Scott Kronick co-founded Ogilvy PR in China 21 years ago. Here, the expat makes the case for broadening your horizons by working overseas. Today he serves as President and CEO for Ogilvy Public Relations, Asia Pacific.
Ah, the lure of working abroad! It’s often a rite of passage for future leaders, and if you’re successful at it, working in another country can open doors professionally back home. Quite simply: you can’t know what you don’t know, and with today’s increasingly globalized campaigns, knowledge of different cultures, markets and consumers is coveted by agencies and clients alike.
I joined Oglivy PR’s New York office in 1987, and four years later moved to Asia to build our presence there. I was lured by the prospect of facing new challenges, expanding my horizons and what it might do for me professionally. I haven’t been disappointed.
In fact, I’ve stayed all this time because the experiences of working in a foreign culture continue to offer unparalleled benefits and stimulation. Transporting yourself to a brand new place isn’t just a way to test your ability to adapt or to enhance your reputation, it is also a way to rattle the brain and heart, to breathe deep and to think fresh, and a way to strengthen and apply new learnings to every client project.
Allow me to share three vital reasons why every PR professional should seize the chance to work abroad.
Great idea stimulation
Original thought leadership and innovative strategy – in other words, coming up with fresh ideas so important for brand communications – requires multiple experiences and collaborative input. One of them that may not be considered as much as it should is working overseas.
Uprooting yourself and leaving behind what is essentially your “comfort zone” has a profound physiological effect on the mind. When nothing is familiar, it forces us to question even the very framework by which we understand and interact in the world. This fresh lens increases thoughtfulness, interpretation skills and, most important of all, our creativity.
Don’t take my word for it: psychologists and neuroscientists are studying, and finding, just how new sounds, smells, languages, tastes, sensations and sights impact our neural pathways, essentially rebooting them. It’s called “cognitive flexibility” – the ability to make connections and integrate them in thought.
Better, more effective decision making
Of course, to successfully lead in a new culture, you quickly develop – if you didn’t already have it – a passion for diversity. You understand what makes different groups tick. I would make the case that that passion – being curious and willing to learn about and understand different cultures, backgrounds (and personalities, for that matter) – opens the door to another emerging field of creativity and good decision making that PR professionals can apply back home: thought diversity.
The very process of thinking about different environments, cultures and communication styles encourages unconventional insight. And this, in turn, is an especially powerful skill when applied to specifically reject cultural stereotypes.
Having a diverse background sensitizes you to the nuances of communicating in different languages and cultures and this can be a necessity for organizations navigating multiple markets.
Powerful communication skills
Considering how domestic markers are increasingly culturally diverse, one could make the case that intercultural communication skills will be the number one “soft skill” to look for in the PR professional of the future. Simply gaining a sense of different communications styles can vastly improve the work that’s done for local clients.
What you learn working overseas is knowing what you don’t know is as powerful as knowing what you do know. You become a better listener, grow an appreciation for team members bringing different skills and you learn to team. It is a matter of survival. Again, the entry ticket is curiosity and acknowledging your way is not the only way.
It is difficult to gain a true understanding and appreciation for skills acquired working overseas – which often can be quite subtly and effectively integrated in work done for clients back home – without having experienced them firsthand.
Bottom line: working abroad impacts your ability to think, to create, to engage in intensely meaningful capacities that will serve you well when you return…should you return.