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One respondent considered the question of defining public relations as rather problematic in the Ukrainian environment. He noted that there is no equivalent in the Ukrainian and Russian languages for the English term “public relations” (A. Belyakov, personal communication, March 10, 2009). The Ukrainian and Russian terms used in Ukraine as an equivalent for public relations are zvyazky z gromadskistyu (Ukr.) or svyazi s obshchestvennostyu (Rus.), and their literal translation is “connections, relations with the public.” The respondent suggested the Ukrainian and Russian terms were rather narrow and did not reflect the meaning of the English term entirely. Consequently, the term “public relations” or simply PR is commonly used without translation.
This issue is very important and relevant not only in Ukraine but in Russia and other Central and Eastern European countries as well. For example, in Bulgaria the English term “public relations” is accepted among practitioners and scholars. It was “popularly rendered in Bulgaria as vrazki s obshtestvenostta (literally, “relations with the public”) but it does not really cover the English term” (Zlateva, 2004, p.74). The similar situation can be seen in Russia where, “because of a lack of historic context… the Russian language often did not have good equivalents for some words, such as ‘publicity’ and ‘press release.’ Thus, traditional scholars began to accept loan translations [expressions introduced into one language by translating it from another language]” (Tsetsura, 2004, p.339).
Historical development of public relations Research question two asked about the historical development of public relations in Ukraine. All respondents agreed that contemporary public relations started to develop in Ukraine after the dissolution of the Soviet Union when Ukraine gained its independence in 1991. The qualitative analysis of the interview responses identified several recurrent themes that can be categorized as factors influencing the development of public relations: 1) economic development; 2) politics; 3) media; and 4) Soviet heritage. The paragraphs that follow address each of these factors separately.
Economic development With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine started to transition from a centrally planned economy to a free-market economy. According to nearly all respondents, economic development was the primary factor that influenced the development of public relations in Ukraine. The participants noted that many new processes such as privatization, liberalization, reduction of governmental subsidies, and growing competition required new methods and approaches to deal with the changing economic environment. The changes in the economy and other spheres concurrently made the society more open to these new ideas. Entrepreneurs, motivated by promising business opportunities and profit, were eager to learn from their western counterparts. “The Ukrainian business infrastructure started to develop by copying American and Western European business models as well as functions, relations, and terms,” and public 120 relations was one of them, according to the head of the PR and Reputation Management Department at KWENDI group, Olga Vaganova (personal communication, March 12, 2009).
The emerging businesses started to develop ties with the western world and became more interested in participating in the European and larger world economies. Myroslaw Kohut, a managing director of a public relations firm, Romyr Associates, who also serves at the International Institute of Business in Kyiv as academic chair of the post-university, professional, baccalaureate and master’s level accredited programs of the Chartered Institute of Public
Relations (UK), noted that this was not a smooth transition:
This interest in participating in the world economy ran into the problem of communicating with people who were representatives of international companies and had some idea of public relations (M. Kohut, personal communication, February 28, 2009).
Besides the necessity to communicate with foreign companies, there was also a need for Ukrainian businesses to position and distinguish themselves from competitors. With the emergence of competition, “companies had to interact more with the public, provide more information about themselves, their products or services,” states Alexander Belyakov (personal communication, March 10, 2009), an author of works on journalism, communication and environmental public relations issues and deputy head of the Foundation for Local Democracy and European Integration of Yuri Panejko. If during the Soviet Union era, there was a great demand for a limited choice of goods produced in the country, now each company had to explain to the audiences the benefits of its products and services. The emergence of external and internal publics required organizations to deal with them more effectively and to plan their communication activities.
Although the economic transition facilitated interest in and need for professional communications and public relations, “the early responses [to this need] were very naïve and very much tied to the old Soviet model – the propaganda model, or much influenced by it” (M.
Kohut, personal communication, February 28, 2009). However, further development of the business sector and an increasing number of connections with international business representatives helped Ukrainian companies distance themselves from the Soviet model and “develop a more contemporary understanding of public relations” (M. Kohut, personal communication, February 28, 2009). According to the respondents, this process continues today.
However, if the business sector is seeking to move away from the Soviet heritage, Ukrainian politics are still greatly influenced by it.
Politics The second factor that influenced public relations development, according to Ukrainian practitioners, was the political situation. Several respondents suggested that the first public relations practitioners came from political and election campaigns and that political leaders were the first to employ public relations tools and strategies. However, according to most respondents, politics had mainly a negative influence on public relations in Ukraine. Many participants considered the political elite responsible for the misrepresentation of the term “public relations.” Yevhen Hlibovytsky, a managing partner of communications, marketing, and strategy
consultancy, Pro.mova, said:
I believe the perverted definition of public relations as a high-end or very skillful way of manipulating someone’s opinion was brought by political players and mostly by political 121 strategists who were using manipulative techniques to get their clients into governmental offices (Y. Hlibovytsky, personal communication, March 14, 2009).
