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Protocol Officers Are Needed to Navigate the Global Village

The global village is shrinking. Canadian and U.S. companies and governments are doing more business with countries around the world. They are realizing they need to hire extra protocol officers to help treat their growing international clientele politely and respectfully.

Technology has made it easier for corporations and governments to conduct business worldwide. Companies sell to clients all over the world. Heads of state create policies with international politicians.

But dealing with different cultures can be tricky. Is bowing or handshaking appropriate when greeting a Japanese client? How far should you stand from a Middle Eastern politician?

You don't want to commit an etiquette faux pas that can spoil your business or your government relations. That's where protocol officers come in. And the need for their expertise is increasing.

A protocol officer makes encounters with people from other countries run smoothly by making sure the proper etiquette or protocol is followed.

But that's just skimming the surface. A protocol officer's list of duties can be long and complicated.

Dorothea Johnson is a former protocol advisor and the director of a protocol school in Washington. She says a protocol officer's typical tasks include:

  • Advising the employer about international protocol
  • Planning and hosting events
  • Traveling with the employer
  • Greeting international clients and managing their schedule
  • Assisting the employer with the drafting of speeches

Gift giving may also be part of the job. Often, protocol officers choose presents for their international guests because they know what objects other cultures appreciate most.

"You really have to have done your homework in the world of international gift giving. The gift-giving area can make or break a company's chance of succeeding," says Anne Reynolds. She is a protocol officer for a provincial government in Canada.

"Gifts of a pocket knife, letter opener or anything that cuts could be interpreted in some countries as a wish by the giver to sever the ties or relations with the recipient," says Reynolds.

Jacqueline Whitmore was a protocol officer for several years. Now she runs a company in Florida that teaches etiquette and international protocol.

"The duties and functions of a protocol officer can vary depending on the type of industry you're working for," Whitmore says.

"For instance, I was a protocol officer for a hotel in Palm Beach. My responsibilities were planning for a VIP visit. That could include planning an itinerary for him and making sure he has all the necessary information about the city he's about to tour or any meeting he might be having at the hotel."

Various companies and most governments have protocol officers working for them. The U.S. military also has protocol advisors. Other protocol officers are self-employed and take only contract work.

Most industries dealing outside the country hire protocol officers. In fact, Johnson says, we will be seeing and hearing a lot more about this career in the near future. "This will be a hot career permanently, not just for a while. The demand is quite strong in the U.S."

That was not the case five years ago, when international relations were not as widespread, according to Johnson.

Reynolds says the career will boom in the corporate world especially. "With the advent of the global economy, the private sector has become sensitive to the need to understand etiquette. Having someone on staff who has an understanding of the do's and taboos of international business etiquette will certainly ensure a more successful entry into new markets."

Having more protocol officers on the job helps corporations secure international contracts. More contracts equal more money.

Employing more protocol officers in government has advantages too. It allows governments to create strong ties with other countries.

For these reasons, protocol officers are in high demand.

Ishbel Halliday works for the Government of Ontario in the office of international relations and protocol. She thinks Canadians interested in protocol will have many opportunities pursuing the event-coordinating aspect of the field. International VIPs, like Queen Elizabeth, often visit Canada.

"Coordinators are hired to plan everything from private social events to major corporate events," explains Halliday.

So what can you do to cash in on this hot career? Just about anything, say the experts.

Reynolds and Johnson suggest a university degree in a field like political science. Employers also look for someone who enjoys etiquette and world affairs and who has good communication skills.

A few universities offer protocol classes. Companies like Whitmore's and Johnson's also offer courses for people interested in the career.

"As time goes on and there is more buzz about the popularity of this new position, we'll definitely see an increase in schools teaching this type of information," says Whitmore.

But employers do not usually have specific educational requirements. In fact, Halliday says most skills are learned on the job.

"I think anyone wanting to pursue a career as a protocol officer should think about getting involved with community organizations," advises Halliday. "Volunteer for a cancer society or for your local hospital. Help out with fund-raising events, and pay attention to how it's done."

Having an open mind is also important.

"Don't go into it with any specific ideas," Whitmore cautions, "because it changes on a daily basis. It can be very exciting. It can also be very time-consuming. Be adaptable and very patient, and you'll do great!"

Protocol experts are constantly doing different things, and meeting new people from around the globe.

"I think this opportunity will definitely expand as time goes on," adds Whitmore. "Of course, the more attention is given to the position of protocol officer, the more people will want to assume those responsibilities."


The Protocol School of Washington
This company provides professional training and certification in etiquette and protocol

The Protocol School of Palm Beach
Ask an expert about any etiquette taboos

Protocol Consultants International
Learn how to dine correctly

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