«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»
There is a lack of consolidated effort on behalf of the PR community to promote and adapt international standards. There are two PR groups in Ukraine, each doing its thing, trying to promote best standards, but many PR professionals don’t pay enough attention to this (M. Starodubska, personal communication, March 17, 2009).
According to the respondents, lack of professional and ethical standards was the major
obstacle for the development of public relations in Ukraine:
Absence of unified ethical norms and professional standards greatly hinders development. There are agencies, members of the association [UAPR], who refuse to serve those clients who view PR in terms of placement of paid-for materials in the media.
However, during the current economic crisis, such PR agencies are limited in number (M.
Voloshina, personal communication, March 23, 2009).
Some practitioners pointed out that not only the public relations community but government as well should address this obstacle by, for example, introducing laws concerning public relations and enforcing existing laws more strictly.
Public relations education According to the respondents, the situation with PR education has been improving.
However, some practitioners said the general state of public relations education was even worse than the state of the industry. Overall, study participants emphasized the lack of good quality education as another main characteristic of the current state of the profession.
The respondents reported that public relations education in Ukraine included college education in public relations, pro-bono PR courses, specialized courses in business schools, and various training programs and seminars. The practitioners pointed out that there were no strong Public Relations Departments at the universities. They considered PR college education rather weak and far removed from reality because people who teach public relations were not practitioners.
Pro-bono PR programs offered by some public relations agencies provide good practical knowledge, but they are limited in number and conducted mainly in the capital of Ukraine. Most respondents named the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) as the best option for public relations education. According to the respondents, CIPR offers high quality post-graduate education in public relations, but it is designed for people who already have experience in the
field and the financial ability to pay. One practitioner explained:
CIPR is a well-recognized institution offering certificate and diploma PR programs. And this is the only program in the country. It has rather stringent enrollment and admission criteria, which means you cannot enter it just because you want to. You need to possess a specific level of experience and specific skills (M. Starodubska, personal communication, March 17, 2009).
128 If people lack necessary skills and experience they can either go to various training programs and seminars or engage in self-education. The respondents reported that many such programs are either not very professional or too narrowly designed for experienced practitioners or a specific sector of public relations practice. The study participants emphasized that there were no criteria or standards against which short- and long-term PR programs could be evaluated. “The educational system is not centralized or standardized, and there are not enough good quality options” (M. Starodubska, personal communication, March 147 2009).
Recently, public relations was recognized as a profession on the governmental level in Ukraine. However, according to some respondents, public relations is rarely taught as a separate major. More often it is public relations courses offered at different departments and designed for specific majors, for example, public administration, art, culture or mass communications.
Explaining drawbacks of this situation, Belyakov said:
There is no classic educational establishment that would offer classic education in public relations. PR educational programs in different colleges and universities may have completely different curricula. This can be dangerous because there is no guarantee that students will learn the basis of the PR profession. But even if they will, there is no guarantee that these foundation courses will be the same or similar in each university (A.
Belyakov, personal communication, March 10, 2009).
Another issue related to public relations education was the availability of educational materials and their quality. Respondents said there were a considerable number of low quality materials and text books presenting public relations as manipulation and spin. Other educational materials included translations of U.S. and Western European text books and case studies that were not always suitable for Ukrainian conditions. The study participants suggested that though such translated books were very useful, they should be used in combination with local examples and case studies. The respondents said there was an obvious need to adapt such textbooks to the economic, political, and cultural conditions of Ukraine as well as develop local academic literature.
Emerging trends The last question asked about emerging trends in Ukrainian public relations. The respondents identified the following trends in the public relations field: growth of professionalism and decrease in unethical practices influenced by the economic recession;
further specialization of the industry; better understanding of the public relations role in different sectors of the society; growing interest in social media; and development of public relations education.
Some respondents saw the current economic crisis as an opportunity for the public
relations profession to grow and become more sophisticated:
Basically the crisis is good because clients are not ready to pay for process anymore; they are paying only for results. Those who cannot bring clients to a particular goal are not part of the business (Y. Hlibovytsky, personal communication, March 14, 2009).
The study participants expect to see more need for public relations in companies as the tension and competition grows, influenced by hard economic conditions. Starodubska (personal communication, March 17, 2009) said: “When the market starts pushing companies to compete on all possible levels, they will inevitably turn to every tool they can to win the competitive 129 battle.” There is also an expectation the economic recession will reduce the amount of unprofessional and unethical practices. Hlibovytsky (personal communication, March 14, 2009) suggested: “My expectation is that the crisis will heal quite a few ‘cancer-organizations’ that are trying to run the market with the help of bribery and manipulation. These organizations are the ones who suffered first.” Another trend reported by the respondents is further specialization of the public relations discipline. Many participants pointed out Ukrainian public relations already presented a rather high level of specialization. However, with the further development of the field, practitioners expected to see the development of new directions of public relations practice such as investor relations, financial relations, digital public relations, and social public relations. One respondent stated: “I think so far PR agencies have been working in any type of industry, but now some will be moving to, for example, IT, some to fashion and design industries, some to digital” (V.