Since its independence, Ukraine has experienced constant political instability. Oleksandr Kharchenko, a consultant at Hill & Knowlton, mentioned that “because in Ukraine we have frequent elections plus constant problems with structure of power and parliament, politics, for most people, is like a toothache. It’s really a problem…, and the word polittexnolog (political strategist) is a bad word, it has a negative connotation” (O. Kharchenko, personal communication, March 17, 2009). Political leaders learned early on that publicity was their “bread and butter” and used any possible way to achieve it. The mistrust of the government and its leaders that came from the Soviet era was further deepened due to the unfulfilled promises
and misleading slogans of new leaders. One respondent reported:
It is a common practice for one politician to make claims in the media that his opponent is insincere and doesn’t really care about the people and the country and that all the talk about his good deeds are not true, “they are just PR.” The general public that hears such statements all the time develops a negative perception of public relations (O. Vaganova, personal communication, March 12, 2009).
Marina Starodubska, a general director and a managing partner at strategic communication consultancy, Mikhailov&Partners, Ukraine, and first deputy chair at the Ukrainian Association of Public Relations (UAPR), also stressed the negative influence of
The entire negative connotation that PR has in our country came from politics. PR as a word is perceived as negative by non-expert audiences because it’s connected in their minds with politics, game playing, empty promises, and corruption. Political battles had negative influence on the understanding of PR (M. Starodubska, personal communication, March 17, 2009).
The political situation, with its constant battles for power and spheres of influence, resulted in another problem – the issue of “black PR.” Practitioners related the emergence of this practice to the political campaigns that involved deliberate dissemination of false information
about a political opponent and “blackening” of his/her reputation. One participant stated:
Black PR is still an issue in Ukraine. It is beginning to fade, but I think it’s still very strong. It still exists in politics. It’s probably less prevalent than it was in business mainly because journalists, media owners, and editors of newspapers are a little bit more careful (M. Kohut, personal communication, February 28, 2009).
Nina Sorokopud, an acting country manager at international public relations agency, Action Global Communications, said that “in the conditions of very tight competition this phenomenon can still be observed in different sectors, but it’s not part of public relations or done by PR specialists” (N. Sorokopud, personal communication, March, 22, 2009). Most respondents
shared the view that “black PR” was not part of public relations. Belyakov stressed:
It is incorrect to associate public relations with “black PR” because public relations does not include such activity as blackening an opponent or competitor. On the contrary, public relations is based on presenting your own positive and valuable aspects (A.
Belyakov, personal communication, March 10, 2009).
122 Despite this shared view, some respondents reported that there were people who did “black PR” and still considered themselves PR specialists. Starodubska (personal communication, March 17, 2009) said: “Some PR agencies in Ukraine claim that they specialize in black PR. Some agencies believe that this is the most effective PR.” This finding confirmed incidents of “black PR” reported in Ukrainian specialized media (Minko, 2004; Altus, 2007). It was also in line with research of public relations practice in Russia where this issue is “one of the most interesting and provocative discussions in modern public relations theory” (Tsetsura, 2004; p.342).
Media Media was another factor that influenced public relations in Ukraine and that was closely connected with the discussions of economic and political situations. On one hand, respondents reported positive influence of media on the development of public relations. Under the Soviet Union, there was no private media, only state owned and state governed. With Ukraine’s independence this situation started to change. Anastasia Grynko, a public relations manager at
International Renaissance Foundation, noted:
After the Orange revolution in Ukraine, our media became more independent (but still not completely independent), less censored by the government and thus, more open for other newsmakers (A. Grynko, personal communication, March 5, 2009).
Volodymyr Dehtyaryov, an account director at Nords PR Ukraine and a UAPR board member, suggested that “the increasing number of media available, growing professionalism of journalists and editors, and in general, availability of information” facilitated public relations development (V. Dehtyaryov, personal communication, February 17, 2009). Internet development was also an important factor for public relations in Ukraine as it presented more communication opportunities for practitioners and increased the need for openness and transparency in all spheres of Ukrainian society.
On the other hand, respondents indentified many problems associated with the media landscape that greatly hindered public relations development in Ukraine. One of the problems related to the close ties between the media and the government and business sectors. Maria
Voloshina, a public relations manager at the Ukrainian Association of Public Relations, said:
If before and after the Orange Revolution, media was developing and becoming more independent, nowadays it seems to move in the opposite direction. Most media is very dependent on its owners (M. Voloshina, personal communication, March 23, 2009).
Practitioners, in fact, found the matter of media ownership very problematic. Tatyana
Gurieva, a public relations consultant in Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, reported:
Instead of being “the fourth estate,” mass media in Ukraine plays the role of a yes-man for political leaders. There are numerous examples of this. A certain person controls each TV channel, and how this channel presents information and what information is covered will depend on this person’s political views. The same situation is observed in the print media (T. Gurieva, personal communication, March, 19, 2009).
According to the respondents, media owners were rich businessmen who either had strong connections with the government or even occupied some influential governmental position. As a result, media was used to serve business and political interests often with the help 123 of questionable methods and techniques. The interview participants considered Ukrainian media very biased with the tendency to politicize even those events that had nothing to do with politics.
Such media practices happen so often, they report, that it would be hard to find media that was
trusted by the general public. One respondent reported: