How to communicate in a crisis situation?

As unexpected storms arise in the public arena more and more often, where even an innocent cauliflower can become the most popular character of the week, a person can start thinking how far communication and public relations go as technologies improve and socialization increases. Tools and possibilities to communicate are becoming more and more numerous and varied every day, but do we know how to use them property to their full extent? Do we know what to do in a case something goes wrong?

Theory and practice

According to Andrius Kasparavičius, the head of the agency Komunikacija ir Konsultantai, there have been discussions about crisis communication going on in the public relations community for a long time already, but all those talks are mostly theoretical – possible situations are simulated, past events are discussed, specific acts are analysed. „There are theoretical considerations that public relations specialists should foresee crises and get ready for them in advance”, he said. Only there a tiny problem here – each crisis is different and often so unique that foreseeing and guessing future events is probably a mission impossible.

Most prominent police crises

As we are engaged in theoretical considerations, others experience those crises and feel their impact on themselves. And experience is probably the best teacher. Ramūnas Matonis, the head of the communication division of the Lithuanian police, remembered three major communication crises he personally encountered in one or another within 10 years of his practice. The whole of Lithuania certainly remembers them well, too. Those crises included an event in Skuodas district at the end of 2007 that shook everyone, when a drunk police officer killed three ten-year-olds in a traffic accident, the notorious Garliava paedophilia scandal and, finally, a rather recent story of a captured Kalashnikov gun. It is probably easiest to remember and evaluate the last one. The head of communication was on vacation at that time and learned about the event right after he left the plane, in other words – he suddenly found himself at the very zest of the problem. “We were somewhat late to react that time, as we announced about the event and published the suspect’s photo only after about one hour. However, afterwards, we used more efforts and communicated really a lot”, R. Matonis remembers.

Exemplary communication

Kasparavičius reveals: “The Lithuanian police can be praised for a very successful communication not only in traditional media but also on Facebook. It is a perfect example for all other state and public institutions, which often generally avoid speaking or do not think it is necessary to comment on anything.”

Actually, in case of this communication crisis, when a gross mistake seriously undermined trust in the police as a whole, persons responsible for communication did not get lost and started giving small details about each action performed by the police – they were regularly notifying the media and the population about the course of the operation. “We were actively working for over 5 hours until he got caught”, R. Matonis remembers. “And then, at night, we organised a press conference right away and all management took part in it. It was directly broadcast by several televisions.”

How long does a crisis take?

It is a perpetual question – when can one say that a crisis is over? When can one already end the communication period and resume other work that was probably forgotten during the crisis? After you put down fire in one place, can you be sure that it will not start in another place? Let’s remember the long-discussed story of the Kalashnikov gun. When did everything end? “I think, people started to forget about the event only upon completion of the pre-trial investigation, after we published the escape material and informed the public what penalties would be imposed on the officers at fault, i.e. about 2 months later”, Ramūnas spoke. “Therefore, it is obvious that once a communication crisis happens, it will be remembered for a long time and a public relations specialist must be ready to speak about it and provide information practically at any time – even when it already seems that everyone has long forgotten everything.”

Crisis planning

The practice of getting ready for crises and planning them is still a very rare phenomenon in our country. “It seems that it is more relevant for large international companies. It is probably so because companies in general tend to save money in case of public relations as a non-priority field and optimistically believe that “it will not happen to me”, A. Kasparavičius says. However, it is obvious from public examples that it is very advisable to have a plan of several possible steps to be taken in case of a crisis situation.

Matonis thinks that it is important to stick to the main rule of managing a communication crisis both when planning crisis situations and in case problems actually arise. “All information must come from one source, i.e. it must be uniform and approved”, he says. According to him, the Lithuanian police have emergencies headquarters and, in case of a problematic situation, management and communication specialists gather there and decide what to do next.

Main principles

So, what are those main golden rules that must not be forgotten in the event of a crisis? Probably no one will object that today one of the essential principles in case of an unexpected and unpleasant event is not to keep silent, i.e. to explain, to share, to speak, etc., no matter how unpleasant it may be. Well, we live in an era of social networks and huge information flows. “Closing up, hiding and not giving any comments would be an inexcusable mistake”, A. Kasparavičius says. Actually, if you decide to keep silent, there will be persons who will talk instead of you and most frequently these will not be pleasant things. In a crisis situation, often at least two camps are formed – those who support or understand and those who condemn. In order that the latter camp would not win, it is necessary to voice your opinion and explain the situation. According to R. Matonis, expeditiousness is very important in a crisis situation, i.e. to share information as fast as possible. “It is also very important to tell the truth and the very information must come from one source in order that people would not be confused and misled”, the head of communication listed the main rules.

