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Over the last decade, the public relations market in Kyrgyzstan has been formed. In 2009, there were 4 domestic public relaions agencies in Kyrgyzstan. In the country there are few true PR agencies which offer full communication decisions and work in all directions of public relations. In other words which realize not only media relations but also lobby the interests of client companies in government, parliament, cooperate with NGOs, build relations with the clients, publics etc. of the company. As a rule, PR agencies limit their activities with writing information materials and sending them to media. Besides, organization of special events such as parties, celebrations, marketing actions is developing somehow. The program of such events as a rule is typical and fulfill only entertaining function such as ‘to eat, to drink, to dance’. As a rule, the organizers of such events do not put other tasks such as to improve corporate climate in the company, to contribute to the development of team work in the collective and to motivate the workers of the company (Balakina, 2009).
Business in Kyrgyzstan is not ready yet to work with publics. As public relations does not give quick results as expected by the executives of companies, they are not ready to pay for the air, as they think. They do not see the need to work with the publics. Rarely some executives know the terminology of “social responsibility”. That is why every time public relations practitioners have to convince this need. As far as the business in the country prefers to stay in the shadow, avoids journalists and follows the principle “as far, as close” public relations market will not develop (Balakina, 2009).
Companies in Kyrgyzstan except for international organizations and partly foreign companies just started to understand the importance of PR for promotion of products and services. That is why during the work with the representatives of small and average business, PR-agency has to convince the clients that the PR technologies are necessary for them (Temirbekova, 2008).
Flexi Communications, an integrated communications agency, conducted a research to define more effective ways of interaction between journalists and PRservices of state and commercial organizations. Particularly, the journalists’ methods of selecting topics, preparing information, the role of PR-services in this process, also the functions of PR-services which were demanded by journalists or were useful for them.
As for the rating of PR-services, PR-services of organizations and companies depend on “the general line” of their dominant coalitions and on the characteristics of the organizations. The result of research showed that until now the work of PRservices in state organizations remain the most demanded, and the activity of PRservices in business-structures are still perceived as the effort “to advertise” (Flexi Communications, 2009).
In Kyrgyzstan the government supported policies were implemented in order to create the reliability of banking of the country and to attract foreign investments to the country. This provided the implementation of public relations activities as a mean of government within the state mechanism. In other words the introduction of public relations techniques and methods to Kyrgyzstan happened within the framework of 801 government practices and today also it continues to be practiced within the different government projects (Tunca, 2009).
In Kyrgyzstan there are only a few professional companies who offer PR services. Different groups do PR; these can be advertisement agencies, information agencies and media itself. There are also definite single-specialists who offer their services in this sphere (Tregubova, 2008).
Most journalists treat PR practitioners with distrust. They think that PR practitioners exploit them, use their labor, name, reputation for their own interests.
Most journalists perceive any information coming from PR practitioners as an advertisement. As a rule they send to PR practitioners their prices for commercial materials. They think that business companies have money and all the time they try to wheedle money out of them. They think that private companies can pay for it and why we must work with them for free (Flexi Communications Report on the Rating of PR services, 2009).
A look at the current state of public relations in Kazakhstan in its interconnection with culture of the Central Asian former Soviet republic offered by Valerie Terry, the independent researcher from London, can contribute dramatically to the understanding of the situation with public relations in Kyrgyzstan, which is also Central Asian former Soviet republic.
Researcher has revealed following distinctive trends: gate keeping in the country is a “monetary proposition;” journalists expect to be paid for positive mentions of an organization in any article and there is no message quality control; at the same time, “Kazakhstanis are not dummies” and can recognize propaganda (Terry, 2005, p. 34).
Lihosherstova from American University also studied this issue in her diploma work; Advertising copies affect people more than public relations articles, because third party endorsement fails in credibility arousal and because ads use clear, straight, understandable language, when the public relations articles present the message latently, reducing reader comprehension ability (Lihosherstova, 2007).
To evaluate the extent of excellent public relations management practiced in
Kyrgyzstan, the following research questions were designed for this study:
Data were gathered through a self-administered survey, a series of qualitative interviews. Because this study used the Excellence Project as the foundation, the original survey questionnaire from the project (relevant to the 4 research questions) was used. The survey was conducted using snowball sampling. The sample consisted of practitioners (chief executive officers [CEOs], heads of public relations, senior executives, and junior executives involved in public relations activities) across four types of organizations: public relations agencies, in-house public relations departments of corporations, government ministries, and nonprofit organizations. A total of 80 questionnaires were sent out through e-mail, and 64 were returned for a response rate of 80%. Of the returned questionnaires, 28 from corporations, 14 from nonprofit organizations, 13 from international organizations, 7 from government ministries and 4 were from public relations agencies.
Snowball sampling is preferred for several reasons. First, there are no directories listing all organizations with a public relations or communications function. There is no local professional association in Kyrgyzstan. Second, it is impossible to get a complete listing of every public relations practitioner in Kyrgyzstan. Finally, many professionals conducting public relations functions are not listed as public relations practitioners because they work in departments such as marketing, advertisement or press services.
In addition to the survey, in-depth interviews based on an interview protocol developed by Sriramesh et. al. (2005) (see Appendix) were conducted with a convenience sample of 23 public relations practitioners; some of whom were CEOs and senior and junior executives. 9 of these were from corporations, 3 from government ministries, 3 from nonprofit organizations, 3 from international organizations and 3 from public relations agencies. Some interviewees also participated in the survey. Follow-up questions were asked where necessary. As Russian is one of two official languages of Kyrgyzstan and the language of all business dealings including public relations, Russian was used for gathering data.
The questions aimed to clarify the way public relations is practiced in organizations based on the survey. They also sought to probe and uncover unique local characteristics. The topics included the type of activities carried out by public relations departments, the range of communication activities, practitioners’ education and training background, opinions on the reputation of the profession in Kyrgyzstan, and practitioners’ views on the impact of societal culture, political structure, and economic system on public relations practices in the country. To facilitate greater openness, all interviewees were assured that they would not be identified in any reports emanating from the interviews.
The interviews probed specific aspects of public relations phenomena and helped identify discrepancies found through the quantitative data. Each interview session lasted approximately 1 hr, and interviews were recorded. All taped interviews were transcribed for further analysis. The findings from these interviews as well as the survey were analyzed in answering the research questions.
Findings and Discussion
The respondents to the questionnaire varied in age, experience, ethnicity, and job descriptions. Women outnumbered men 65% to 35% indicating that the industry in Kyrgyzstan is also skewed toward women similar to the findings from many studies in the United States and other parts of the world. The findings confirmed the results of an earlier survey of 34 public relations practitioners in Kyrgyzstan (Turdubaeva, 2009) that also found that 59% of respondents were women. The majority (74%) were between 26 to 30 years of age. An equal proportion of respondents had journalism and economics education each 25%, whereas only 6% of them had education in public relations. The mode for practitioners’ experience in public relations department of the given organization was 1 to 3 years.
RQ1: INVOLVEMENT OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN STRATEGICMANAGEMENT
The findings showed that the majority of public relations practitioners in Kyrgyzstan do not contribute to strategic management. They engage mostly in routine operations focusing on technical functions. Practitioners contributed mainly to routine operations (M = 4.28) such as developing and maintaining employee communication, community relations, or media relations (see Table 1).
The item that measured the contribution of the public relations professional to responding to major social issues (e.g., crisis, layoffs, fee hikes etc) displayed the lowest mean (3.31, SD = 1.18) showing that public relations professionals do not contribute to responding to major social issues. These practitioners were only advising the top management on how to deal with the media and only on media relations matters.
Although practitioners reported in their responses to the self-administered questionnaires that they conducted research that could be useful to organizational decision making (M = 4.07, SD = 1.02), the findings from the in-depth interviews revealed that they do not use research in public relations management because of the small budgets, lack of research skills and time as well as a general lack of understanding of the value of research to strategic public relations and communications management. Two public relations practitioners stated the
We conduct mostly informal research. Unfortunately our practitioners do not know the methods of research; they have just started to learn perception analysis. After the program we conduct mostly informal research, for example content analysis, reviews, but they are not systematized. Because it needs money and human resources.
do not know how effective it is, because we do not conduct evaluation research. It also demands huge money.
TABLE 1 Means and Standard Deviations of Kyrgyzstan Public Relations Practitioners’ Involvement in Strategic Management
Note. N = 64. All items are measured on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree), 2 (disagree), 3 (neutral), 4 (agree), to 5 (strongly agree).
RQ2: EMPOWERMENT OF PUBLIC RELATIONS–
DIRECT REPORTING RELATIONSHIP
IN KYRGYZSTANThe findings revealed that the organizations in Kyrgyzstan do not empower public relations managers enough by including them in the dominant coalition.
Findings from qualitative data indicated that public relations practitioners were not included in the dominant coalition. Practitioners think that the reason for this could be that members of top management lack an understanding of the strategic value of public relations. Findings from interviews showed that the dominant coalition expected only media relations from them. The corporate communications managers
of companies and organizations gave the following explanations:
Another task of our PR department is to convince the executives that the good communication is a good business. It is a challenge of our department. Our dominant coalitions do not understand yet the strategic role of communications. We are on the upper middle level management, not top management.
It is a key problem of PR in our country when the executives do not know what they expect from PR specialists except for media relations.
Media relations in our country are a main direction of PR. It is the main characteristic of PR market in our country.
In most organizations in Kyrgyzstan, public relations is understood to be only media relations. And the public is understood to be the public of the media.
The interviewees thought that the members of the dominant coalition did not empower public relations to the extent of seeking counsel in setting up organizational policies. Interviewees reported that the top management lacked an understanding of
the strategic role of the profession as stated by these practitioners:
Managers in our country do not understand the importance of reputation, that the reputation brings benefit to them. They do not make a connection of their reputation and their benefit. For them public relations is limited to the mentioning in a newspaper or TV. They do not believe that PR is a strategically planned activity. They think ‘For what I am paying money?’
Press services of state ministries which do PR activities (there are no PR departments in all state ministries and agencies), were not empowered as well as was
stated by the following press service director: