«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»
There is no truly independent media in Ukraine. Quantitatively there is a lot of media in Ukraine, something around 400, but in reality, the media that are read, trusted, respected and more or less spread comprise maybe one fourth of the total number of media. There are journalists to whom you address your press-releases, your invitations and media events, but you know, if you are serving a specific client, the questions journalists are going to ask because you know who owns them. And this is how the media works (M.
Starodubska, personal communication, March 17, 2009).
Other significant issues reported by the participants were such media practices as the paid-for materials and money for coverage. The respondents reported that paid-for materials
often appeared in the media without being identified as such. Belyakov said:
There are cases when media publishes paid-for materials as news stories and doesn’t indicate that this information is, in fact, advertising, that it is paid for. And this is violation of the law (A. Belyakov, personal communication, March 10, 2009).
Although there are national laws that prohibit such practices and regulate how paid-for information has to be presented in the media, often these rules are not followed by the journalists and not really enforced by the government.
Interview participants stated that advertising was the main source of income for media. In a free-market economy, where there is a lot of media but not enough money, many media outlets try to earn a profit in any way possible, often unethically. Such media expect to be paid for any
coverage about an organization or a person:
It is a great problem for companies and businesses when they create a newsworthy event and media doesn’t want to cover it for free. Media has set prices that businesses have to pay to get into the news. And it is impossible to appear on certain TV channels without paying (A. Belyakov, personal communication, March 10, 2009).
According to interviewees, public relations practitioners had to account for such media practices and sometimes even allocate money for such expenses if they wanted to get coverage for their clients. One respondent reported that some public relations firms advertise “their special relations with media that allow them to guarantee publishing of a particular story or getting the story on the TV screen” (Y. Hlibovytsky, personal communication, March 14, 2009). Some of the practitioners stated that such unethical and illegal practices take place all the time, but they did not say if they ever participated in such activities or used these practices in their work. Some practitioners emphasized that they were not practicing such activities because it conflicted with their professional ethical values.
These findings confirm the recent study on media non-transparency in Ukraine that found evidence of non-transparent practices in Ukrainian media relations. Recall that these practices were described as direct and indirect influences on media and journalists such as hidden advertising and cash payments, as well as publicity in exchange for advertising (Tsetsura & Grynko, 2009).
Soviet heritage 124 Talking about the historical development of public relations in Ukraine, respondents emphasized the significant impact of the Soviet legacy. Many years of communist rule significantly affected not only socio-economic and political spheres of life but also people’s mindsets, values and beliefs. Today, almost twenty years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, remnants of its legacy can still be observed on different levels of Ukrainian society.
According to the respondents, one of the main effects of Soviet rule was reluctance on the part of
government and business to become open and transparent. Hlibovytsky said:
Business and the public in general don’t really see the advantages of transparency. This is something that was not needed for decades and was discouraged under Soviet rule. There is no demand for publicity, especially concerning crisis situations (Y. Hlibovytsky, personal communication, March 14, 2009).
Many companies prefer to maintain a low profile and do not share much information with the public because during the Soviet era any privately owned business was considered suspicious and was subject to higher taxes. According to the respondents, many small and medium businesses were not interested in communication efforts and promotion activities as they felt rather comfortable in their economic sector with low competition. Having become used to the norm that any goods produced in the country were readily sold, such companies did not see the need to become more proactive and establish relations with important audiences. However, this situation is changing rapidly, especially in the conditions of economic recession.
Last but not the least reported effect of the Soviet legacy was the association of public relations with propaganda. This problem related to the common belief influenced by the Soviet regime that mass media lied. Another factor was the public’s mistrust of the Soviet leaders who were associated with power abuse, corruption, and nepotism. Such political ills did not disappear with the collapse of the Soviet Union but continued to be practiced by the new political elite.
Media was also actively used to influence public opinion. Reflecting on the role of communist
legacy in PR development, one respondent stated:
Soviet heritage has influenced public relations greatly. The public at large associates public relations with politics and elections. I think such a perception is influenced by old Soviet-style propaganda (V. Dehtyaryov, personal communication, February 17, 2009).
These findings were in line with numerous citations referring to the impact the communist regime had on the development of Central and Eastern European countries and their adaptation to new conditions (Gross, 2005; Ławniczak, 2004).
Current state of the profession Question three asked about the current state of the profession. According to the practitioners the current state of public relations could be characterized by the following: public perception of public relations; public relations’ role in organizations and businesses; the public relations community; and public relations education. Economy, politics, media landscape and the legacy of the former Soviet Union continue to influence public relations practice, shape its characteristics and further progress.
Public’s perception of public relations According to the participants, a few years ago public relations was mainly associated with politics, “black PR,” manipulation, and dirty political games. This trend still remains strong today, especially with the beginning of new presidential election campaigns and the economic 125 recession. Many participants said that a lot of people do not know what public relations stands for and cannot explain the meaning of the term, but because of political influence, this term in
the public’s eyes has very negative connotation:
PR is a bad thing in the minds of most people. Not many people can actually articulate what it is. They say: “PR is bad, but I cannot tell you the definition” (M. Starodubska, personal communication, March 17, 2009).
