside the multi-tasking and locking in on the person and the conversation was refreshing. Something I want to practice more often.
Second, the group was tuned in to every nuance of the customs and preferences of its countries’ consumers. That led to very different and interesting program approaches. Hearing about the creativity and variety of strategies in markets including Australia, Europe, South Africa, India and China was eye-opening. Thinking about presenting Amway as one unified company around the world, but leveraging the differences of each market, that’s daunting.
Finally, social media channels and practices differ widely. As one participant noted on the meeting’s dedicated Facebook page, few outside the country might know that the evening is the best time for social networking in Brazil. It became clear that although it is unlikely that a single social media-driven idea will work with equal effectiveness around the world, markets can certainly borrow and reframe ideas from one another.
But perhaps the biggest impact of the meeting was the personal. While we were at the conference, our South African colleague’s wife gave birth to a handsome baby boy (who we were all able to “pass around” thanks to an iPhone photo). Before leaving for his earlier than expected flight home, he told us the story of the naming of his child. There have been very few births recently in his family, so his son is the first new child in some time. Therefore, with great pride, he and his wife named their son LIHLUMELO, which roughly translates to “extension of my clan.”
How can you beat that!