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There is a tendency that the executives of companies are recognizing the importance of PR. But still interpersonal relations are important. The executive of the company is the face of the company. The portrait of the executive is recognized in the perception of the clients. He/she is accepted or not by the clients. For example, in case of political parties: we say party and we mean Lenin. Or we say Lenin and we mean Lenin. The phenomenon of personality is very important in Kyrgyzstan. It is one of the most important postulates of building relations. The ‘word of mouth’ always has been effective in our country.
The head of a local PR agency also mentioned the following: ‘The key factors of the success of PR agencies in Kyrgyzstan are the “phenomenon of personality” and “acquired relationships”.
813 The importance of having good personal relationships with journalists was expressed by the head of PR department of Communications Agency in the country. She
explained it as following:
Most PR practitioners in our country are ex journalists. I am also ex journalists and it easy for me to work with journalists, because I used to work with them before and they know me. Why most journalists do not like PR practitioners?
Because they think that PR practitioners press on them, that they do not have to do what they want from them. They do not like when somebody who is alien teaches them how to write and what to write, they think that this is not their obligation to write what PR practitioners send to them.
Most respondents expressed that the value of public relations to the organization was not well understood by the dominant coalitions. The following statement explains it
Almost all public relations activities in our country are being implemented on a very primitive level, by ‘fed journalists’ or by the personal preference of the director, e.g. ‘he/she likes this or that singer, or children’s house, or street in her/his village’. The concept of such called ‘social partnership’ does not exist in the country. People perceive public relations not as a tool that can add to the value of organization, but as a cosmetic procedure. Business must understand that public relations is not like ‘looking at the mirror, and admiring themselves how they are beautiful’, but a component of adding value to the organization.
All respondents for this study reported that they pay for the media coverage, for the mentioning the name of the organization. This finding is consistent with the finding of Terry’s research (2005) in Kazakstan. She revealed that ‘journalists expect to be paid for positive mentions of an organization in any article’. The same finding was revealed by this study through qualitative interviews where practitioners told that they not only pay money but also encourage journalists through gift-giving and other
ways. This practice was expressed by these practitioners as following:
As for the paid PR articles, the law on advertisement obliges editors to put a mark on advertisement and PR publications if it is paid in order not to lie to the reader. It is practiced all over the world. However in our country most companies pay in addition in order not to put this mark. However they are still lying to the reader even if they do not put this mark. The true PR articles do not need to be paid, because they are interesting and useful for the public and the name of the company is mentioned in the article in a positive way. In our country the most primitive PR articles are written, where the companies are praised. They are not interesting to read.
PR can be open and hidden. It is better to write that it is PR article and to put a mark on it in newspapers or in any media instead of hiding it. I think that it is better to pay for this publication or coverage and openly say that it is PR.
The head of the Institute of Policy and Development in Kyrgyzstan explained this
practice the following way:
As for the media relations, most editors of mass media do not have an understanding of what is public relations and advertising. They think that every mentioning of the name of organization must be paid. Most editors were appointed during Soviet time and there are few young editors. They were brought up during Soviet time and they have totally different understanding of journalism and even if they express that they understand market economy, deep in their souls they reject it. May be some of them have learned how to earn money, but their ideological nostalgia of their youth years does not give them to accept this. That is why they do not like market economy and there is a lack of materials about economy in most media in the country.
Public Relations manager of the well known local corporation explained the paid PR
practice this way:
Most PR practitioners even do not know the difference of PR and advertisement. Paid PR is one of the tools. The easiest way is to pay to a journalist and he/she writes and publishes it and you go to the executive and say that this is your work. However it can be done without money by creating informational reason to your article to get publicity. In the West it is practiced this way, publicity is practiced widely. Because their media are different from ours. Our media are surviving. Law on advertisement in our country does not allow publicity. In the West it is easier for a PR practitioner to get publicity by organizing interesting events. It is difficult in our country to do this, because the people immediately begin to search for the benefit. Even if you organize a charitable work and give out millions of dollars, nobody writes about this event for free, except for if this is a public figure or a politician who is organizing this event. Everything is paid. It is rude, but it is practiced in our country.
I also pay for journalists to get published. The price is agreed depending on the price list and your personal contact with the journalist.
Another practitioner who works at the PR department of a leading Bank in
Kyrgyzstan stated the following:
Journalists as a rule do not see us as the carriers of valuable information. They perceive us as the source of advertising money. Most newspapers have such a practice when journalist writes paid PR material they give him/her some percent of this money.
Another difficulty is a lack of sectored media, in our country media is not divided into sectors. Media is universal in our country. And it is very difficult to explain the journalist how financial organizations like banks operate because this journalist writes about sports, criminal, social problems at the same time.
