Communicating with Ethnic Communities – More than a translated press

Mon, Sep 21 2015

I have been in the communication field for over 20 years and it is still a struggle to both articulate and argue with mainstream PR professionals that non- English communications is more than just a translation, but instead needs its own framework and orthodoxy.

The politics of the time and the prevalence of mainstreaming is serving to delegitimise practices that focus on the difference and the diversity that ethnic communities represent. Therefore a lot of PR for ethnic communities is either not included or done by mainstream agencies.

This is a specialist area

I would argue that non-English communications and public relations is indeed a specialist area.

The numbers are compelling: 5.3 million people born overseas; 4 million speaking a language other than English in their homes; more than 150 languages other than English spoken daily. They are even more compelling when they are disaggregated around particular cohorts: 450,000 international students currently studying in Australia; 52% of all Italian born people are aged over 65; over 50,000 Chinese small to medium enterprises operating in Australia, just to name a few. Sourcing and understanding the right numbers is a specialist task.

Cultural Perspectives retains close contact with ethnic diversity in terms of where people live, how they represent themselves and where they get their information, and the media they consume. How many PR professionals can claim deep knowledge about the communities that make up Sydney’s South Western suburbs? How many get past Leichhardt?

The lived experiences of migrants who came in the 1950s and 60s are vastly different from those arriving today. Equally the experiences of business and skilled migrants are also worlds apart from those of refugee and humanitarian migrants. Understanding the differences between groups and within individual language groups is essential to getting the message right and to appropriate targeting.

The most important of all specialist consideration is understanding cultural sensitivity.  Why is it that you can talk to Italians about the buying intentions for mausoleums and crypts but not mental health? Misunderstanding the level and nature of sensitivity can not only waste money abut it can totally alienate these audiences.

Applying specialist knowledge

Cultural Perspectives have delivered over 140 large scale multicultural communications campaigns. Two stand out as best demonstrating the application of specialist knowledge and high level community engagement skills.

Quarantine Matters Campaign

For eight years, Cultural Perspectives were involved in developing, delivering and refining the multicultural markets strategy for Quarantine Matters. We analysed Census and immigration data (arrival and departure cards) for border crossing data occurrence and frequency by country of destination or origin. We analysed Quarantine Service data of items intercepted by frequency and type. We considered the nature of VFR travel and the implications for quarantine and we developed a rolling campaign around key calendar periods for trans-border movement in person or through mail.

Through this we were able to be innovative and relevant. We organised the distribution of bilingual materials in language relevant to the communities traveling to Saudi Arabia for the ‘Haj’ at the departure gates being used for chartered flights. We negotiated the ability for relatives to purchase vouchers in Hong Kong for moon cakes that could be retrieved in Australian Chinese grocers to avert them being confiscated in the mail centres.

In short, we positioned ethnic communities as the key component of the strategy and were given the freedom to make it work.

Trafficked Sex Worker Campaign

Cultural Perspectives were tasked with getting information to migrant sex workers who may have been illegally trafficked to inform them of their options and visa rights. Given the high level sensitivity and risks associated with this task, we sought and were able to work with the Scarlet Alliance and other State/Territory based sex workers outreach services to both develop the right set of information materials but also create the process for the materials to reach potentially trafficked workers in brothels. Sexual health outreach workers became key to the information delivery and were instrumental in ensuring that these women know both what options and rights they could consider and expect if they came forward to the authorities.

In both cases materials were translated but these materials were only a small part of far broader approaches and their successes.

Author: Pino Migliorino, BA, Dip Ed, FPRIA, QPMR

Managing Director

Cultural Perspectives Pty. Ltd.

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