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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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115 Literature Review This paper draws upon research that enables us to contextualize results and present them in a manner that blends with and builds upon foregoing literature. Published research on international public relations has matured sufficiently to forego the boilerplate descriptions of well-established theories and models such as definitions of international public relations (see, for example, Wakefield, 2008; Wilcox, Cameron, Ault, and Agee, 2007; Culbertson and Chen, 1996), evolutionary models (Grunig and Hunt, 1984); public relations excellence (Vercic, Grunig, and Grunig, 1996), and Van Leuven’s 3-stage public relations development model (1996). These concepts have been and continue to be extremely useful in organizing thought, research and literature in this growing field, and they continue to inform research efforts such as this one.

Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is more of a political and cultural concept than a geographical one (Ławniczak & Szondi, 2009). The region had been seen as a gray and homogenous area behind the Iron Curtain for many decades. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, about twenty-seven countries have emerged from the eight former communist countries in CEE. The newly emerged states have faced a challenging task – to re-establish their individual and national identities and to express them at home and internationally. Szondi (2005) notes, “The challenge has been enormous: to position the countries of the region onto the geographic and mental map of Europe and Europeans as democratic, politically stable countries with emerging and promising market economies” (p.


Countries of the region are at different levels of economic and political development.

Some states are already members of the European Union and NATO, while others still struggle to establish democracy and market economies. CEE countries present a variety of peoples and languages; however, Slavic nations and languages dominate the region (Ławniczak & Szondi, 2009). Although all CEE countries have their unique characteristics and notable differences in cultures, languages, socioeconomic and political situations, they have a common history of communist regimes, often marked by propaganda models, corruption, and an apathetic society as well as conditions in which people are not willing to voice their opinions and greatly distrust governments, businesses, and the media. According to the Trust Index of GfK Custom Research Worldwide, “only fourteen percent of CEE citizens trust their politicians, and thirty-seven percent found managers trustworthy” (Ławniczak & Szondi, 2009, p. 232).

Public relations is widely practiced in CEE but rarely under that name (van Ruler & Verčič, 2004). Senior managers, however, are beginning to understand the importance of public acceptance of and trust in their companies and the necessity to strategically manage their relationships. Nevertheless, organizations rarely use the term “public relations,” or they employ it as the Anglo-American term without translation. More often the term is replaced with “communication management,” “information management,” or “corporate communication” (van Ruler & Verčič, 2004).

In talking about public relations in CEE countries, it is important to discuss the term “transitional public relations” coined by Ławniczak (2001). He has used this term to describe public relations practice in CEE as a profession that helps organizations adapt to the change from a planned economy to capitalism and from socialism to democracy. The concept of transition includes two aspects: a political aspect, “defined as a transition from a single-partisan 116 authoritarian political system to a democratic and pluralistic civil society” (Ławniczak, 2005, p.

27); and an economic aspect, defined “as the transition from a centrally-planned economy based on state ownership of means of production to a market economy relying on private ownership and property rights” (Ławniczak, 2005, p. 27).

Ławniczak (2001) explains three main tasks for transitional public relations for the

countries of Eastern Europe:

1. To reverse the fears of and prejudices toward capitalism instilled during the socialist era and to build “capitalism with a human face” (p. 15).

2. To create public awareness of market economy models and of a current struggle to “determine the final shape of the market economy by promoting value systems and lifestyles along with products and services” (p. 15).

3. To facilitate effective functioning of the market economy by promoting entrepreneurship and privatization, attracting foreign capital, and enabling local business participation in the economic process.

Ukraine gained its independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR. After Russia, the Ukrainian republic was the most important economic component of the former Soviet Union.

Following its independence, Ukraine experienced economic and political crisis as “the legacy of state control and endemic corruption stalled efforts at economic reform, privatization, and civil liberties” (World Factbook, 2009). As a result, by 1999, the output had fallen to less than 40 percent of the 1991 level.

Today, the country is “caught in the transition from a former Soviet country to a modern democracy” that is reflected in a very unstable political and economic situation (Justice, 2007; p.

30). Consequently, the country faces a very difficult situation on the financial, political and economic fronts that hinders the development of many spheres of Ukrainian life.

Public Relations Ukraine’s transition toward democracy and market economy, together with the gradual development of media and the Web, create favorable conditions for the growth of contemporary public relations – a very young profession in this country. Contemporary public relations in Ukraine emerged in the beginning of the 1990s. First, foreign public relations agencies started their work in Ukraine in the early ‘90s. Local agencies emerging in the late ‘90s were involved mainly in political consulting services and later turned to corporate communication (Tsetsura & Grynko, 2009). Some early agencies often focused on promoting products and services, but this was still called public relations at the time (Kulish, 2001). According to Freitag and Stokes (2009) the perception of public relations among the general public in Eastern Europe was and continues to be influenced by the legacy of communist “propaganda coupled with the low level of trust in governments, businesses, and the media” (p. 232). Many companies also considered public relations not as a separate industry but rather mainly as a subset of marketing or advertising (Sukhenko, 2007).

