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When I first arrived on campus here at the University of Missouri I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my time, a sentence probably typed or said by thousands of other students who have attended this school at one point. And to be perfectly honest now, over two and a half years later, I am still not quite sure what I want to do with myself after I graduate.  However I would like to think that I have narrowed down my field of choices. A rare decisive moment of choosing to graduate with a major in Strategic Communications I believe helped narrow down these choices. And since being in my major classes I realized that I might be able to find a home and career in the advertising field. It wasn’t until I attended the Journalism School Study Abroad Europe Tour though that I truly realized how diverse the world of advertising is and how big a role it plays for consumers and citizens all across the globe.

After receiving the itinerary for our trip, out of all the media outlets that we were scheduled to visit, the two that peak my curiosity the most were the two different advertising agencies: McCann-Erickson, located in Prague, Czech Republic and Hill & Knowlton, located in Brussels, Belgium.  As it turned out Hill & Knowlton’s major focus was on lobbying and public relations, a field of study that doesn’t particularly intrigue me, but I learned a great deal and my eyes were opened to many new opportunities, both domestic and internationally, after visiting McCann-Erickson.

During our two and a half hour long stay we learned many interesting things including: background information on the Czech Republic such as their history, geography, culture and lifestyles, their different departments in house as well as their other offices, how they operate, some examples of their work as well as the challenges they face on a day to day basis. The two things that stood out to me the most after leaving their offices, and they essentially go hand-in-hand, were understanding the cultural differences of their audience and how they develop and tailor their work to effectively reach the varieties of target audiences their campaigns aim to reach.  A few examples of their work that struck me in this regard were a telephone company campaign; I believe it was Vodafone, as well as a potato chip commercial.

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In these two different ad campaigns, McCann-Erickson effectively showed the vastly different ways of life that occur in the Czech Republic (a country that is roughly the same size as North Carolina).  While Prague is the hub of the country and a bustling urban city, a majority of the people lives out on farms where they grow mushrooms in their fields on small villages with very little money.  In both ad campaigns, the visuals and message resonate with both areas of life by showing small village festivals and how even on a budget they can afford cellular quality normally reserved for those living in the city as well as chips with flavors from back on the farm and from the city. I learned as a student how important it was to include all, or as many as possible, lifestyles in a national campaign to effectively communicate your messag

McCann-Erickson also stressed the difficulty in working on international campaigns. Although Europe from a physical size standpoint is roughly the same as the United States, it is far from being culturally unified.  The most common problem when working on a campaign that will be featured across multiple nations is the language barrier. A geographical chunk in Europe that would be similar to the Midwest here in the United States could feature as many as 15 different national languages! And I thought it was difficult coming up with advertisements here in America and we only have one language! Although almost all the time the ad will be translated to the national language of the country where it is shown, McCann-Erickson many times feel their message can get lost in translation. Part of the attempt to solve and reduce this problem is working and creating advertisements directly in that country, or with staff members that speak that language fluently. For example many of the national ads that are shown in the Czech Republic are also shown to their neighbors, Slovakia, because their lifestyles and dialects are extremely similar. The problem is that because the languages are not the exact same, some sentences (most of the time slang words) are taken out of context and the communication of the message is not nearly as effective. These difficulties faced overseas are something I don’t need to particularly worry about here at home but is something that needs to be looked at carefully. I will now attempt to alter the language, grammatically or culturally, when altering ads for different geographic markets so that the residents of those areas can fully appreciate the campaign.

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Needless to say I learned a great deal of information over the course of two plus weeks while I was overseas, not just about Europe in general but about the different types of people, lifestyles, food and of course journalism.  I hope I was able to effectively learn the truth in how to advertise across cultures, which constantly means understanding the different walks of people on this planet. McCann-Erickson was founded on truth, noted here on their website, “We believe Truth is a catalyst for authentic ideas, powerful ideas that will be believed, embraced and advocated by people in their everyday lives. And these ideas are able to drive positive change in a brand’s relationships with its consumers and its employees.”This truth is something I plan on taking back to the United States with me as I continue to learn more about strategic communication over the next few years and attempt to incorporate these truths into my upcoming works as a student and a professional. My goal before leaving on this trip was to learn some lessons while I was abroad that I would be able to take back home with me and use and apply for an extended period of time, and just in a few short hours at an ad agency in Prague on one of the first few days in Europe I believe I found one.

-Alex Martin

 

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