Matonis’ position was supported by A. Kasparavičius: “Probably expeditiousness and freedom are closely related to trust in the person who communicates. If people trust the person who announces information and he has the power to decide and behave at his own discretion here and now, many crises can be avoided altogether. It is the ultimate objective of public relations specialists. The more fires can be put down before they start, the happier both the client and the person who communicates are.”

How to avoid?

The head of communication of the Lithuanian police remembers a possible outbreak of a crisis that could have recently started. After use of an electric shocker in the centre of Vilnius, a businessman was arrested and taken to the police office. As a cell phone was not taken away from him, his started uploading photos from the police office to his Facebook account and telling how badly he was treated. Then the head, who was communicating by phone with colleagues in the police office, started asking his colleagues what to do and how to behave in this unpleasant situation. “As it was already evening, everyone suggested waiting for the next business day when everything would be already clear and only then to decide what to do next. However, the situation seemed out of control for me then, therefore, without consulting anyone, I took a decision myself – we announced the position of the police officers in the same social network. We explained that we were not seeking to declare any absolute truth, we were simply stating our position”, R. Matonis remembers. “And, to my surprise, that was enough for managing the crisis. To tell the truth, the businessman who was expressing his discontent and publishing photos from the police office personally deleted all information he had published.” That is just another perfect example how, in case of proper and timely reaction, one can prevent a greater communication crisis. Of course, trust in a public relations specialist is very important here. “Well, I can actually just express my joy that sometimes I can allow myself to behave not strictly according to our instructions and without a prior approval of our management, as it would actually take long and would often even be too late”, the head of communications said.

Is big freedom always good?

On the other hand, it seems that in state institutions such freedom is not a very frequent phenomenon, as one cannot see their representative openly communicating in the public. We asked R. Matonis how far police officers can go. Are there any restrictions for them to pronounce on one or another issue, to freely express their opinion with getting any prior approvals, etc.? “It is not very accurately and clearly regulated. Just recently we have had a situation, which made us think about it and start preparation of a relevant document”, the head of communications admitted. “I am talking about an event that attracted considerable public attention when a record about a drunk hostess of congratulations concerts was made public. Our policeman, who stopped her, announced his personal opinion about this event, which was not pre-approved by anyone, in his Facebook account. In my opinion, it would have been better if, before announcing his personal opinion, he had got his position preapproved by his supervisors and colleagues. On the other hand, he did not cause much damage and even on the contrary – he received considerable support. After this event we have talked for several times how one should communicate in the future, i.e. what should be avoided.”

Kasparavičius slightly contradicted his colleague and said that “namely such employees who freely express their opinion, who make statements very naturally and spontaneously, help to form not only their own image but the image of the institution as a whole, therefore it would be unreasonable to prohibit them from talking freely”. On the other hand, an opinion which is not approved and is debatable can be like a ticking bomb for a state institution – until the first failure. It is for this reason that strict rules must often be obeyed and consulting a colleague is always a good idea – a second look has never done any harm to anyone.

To erase the negative image

Still, no matter how well the Lithuanian police communicate, it is not able to totally erase the negative image. “It is sad that the police are still treated as some closed force structure”, R. Matonis said. “The institution also has older people, who have worked here for a long time already. They make rebukes and do not understand why the police publish information. They say that we do not need this. I cannot agree with them. Our actions and communication only proves that we are open and do not conceal anything. One of our long-term goals would be to prove that the Lithuanian police is not an outdated repressive force structure and when people hear the word “police”, they would think about an open and transparent organisation not afraid of committing any actions that would not have been tolerated some 10 years ago.”

These are nice and welcome aspirations. And crises management principles mentioned by our interlocutors – openness, truth dissemination, keeping in contact or expeditiousness – are a straight way towards creation of an image of trust. Actually, both state and public sector institutions should follow the example of the Lithuanian police and make brave public statements. Properly presented information and qualitative work of public relations specialists can help not only to manage arising crises but even to avoid them.

