Latin America as a uniform structure can become a delusion for those who have to make regional business decisions.
BY DARIO CUTIN
PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico -- The public and private dialogues during the 2012 edition of the World Economic Forum for Latin America have served as a reminder of the fact that considering Latin America as a homogenous region or market is a mistake that can have a negative impact in the organizational, business and communications planning process.
The more the leaders know about the region, the more they agree that this area of the world is not a block nor does it act as if it will become one. It is rather a theoretical aggregate of multiple realities and complexities that have common roots and characteristics, but also many nuances that differentiate one country and market from another.
This region has deep cultural connections – and only to some extent geopolitical and economic similarities – but it also has a diversity that is impossible to understand by reviewing a spreadsheet or looking through a computer window. The only way to comprehend this region is talking and expending time with its leaders and their people, which are essential ways to understand where their priorities and concerns are common or different.
Since many countries have Spanish as their official language, it is tempting for newcomers to perceive that everything is relatively the same in Latin America... Over time, however, they can recognize that not even language escapes from the differences in each corner of the region.
In regards to the economy, between markets that are emerging, submerged or in the emergency room, the differences are even more accentuated. For instance, the size of Mexico and Brazil makes those two countries impossible to compare with the rest of the region. This situation calls for objectives views while preparing plans for Latin America: it is difficult for regional business or communications leaders to perceive, remember and consider the nuances in the region if they are based on the two largest economies of the region. Otherwise, distance is necessary and indispensable to ensure a general view to consider commonalities and differences within the region.
From a communications perspective, if we had to name the most relevant common characteristic throughout the region, that should be the openness and interest in in-person and small group dialogues. Latin Americans are always eager to talk and exchange ideas. Consequently, organizations must allocate the resources and time needed to develop solid and credible spokespeople to serve as messengers during in person, live conversations.
Along these lines, one highlight of the Forum this year in Mexico is the absence of many private or public sector leaders from several countries, who did not join the conversation to help establish the common ground of priorities for the region, as well to communicate the nuances between the neighbors for the common good. The absence of those senior leaders creates a communication gap that will be perceived, regionally and locally, as a lack of interest and avoidance of business and communications responsibilities.
REGIONAL OR LOCAL COMMUNICATIONS?
A question came up frequently while speaking with many leaders in recent days about the multiple realities of Latin America: if there are so many differences between the key markets, do we need regional communication plans?
I firmly believe that regional communications plans are necessary and worthwhile because they allow organizations to have a consistent, coherent and effective message to support their business plans. However, these plans should include processes and tools to ensure that regional initiatives are leveraged, adapted, customized and even supplemented with local tactics that address the realities, priorities, special circumstances, needs and characteristics of each country or market.
Those regional plans must have a long term approach. They should avoid “easy” solutions, because strategic communications require time, professionalism, personal dedication and reasonable resources over time. Moreover, they call for orchestrated efforts instead of spontaneous and brief attempts to “do some magic,” have a smart, isolated “spin,” or “create some buzz.”
Despite that various leaders don’t like it, building the image and reputation of an organization takes a long term, meaningful and disciplined approach, with the direct involvement of the leaders themselves. It is impossible to establish a good reputation in an impersonal or isolated manner, and it certainly can’t be nurtured in two days or one month... conversely, it can be destroyed pretty quickly if not protected... locally and regionally.
Dario Cutin is Partner and Managing Director, Client Services Latin America, Fleishman-Hillard.