Today, the public relations field is experiencing growing interest and development. Some positive developments observed in the profession are: growing understanding and application among businesses of corporate social responsibility principles; increasing demand for consulting services in the field of strategic communications; growing professionalization of public relations 117 specialists; and growing utilization of new public relations tools such as the Internet (Sukhenko, 2007; Skotsik, 2006).

According to Korolko (2001), another positive development in the field of Ukrainian public relations is the recognition of public relations importance among businesses and government bodies. Today, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (Ukraine’s parliament), the President’s Administration, and Cabinet of Ministers have departments that perform public relations functions. Such departments and units have also been created in different ministries, for instance the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as in commercial banks and other businesses. However, the main weakness of all these departments is that their primary function is to inform the general public or disseminate advertisements. These departments’ activity is usually sporadic and inconsistent, mainly focusing on short-term results.

These departments usually react to events instead of foreseeing important issues and developing and implementing strategic long-term programs that can create and maintain the positive reputation of an organization (Korolko, 2001).

On the other hand, besides positive developments in public relations, there are still many challenges the profession needs to address. Some of the main problems are: the lack of understanding among clients of public relations’ roles, functions, and potential; the lack of clearly defined functions that public relations specialists perform in organizations; the lack of experienced practitioners; the lack of communication among PR agencies and associations and as a result, lack of high professional standards and exchange of experience; problems associated with evaluation of public relations practice effectiveness; and paid-for publicity (Sukhenko, 2007). For example, Tsetsura and Grynko (2009) surveyed practitioners and journalists and found that “direct and indirect forms of media influence distort independent news coverage.” Their findings revealed that public relations practitioners appear to pressure editors to place publicity material in exchange for advertising; this clearly suggests both journalists and practitioners still misunderstand public relations’ contemporary roles and functions. To find solutions to these problems is one of the primary tasks of Ukrainian professional public relations organizations.

With this review, the study poses the following research questions:

RQ 1: How do Ukrainian public relations professionals describe contemporary public relations?

RQ 2: How do current practitioners view the historical development of public relations in Ukraine?

RQ 3: What do practitioners see as emerging trends in Ukrainian public relations?

–  –  –

The study population is defined as public relations professionals who work in Ukraine.

The main criteria for the sampling populations are: public relations practitioners with three or more years of experience; perform managerial responsibilities and work in sectors such as local agencies, nonprofits, global agencies, government, education, professional associations, or corporations (private, state, international).

Purposive, criteria-based sampling and snowball sampling techniques were used to recruit study participants. The lead researcher contacted Ukrainian public relations professional organizations (UAPR, UPRL, and PR Alliance) via email for help in identifying representative public relations professionals. The researcher also posted information about the study and a call for participation on the LinkedIn Ukrainian PR Professionals Group.

Twelve practitioners were interviewed: six males and six females. The research was gender neutral, and gender difference was not intended as a primary research interest. The age of participants range from 24 to 65 with a mean age of 35. Seven interviewees have bachelor’s degrees including one participant who also has a Diploma from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, two have master’s degrees, three have Ph.Ds. and one person is a doctoral candidate.

Participants come from various educational backgrounds such as political science, journalism, business administration, physics, and translation/philology. All participants occupy mid- or highlevel managerial positions. Four people work in local public relations agencies or consultancies.

Three participants work in international agencies or consultancies. Two work in local offices of international NGOs, one in a private company, one in a professional association and one in government. The interview questionnaire consisted of ten open-ended, semi-structured questions and eleven demographic questions. The questionnaire was created in English, then translated to Ukrainian and Russian, back-translated and checked for accuracy. The lead researcher is a native Russian and Ukrainian speaker, and she conducted all the translations. The interviews were conducted in the language preferred by the participant, i.e. English, Ukrainian or Russian.

Data analysis To analyze the data the lead researcher used qualitative content analysis. First, she carefully read the qualitative data multiple times, making notes and observations on topics discussed during the interviews. Then the data were coded line by line using open coding technique defined as initial, unrestricted coding of data that helps identify passages of text that suggest a category or theme (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002). After building a code scheme, the researcher read data again to identify recurrent themes in the open-ended responses, helping to create categories.

In addition to data from the interviews, other sources were used to collect secondary data.

The lead researcher examined secondary artifacts such as Ukrainian public relations blogs, Web sites of organizations and public relations professional associations, and electronic articles.

Information from these artifacts permitted triangulation and validation of data emerging from the interviews.

Findings Defining contemporary public relations The first research question asked public relations professionals to describe contemporary public relations. A majority of participants (66%) described public relations as a communication function that helped establish cooperation with key publics; build, maintain and harmonize 119 relations with them; and manage reputation. Although most definitions had similar key terms, descriptions of public relations varied slightly. For example, three participants stressed the idea that public relations was a strategic management function within an organization. On the other hand, two respondents saw public relations’ main task as delivering relevant and accurate information to important publics primarily through media relations and special events. Some participants also stressed that the central goal of public relations activity was to persuade publics and change their attitudes and behaviors.

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