PR against propaganda: we are more mature than we think

We have consistently emphasised that we are a small, young country, so we move towards the West slowly and not always confidently. However, I am very happy with the situation I see today. The arena of Lithuanian public relations is constantly attacked by the proponents of Eastern ideology, who fuel the idea of propaganda and struggle to find supporters here in our country. Examples are right in front of us: Pervij Baltiskij kanal, Nord Stream, Gazprom and, finally, Rosatom. The last one must be singled out and discussed. Most recently, this particular company has sought to hire a public relations agency in Lithuania. To my great surprise and joy, the attempt was unsuccessful.

It is often said that “It’s not personal, it’s business” – if you want to earn money, you will do anything. I highly disagree with such an opinion. It is perverse. It also appears that I am not the only one who disagrees with it – the same applies to all other communication agencies that believe that reputation is far more important than money. Why was no one willing to work with Rosatom? The answer is simple – the company is subordinate to the Kremlin,  a tool of the Russian government for influencing the Baltic states and other European countries.

But let’s get back to the roots of PR and Western values, the beginning of which dates back to the first part of the 20th century. These are the spread of truth, the pursuit of goodness, assurance of confidence and a great number of other concepts fully understandable to any Westerner. How should communication on behalf of Rosatom be carried out? How can the truth be told when the cornerstone of the project is lies and their dissemination?

After the failure to find an agency in Lithuania, the company has drawn on Moscow PR specialists. After all, the ordered project must still be carried out. No doubt, the agency acted in the same manner as would any other communication company that must cooperate with the media. The agency sent journalists on a trip to Astravyets. The only problem is that, according to the principles of public relations, the agency should allow the media to become familiar with the essence of the project as well as to receive answers to any possible questions. And what should be done if the project is secret and virtually no information can be disclosed? Even more revealing is that the journalist in this story is not allowed to get more information than our government officials, who also claim to have no answers to their questions. So what kind of communication occurs in such a case and what reaction can we expect? Of course, negative. We have all seen what happened after the journalists’ visit to the power plant. I failed to find a single positive article in the press as it is generally impossible to get a positive reaction. This project is totally negative, imbued with lies and built on a vague foundation.

As a matter of fact, the decision of Lithuanian agencies not to work with such a company is not only a matter of morals. Any specialist acting within the framework of the rules of Western PR will find it impossible to work on such a project. After all, communication is not a field which is capable of controlling the natural flow of information. This fact is particularly applicable to the current technological era when it is almost impossible to grasp the size of the daily flow of information. This should also be understood by some of our business people, who, when applying to PR agencies, hope that communication specialists will work as a kind of filter that transfers only the information desired. However, PR agencies are not the bearers of positive news. First and foremost, such agencies are spreaders of truth and this idea should finally be understood. They help to tell about things that exist rather than create something that does not exist.

So when talking about the differences of the East and West, or more precisely, Russia as the representative of the East and Lithuania as a Western country, we should take into consideration the historically formed mentality of the individual. There is one associate professor who has been analysing and teaching Russian literature at university for many years. The professor, who also has Russian blood and even a Russian surname, has been constantly following the political and economic situation of this neighbouring country. Once, speaking about the mentality of the Russian people, she explained that since the time of the Russian Empire, the country has had an unwritten principle, which, obviously, is widely used today and has been passed down from generation to generation. According to the associate professor, Russians live не по законам, а по понятиям, i. e. not according to the rules but according to perception. In other words, in a way they want and like – and in a way they understand. There are no rules for them. And after all, the civilized and especially Western world has dozens of rules – starting from a country’s constitution and ending with the principles of road safety. The same applies to the field of PR – first you prepare plans according to existing rules and only then take actions. The Rosatom project does the opposite: rules are considered only a formality which can be evaded. These rules are not the basis of the work but rather an obstacle that needs to be overcome.

Our mentality is wounded by years of Soviet occupation, so the desire to bend the rules and break them, to be “more clever” than all the others is still very common. However, it is obvious that 26 years of independence changed many things and rules are currently the basis of all fields. Besides, we are a country where a rule of law prevails. We have full opportunity to dislike the rules and claim that the bureaucratic mechanism leads to longer project implementation time. Maybe some of the rules seem annoying and excessive. But the fact that we are following them is a really great achievement. Therefore, we can rejoice that we are mature and are able to choose. Maybe even more mature and pro-Western than sometimes we find ourselves thinking.