Dehtyaryov, personal communication, February 17, 2009). Another practitioner emphasized the
growing importance of social public relations:
We have conducted campaigns for private sector clients on combating counterfeit production, supporting breast feeding as a cornerstone for infant nutrition, and a tender is in process for a large communications component of a European Union financed project on gender equity and children’s rights. These are examples of social PR. As Ukraine develops its state and democratic institutions and integrates more closely with Europe, such issues and projects will become increasingly important in the society. And PR is one of the mechanisms to deal with them (M. Kohut, personal communication, February 28, 2009).
According to the respondents, understanding of the public relations’ role will increase in several sectors of the society. Some practitioners suggest that there were already indications of
For example, in government, there is already evidence that there are some people who understand it. The examples can be the two major parties of Ukraine – the Party of Regions and the Bloc of Yuliya Timoshenko that retained international public relations consultancies to assist with their campaigns (M. Kohut, personal communication, February 28, 2009).
Another example can be the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to improve the image of Ukraine. Although these efforts haven’t been very successful, they indicate that “there is an understanding that reputation matters, and doing something about the image of Ukraine in the international community is important” (M. Kohut, personal communication, February 28, 2009).
With the growing understanding of PR’s role, the participants expect to see more Ukrainian organizations hiring in-house public relations specialists and creating PR departments.
According to the respondents, the public relations industry is mainly represented by public relations agencies and consultancies. However, as organizations and companies start to realize the importance of constant communication with their main audiences, the trend for in-house public relations function will likely develop more rapidly.
Most respondents recognize the increasing role of the Internet for public relations practice. More practitioners became attracted to this medium as a cheap and effective way to 130 communicate with key audiences directly. According to respondents, interest in social media is growing as well. However, understanding social media, its development and use for public
relations purposes is still in its beginning stages. Kohut explained:
I think it is early days yet in Ukraine to seriously get involved in social networking as a PR function principally because I think the number of users is relatively small – about 15+ per cent of the population, on the order of seven million users, and the main portion of them are users of only email services, not of social networking. So it’s not a very mature audience. Social networking still remains rather novel and not very sophisticated in its application, apart from the subcategory of Op-Ed articles on Internet news sites with corresponding reader reactions that are now quite common on major news sites in Ukraine (M. Kohut, personal communication, February 28, 2009).
Although public relations education was one of the biggest challenges reported by the practitioners, they expect to see more efforts on the part of educators and practitioners to provide better formal education and professional training in public relations. According to the respondents, there are very few professionals who received formal education in public relations.
The rest of the practitioners come from backgrounds such as journalism, political science, linguistics, and education, and had to learn on the job, attend different seminars and training programs, and pursue self-education. However, respondents suggested that many practitioners understand the importance of formal training in public relations and seek such opportunities.
Some positive changes have started to take place already. Respondents mentioned current developments in the sphere of education such as the growing number of professional and educational forums, and conferences and seminars such as the European PR Congress. Another example was the initiative, Growth in PR, launched by the international youth organization, AIESEC, together with UAPR and leading PR agency Hoshva PR. Having started few years ago, this educational initiative has been attracting more public relations students and entry-level practitioners each year. With development of similar educational initiatives and programs, respondents expect to see better understanding of public relations functions among public relations students and practitioners.
Discussion Defining the public relations field There are several possible reasons for the differences in the practitioners’ definitions.
Most public relations practitioners in Ukraine did not receive formal training in public relations.
Their understanding of the profession is influenced mainly by practical experience they acquired on the job. Consequently, their definitions may reflect how public relations is practiced at a particular organization and what role PR specialists perform there. Those respondents who view public relations as a strategic management function may reflect to some extent the real situation in the Ukrainian public relations industry where a few organizations understand public relations’ management role and practice it as a management function. At the same time, describing PR as a management function can reflect the idea that this is how it should be understood and practiced in an organizational setting, but it’s not necessarily the case at the present time. The AngloAmerican term “public relations” has been widely accepted without translation in Ukraine and many other Eastern European countries to describe the emerging profession.
131 Besides the issue of defining the public relations field, respondents reported the tendency to use such terms as “communication” or “information” instead of “public relations.” The practitioners explain this phenomenon as the way to distance themselves and their practice from politics and political public relations, which are usually perceived very negatively by the public.
Study participants state that many international NGOs also try to avoid the term “public relations” in their professional titles. This confirms results of Van Ruler and Verčič’s (2004) Delphi study reporting that in Europe, “the term ‘public relations’ (if ever used) gets more and more replaced by such terms as ‘communication management’ and ‘corporate communication.’” What is unclear is whether Ukrainian organizations and practitioners use the term “communication” solely to avoid negative perceptions or to better describe their roles and duties in an organization.