Some respondents said that some recent trends included use of the Ukrainian or Russian phonetic transcription of the word “PR,” spelled “piar,” and use of the word “PR” as a verb.
According to the respondents, both versions of this word were used with some negative connotation. PR as a verb was commonly used in the media with the suggestion of overstating something about an organization or person. One respondent explained: “In other cultures, in other societies, people say: ‘Stop advertising yourself.’ In Ukraine, it’s “Perestan’ piaryty sebe” [literally, stop PR-ing youself]” (M. Kohut, personal communication, February 28, 2009).
Besides negative associations with public relations, respondents suggested some positive changes in the public’s perceptions. One practitioner said people have started to understand that public relations is an important communication function. People have positive perceptions of public relations that supports social programs, charities, and sometimes corporations.
Kharchenko (personal communication, March 17, 2009) pointed out: “Corporate PR is perceived as a more positive thing. Everybody wants to know about the companies, to have some information about businesses. People are interested in businesses in Ukraine.” Public relations’ role in organizations and business Study participants reported that only a few Ukrainian organizations and companies realize the importance of public relations. These are mainly large industrial companies as well as companies that try to attract foreign investors and enter international markets. Other organizations that actively use public relations include international companies, their affiliates, and local offices of international NGOs. Respondents said that many of those Ukrainian organizations that have public relations specialists on staff hired them mainly because it was a trend or they had some extra money, not because they felt the need for it.
Another problem associated with the public relations position in organizations was a lack of understanding of the broad spectrum of PR practice. Respondents pointed out public relations was often limited to media relations, and PR specialists were perceived as people who wrote news releases and organized news conferences. Many participants recognized that public relations specialists in many companies are not part of top-management. Most often they fulfill
the role of executors implementing whatever strategy they were given:
Most public relations specialists in Ukraine do not report to top management, they do not participate in the board meetings, and don’t usually have access to the top leaders they are supposed to work with. PR professionals do not have all the rights in an organization they need to have, if we view public relations as a management function (M. Voloshina, personal communication, March 23, 2009).
According to the respondents, public relations was often viewed as a sub-function of marketing by company leaders. Some of the study participants shared this view suggesting that
public relations was mainly needed to support the marketing function. One respondent said:
“Marketing is a much broader term. It is one of the business functions and presents all the 126 communication of a particular brand including advertising and public relations” (O. Vaganova, personal communication, March 12, 2009).
According to the participants, there were two main reasons why marketing and advertising departments often had more power and respect in organizations. One reason was that organizational leaders and managers often did not know and understand the benefits of public
relations for their companies. Starodubska explained:
People are used to paying for direct expenses such as hall renting, catering, printing, but they were not ready to pay for advice. And that is what the market is now learning to do (M. Starodubska, personal communication, March 17, 2009).
Also, executives did not know what to demand and what results to expect from public relations professionals. Respondents emphasized that there were no nationally accepted professional standards for public relations that could help employers assess the quality of services and the level of practitioners’ professionalism.
The second reason reported by the respondents related to the problem of evaluating the results of public relations practice. Many practitioners mentioned that marketing and advertising had more power in organizations because their results were more predictable, easier to formalize and calculate, and easier to present in monetary terms, while public relations effectiveness was less obvious to top managers. Voloshina points out executives do not see the value of public
Today, public relations is mainly considered as a function that saves money and accumulates intangible assets which, unfortunately, are not really appreciated in our country (M. Voloshina, personal communication, March 23, 2009).
To overcome such challenges, respondents suggested PR practitioners have to learn how to speak business language and be able to explain the value of their services and expertise and
prove their effectiveness:
Especially in the conditions of economic crisis, it is very important for PR specialists to understand what additional value public relations can give to the organization, how this value can be assessed, and how to convince executives that they need this additional value (O. Vaganova, personal communication, March 12, 2009).
Public relations community The respondents reported other positive developments in the public relations field such as growth and activity of public relations professional associations (UAPR and PR-League).
According to practitioners, these associations are rival organizations that are making independent efforts to develop and promote the public relations profession. Although these organizations implement useful activities and projects, some respondents think that they duplicate their efforts.
Furthermore, practitioners thought it was rather ironic that a third public relations organization
had recently emerged as well:
In Ukraine you can find three different professional PR organizations where different people work on something. These are competing organizations. This is too much for small Ukraine, for a small market. It shouldn’t be hard to discuss everything among PR professionals, to establish some rules, but as of today it’s impossible, and I don’t know why (O. Kharchenko, personal communication, March 17, 2009).
127 Some respondents mentioned that many public relations specialists were not interested in participating in professional associations or becoming members. Many participants emphasized the need to consolidate efforts of the associations and individual professionals in order to promote the profession itself as well as establish unified professional and ethical standards.