Why falsehood is so colourless and truth so multicolour?

It is paradoxical that the world being so variegated is full of extremities. I have heard several times saying “There is no one truth. There are many forms of truth or “This is the only truth and we all should believe it”. Worse still, however, is that the person saying this indeed hardly distinguishes truth from falsehood, since seeing only black or white in a really colourful world often prevents one from getting to the heart of the matter. Today falsehood may even seem very similar to truth. Nevertheless, everything is much simpler than it may seem. Truth exists and it may be easily supported by facts, evidenced by the respective statements and tangible arguments. Proving falsehood is considerably more complicated, since falsehood may be justified only by an even greater lie. And popular common sense says that you cannot hide an eel in a sack.

Let us now get down to the fundamental terms of good and bad. A human being is inherently prone to spread good things and create new meaningful things. The theory of hierarchy of needs published by the American psychologist Abraham H. Maslow already in 1943 states that the highest step of human needs is striving for morals, creation, acceptance of facts and certainly no prejudice. Only self-actualization and creation allow a person to feel happy. After all, we instinctively engage in doing good and creation without further considerations, since this is inherent in us. Nevertheless, there will always be such people who are not willing to create and do the good; thus, they seek to involve the people surrounding them in their own colourless space. They enjoy doing wicked actions, in particular, causing special harm and despising the people surrounding them.

Both creators and destroyers are inherently social and communicate with each other; thus, they understand that major works and accomplishments require support from others. Creators may easily receive assistance, it is enough to tell one’s goals to like-minded people and they quickly contribute.  This is a way more difficult for destroyers: one must convince that the evil and falsehood spread by them is “truth”. Thus, they must invent the “truth” and try to justify it. This is why such people too often justify themselves and pretend to be the victims. And we are inherently emphatic beings always sympathizing the disadvantaged people. Having listened to such falsehood spread by such “victim” for a long time, the person often does not realize that he got lost in the mist of false information. Such lie-based information should be referred to as the mist that lulls us and illuminates our eyes. This is referred to as black technologies in the field of public relations, propaganda in policy and simply slander at domestic level.

The psyche of the human being is rather fragile; thus, it is easy to induce it if the person himself allows this. The more of negative false information is stuffed into one’s head, the greater the mist in which the person gets and each time it is getting harder and harder to get out of it.  The mist is spreading and thickening until finally the person becomes a fanatic of some trashy conspiracy theory. As a rule, destroyers apply a very simple formula. They take a naked truth and dress it with a warm sweater in a midsummer, since the popular common sense says fair heat breaks no bones and it would be a sin not to believe it. In order words, destroyers force us to doubt about the truth by telling lies of the values that are important to us. Let’s say that they explain that doubts constitute the basis of democracy, that allegedly there any many opinions and several truths exist. The lower the education and the narrower the viewpoint of the person, the easier to deceive and convince him and bring the mist into one’s eyes. Such people do not see anything outside the walls of their home, live in their bubble and do not let anyone in. And, contrary to fake falsehood, the truth which is a relative of ethics is tactful and does not want to be an unwelcome guest. Falsehood must convince that namely it is the truth at any price. And this is not difficult if the person has never heard and seen the real truth. In principle, falsehood is destroying; thus, breaking a fence and visiting a person without an invitation does not mean anything contrary to the truth which creates things.

How the person should leave this vicious world of fences and see the truth? How the thick mist could be dispersed and how to see the truth? People should simply broaden own horizons, constantly take interest in different spheres, develop, check the facts, statistics, obtain information from several different reliable sources. The author of real information as opposed to information created for propaganda purposes never hides under unknown pseudonyms and never avoids answering unpleasant questions; he refers to several different well-known and reliable sources. He does not provide spoon-fed information, but leaves no room for doubt and forces to consider.

Finally, it should be recognised that we live in an ill, but quickly recovering society. Creators healers have medicine and are aware how to properly use it. If earlier a patient was sure that only black or white exists, today he already may see blue, red, yellow and even green colours. And there are so many shades! In order to improve and follow the examples of Scandinavian and Western countries, we should consistently spread the truth and under no circumstances not to deceive each other. This is the main function of multipliers. On the other hand, this is the fundamental rule of ethics which has already been followed for many years. The more lies we tell to the surrounding people, the thicker mist we create and narrow our activities as multipliers. The more truth is communicated, the greater opportunities we have, since the truth is always more appreciated than falsehood.