The other important difficulty in our work is the inability of the journalists to distinguish business information from the advertisement. For example, when I send a newspaper a press release, advertisement department of this newspaper calls me and they think that my press release is advertisement and consequently it should be paid. They think that our department is advertising department. This lack of distinguishing PR and Advertisement in the minds of journalists is the most important barrier in the development of PR in our country. In our country it is still considered to be a commercial information and every press release where there is mentioned a brand is perceived to be advertisement. It depends on the type of the organization, too. Banks are usually associated with finance and money that is why we are expected to pay for media coverages, but if you work for government organization like City Hall for example, it is easier to get free media coverage because they are a government organization.
PR practitioner who works for the press service in City Hall of Bishkek (the capital
of Kyrgyzstan) expressed her opinion concerning the paid PR in this way:
As for the paid publications, you can get free publications if you write it intelligently and you do not have to pay for it. PR specialist exists for this reason. In our country most people think that hiring a PR specialist is expensive, however if this is a professional practitioner he/she cheapens your publication and you do not have to pay for the publications. In order to get free publications you have to organize special events. Journalists write for free about any event. If you want to write just about yourself (your organization), about “how beautiful you are (your organization)”, then you have to pay 72 000 soms ($1600) for one strip in a popular newspaper in Kyrgyzstan.
This study also revealed through qualitative interviews that, in the country public
relations practice is perceived to be manipulation or propaganda as stated below:
It may be a legacy of the Soviet past which was propagandistic where most people adored neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) where it is possible to lie and swindle everybody. If you do PR activity that they like to call ‘black PR’ or not ‘black’, just PR, but ‘somewhere I have lied to you’, e.g. here exists not public information model, but a persuasion model where ‘it is not important am I right or not, my task is to persuade you’. May be not to persuade negatively, but nevertheless by not disclosing full information’.
Russian public relations methods and technologies work in Kyrgyzstan. For example take Anton Vuyma’s book ‘Black PR: methods of protection and attacking’. There are a lot of methods of public relations. I have taken from this book a lot of methods when preparing training for businessmen. I do not know the theory of public relations, but I think that PR is a tool; it is a set of tools and technologies. But if you are comparing us with the West, then there are big differences. The system of interactions is different. Lying is considered to be a gallantry in our country, and in the West it is considered to be meanness.
Public relations is related to the moral values of the society. As far as the morals are different, consequently the public relations will be very different. In western countries the corporate management, financial transparency, including external directors to the management is developed. One of the main components of corporate management is public relations which is based on the openness and truthfulness and on the 'social responsibility' of business. Here in Kyrgyzstan may be somebody have heard about 'social responsibility' of business, but few understand it. One of the problems of big business and public relations activities in our country is the lack of 'social partnership' projects.
Except for the extortion by the government, when with the order method the government obliges the business sector to give money for social events, but it is not possible to call this neither a 'social partnership', nor public relations.
The head of PR department of Communications Agency in Kyrgyzstan expressed her
opinion about manipulation this way:
The journalists and the public think that PR practitioners are lyers that they use people and think only about the interests of their organizations. Yes, PR practitioners sometimes lie or hide information; I think that it is a part of our profession.
Although as a whole the public relations activities in Kyrgyzstan can be categorized using J. E. Grunig and Hunt’s models of public relations, the models do not fully capture the spectrum of public relations activities in the republic. Personal influence model can be used in order to define the local practice in the country.
RQ4: KNOWLEDGE POTENTIAL OF PUBLICRELATIONS PRACTITIONERS IN KYRGYZSTAN
The knowledge potential for practicing strategic public relations was relatively low. As a result, public relations practitioners in Kyrgyzstan enact the technician role more often than the managerial role. As far as the technician role was concerned, practitioners in the sample had higher levels of skills and knowledge in coordinating press conferences (M = 4.31, SD = 0.81), understanding the news value of journalists (M = 4.07, SD = 0.94) and producing communication materials such as writing press releases and other in-house publications (M = 3.95, SD = 1.03) as reflected in the quantitative data displayed in Table 3.
817 TABLE 3 Knowledge Potential of Public Relations Practitioners in Kyrgyzstan
Note. N = 64. All items are measured on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (poor), 2 (fair), 3 (neutral), 4 (good), to 5 (excellent).
As for the managerial role, practitioners in Kyrgyzstan possessed higher levels of knowledge and skills in developing strategies for public relations and communication problems (M= 4.17, SD = 0.88), drawing a departmental budget (M= 4.15, SD = 0.83), helping the management to understand the opinions of the organization’s publics (M = 4.07, SD = 0.91), and writing and publishing research materials in public relations or other communication related journals (M= 4.03, SD = 0.97). Practitioners were less skilled in performing research to segment publics, negotiating with activist groups and evaluating public relations programs.
Across all sectors, it was observed that most practitioners did not have formal education in public relations, thereby explaining why knowledge potential for the managerial role was relatively low. Many also did not receive formal in-house training, which respondents attributed to a lack of budget and commitment from the dominant coalition.
Conclusions and the Future
As a whole the public relations activities in Kyrgyzstan can be categorized using J. E. Grunig and Hunt’s models of public relations, but the models do not fully capture the spectrum of public relations activities in the republic.