We should realize that there are no many truths. Instead, there are many shades of one truth as the world of the good is heterogeneous and multicoloured. Meanwhile, there is only one falsehood which is colourless, wearisome and dull. It is important to understand that we have to choose not between truth and falsehood, but between many shades of truth and always spread the truth by ourselves. The world of truth allows us to dispute, argue and discuss. Let’s learn to live a more colourful live.

Generation Z – which principles of communication they demand?

This is paradox, but even today, when the world is changing rapidly and becoming more and more advanced, when we by any means are trying to keep up with the train titled “technology”, which is flying at a rate of knots, the fundamental values and traditions of communication remain the same.

The new generation — Generation Z — is radically different from its predecessors. Firstly, they are the children of technologies. People say that they learn to use the Internet before they learn to talk. For present-day children, unlike previous generations, technology is not a supplement, which they need to learn to use as and when required: for them it is an inborn way of life. The maturing generation are creative realists, who get used to live in a global, never-ending flow of information. They are multifunctionalized people, they sometimes are too superficial and unable to catch the essence, extremely individual, but at the same time open-minded. A generation for whom there are no bounds — neither geographical nor technological.

 Commercial will become unacceptable

Communication habits change together with the generation. Even today mass media, as one of the key sources of information, are trying to adjust to the changes. With the advent of the first websites the theory about the disappearance of print newspapers and magazines seemed a forecast, which was difficult to perceive. But today the future of paperless media is not surprising for anyone and it is accepted as a logical sequence of events.

Today mass media face an even greater challenge — a completely different view on the content and its presentation. According to the data of the most recent Page Fair and Adobe research, there are 198 million Internet users around the world, who use Ad Blocking software. Over a year the number of such users increased by 41 per cent. So it is a simple thing to predict that a common commercial will provide less and less profit to companies in future, as there just will not be any users to provide traffic. As a result companies will have to break their heads over the way to gain profit.

 We are ready to pay for high-quality information

It is because of dying print media and our desire to survive for a long time we have been observing how skillfully Internet commercial is changing its characters and extending the range of its features: banners, news sheets, viral videos, content marketing, and so on. The creators of commercials have a fairly vivid imagination, that’s why in the near future the formats of commercial will rapidly multiply and there will be plenty of unique ads, though it can turn out a waste of time. If a present-day generation of users still have enough patience, but by little begin realizing that a “free” content is based on the hidden millions, which are made from our attention, then the new, maturing Generation Z will be far less tolerant towards anything that will distract their attention and annoy them. This generation of realists, in fact, doesn’t understand how anything can be imposed by force. When they need information, they want to get it quickly and only that particular data they are looking for, that’s why the new users will lay more rigid demands on the content quality. What is more it will be much harder to cheat this generation, which is so highly advanced from a technological point of view, as well as to slip them some hidden ad. And those who cheated once will be immediately blacklisted. Furthermore the «technology» children don’t see any problem in paying for virtual content, they don’t need to feel any goods by hands and put it into their pockets, unlike people of other generations. That’s why Generation Z is, probably, eager to pay for efficient content without any annoying commercial. And it will be an honest concert between a supplier and a recipient of the information.

Content will be created by the whole world

The moment when mass media will have to change dramatically is rapidly approaching — it means not just provide and monetize high-quality content, but to think out how to draw attention of the new readers. Content fundamentally changes the format. Today we have a perfect synthesis of written, audio and visual content. What is more, the popularity of social networks has shown that communication is no longer a one-way road, where information is just provided and received. Today we have an all-powerful two-way road, where a reader, listener, viewer and all of them in one user wants to be a part of the content, i.e. to respond to the provided information through comments, messages, photos, videos, articles, and so on. It seems that in future people will be more intensively incorporated in communication process and the creation of content, in particular — Generation Z, who are already active to a large extent. Today it is quite difficult even to imagine what mass media will be like in a decade, and in which way we will receive, create and accept the information. There are lots of suppositions that the written text will disappear, as we already have programs that give voice to what is written; and the popularity of videos provides the same thoughts. Well, we can only guess. If a transfer of the information by means of written texts disappears, it is likely to change just its format.

Time changes, values stay the same

Actually the situation that we observe is quite paradoxical. The world, in particular, the technology is rapidly changing and developing. Every day we want to do everything faster, more accurate and easier than the day before. On the other hand, a person’s desire to spread and receive information has not changed since the days of the primitive era. Communication is one of the fundamental values ​​of the society, and there is good ground to say that we, people, are social animals. It is vital for us to share information and believe in what we learn — in such a way we feel safe. We have always valued contacts and trust. We need to feel trust towards each other and expand communication network of contacts — the larger and more reliable it is the easier it’s for us to create our future. People of the new generation are very open-minded and honest, that’s why they will appreciate efficient communication to a large extent and respond to the trampled trust more painfully. That is why it is likely that mass media as the main source of information will not disappear — people will always need efficient content. Though the core is that only high-qualified professional experts have skills to create such a content. Of course, if we remind the activity of the new Generation Z and their passion to be a part of the information, it’s likely that a journalist’s status will go beyond today’s usual bounds. So, we faced a chance to live in the era of interesting transformations: it seems that the world is changing, but the values remain the same. We just shouldn’t forget about them.

Refugee crisis communication or refugee communication crisis?

“Refugees from Syria invade Europe”, “How to solve the refugee problem?”, “Is Lithuania ready to accept war refugees?” – every day similar headlines appear all over Lithuanian, European, and international press. Probably many people have already started to ask themselves: “Is there nothing else to talk about?”. Indeed, we cannot complain that this topic does not receive enough coverage. On the other hand, what do we truly know about it?

Essentially, the main and the oldest function of the media is to provide as many people as possible with objective information. While one might question objectivity in Lithuania, one cannot argue that there is not enough information. A considerably more important question is why we, having access to so much information, still know nothing? It’s very simple, actually. The amount of information is not directly proportional to its quality. Times have changed and the media is no longer content with merely providing information. First of all, it needs our attention as readers, so, although it is unfortunate, sometimes we are exposed to exceedingly superficial communication – captivating headlines, hot news, emotionally charged issues without solutions, etc. Properly delivered objective content as the main goal of the media stays far away for now. On the other hand, apparently, many Lithuanians would rather read about crime than look into new viable business opportunities. But this is a different matter. Today we have what we have. Barring a few pleasant exceptions when Lithuanian reporters travelled to dangerous areas and started reporting objective (positive as well as negative) information directly from refugee camps, we have a lot of noise, shrugging, and scaremongering. The media has achieved its goal – it presented the facts that are beneficial to it (that is, the ones attracting the most attention) and made everybody think and ask: “What will happen now?”

The answer to this question is expected not from news portals, newspapers or television broadcasts, but from directly responsible state authorities: refugee centres, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior, embassies, the European Union (EU) itself, etc. What do we hear from them? Absolutely nothing. We have many institutions working with this phenomenon which provide no information or only very limited, sometimes delayed, information. Essentially, there is a problem of improper performance of communication specialists or a lack of such specialists altogether. An inability to deal with crises. Communication of crises – this is what should be taught in our universities; communication specialists in particular should be in high demand in public sector bodies. On the other hand, one cannot say that there is a lack of such specialists. They exist, but they are successfully operating in the private sector.

Those who work in corporate communication are perfectly aware that their job is to always know everything and to be one, or better still, several steps ahead. The main task of a communication specialist is planning. Predicting communication actions if everything goes according to plan. Anticipating “what if?” situations as well. That is, having at least a couple of “B” or even “C” crisis plan options. As to the refugee situation, it was not all that difficult to predict people’s reactions and questions that will arise, right? Is it really so hard to just tell who the refugees are, what they are escaping from, why we have to help them, where we will accommodate them, how they will be integrated, etc.? These are simple questions that can be answered by any employee of the Refugees Reception Centre. Because for them, working with asylum seekers is a routine job. In addition, there are multiple channels for answering those questions: from social networks and blogs to particularly interested media, who will gladly listen and publish the information. After all, when a journalist asks a question, we do not talk about what he or she is not asking, and often really important things are not discussed because nowadays journalists have a different goal – sensation. Sometimes at any cost. The public forms an opinion which it is given, so what people will think wholly depends on responsible authorities.

We cannot say that our public authorities are completely silent. They do speak, but so little and so rarely that their messages are simply lost in an endless flow of information. In addition, they start talking too late, when the issue becomes particularly difficult and when a solution is suddenly needed. Then, when asked, they communicate very grudgingly. In other words, communication is not planed in advance, but carried out here and now, when the situation so requires. Most authorities don’t even have social network accounts, not to mention outdated spread of information via bought articles that no one reads. On the other hand, this problem exists not only in Lithuania, but also in other states and even in the European Union (EU), a huge institution with a generous budget, itself. Have your ever heard an account of the EU opinion on refugees that would comprehensively explain the situation in Europe? Probably not.

However, there are positive examples in our country and they are easy to find. One of the best examples is the Lithuanian police. Officers gladly participate in television and radio programmes, actively communicate in the social network “Facebook”, show daily police work in the long-running programme “Farai” (”Cops”), etc. Unsurprisingly, trust in police has been growing for the last several years. Why cannot other public bodies, for instance, the aforementioned Refugees Reception Centre, follow this example? Why, for instance, there is no information group online, where today most of us find all relevant information, that would provide explanations as to how many, where and what refugees will arrive and what stages of integration will be implemented, a group that would tell successful and less successful stories of refugees that are already here, present new arrivals, etc. For the public to understand that refugees may bring more benefits than problems to our country, all we need is imagination and people who would do this. Certainly, one can always blame the budget, but the aforementioned positive example of “To Defend. To Protect. To Help.” has a limited budget as well. If we want, we can always find excuses. Unsolved problems as well. Today we can be happy that within 25 years of independence we have made enough progress that information exists and, despite its gaps, is delivered to the public. There are still countries in the world that cannot boast even comparatively free media, where strict censorship is still in effect, and where there is a lot of propaganda, etc. Let’s be glad that the situation is steadily improving and let’s not forget that communication may be slightly improved every day. Very little is required: talking and sharing knowledge.


About the Ailing Media and Trade in Trust

When talking about problems in media, it would be logical to start with what is absolutely clear and obvious – media is business. And this is completely natural and perfectly understandable in countries with deep democratic roots, such as Scandinavia, Western European countries and the USA, where the media is understood as one form of business and is treated respectively. The operating model is very simple here – there is a media tool, which has its reader audience, thus this tool can easily be sold to advertisers, who expect to reach their customers in such a way. In such a way a marketable media tool allows its owners to profit from it. The main problem aspect comes to light when certain created content contributes to deceiving or misleading customers. We are often faced with a situation when honest operations of media representatives (for example, a reader reads an article on results of research conducted by a journalist presenting an objective view of a certain phenomenon, from which one can draw their own conclusions) is absolutely distorted. How wide-spread is this practice in Lithuanian media?

I can state that currently, the media of our country is going through a transition period. During the Soviet times we did not have any normal press – people were well aware of the fact that what they read in newspapers or saw on TV did not portray the reality. Once Lithuania regained its independence, the media gained the majority of trust from the readers, because it became free (meaning uncontrolled), thus it automatically was perceived as a reliable means of information. In fact, in the very beginning, this was the case; however, as time went by, the harder it was to maintain such a status. Media tools had the possibility to choose whether or not to continue to sell advertising or to trade the readers’ confidence. Having chosen the latter way, confidence is sold just like the majority of us sell our knowledge or intellect; I could easily compare such practice with prostitution. This was the way followed by the majority of the Lithuanian media, which traded the confidence that was granted to it. Meanwhile, the remaining part thereof decided to make a much more complex decision requiring more intelligence and, instead of making use of its readers, it chose to sell the size of its audience rather than trading trust. Due to such situations prevailing in the Lithuanian media, I am very excited to see that public confidence in media has been decreasing in our country each year. This means that the population is healing and has started to understand the various operating principles of the media. In this way, media consumers show their power, which allows for the pushing of despicably operating media tools aside.

Paradoxically enough, given the fact that public institutions purchase articles in our country, the existent practice could even be claimed to have been legitimized. Even though the law states that no institution or political party can have its media tools, they are allowed to purchase information, which is essentially the same thing. Various institutions purchase articles instead of trying to improve their PR skills and search for other more creative ways. Their publicized information is of little interest to people and almost nobody reads it. That way, the money of the country is wasted, people are being deceived by not providing them with objective information and finally the ability of these institutions to communicate is totally ruined. After all, why try to connect with journalists if it is much easier to simply buy it all. Thus, we could talk about the distinction of this harmful cooperation only once such institutional activities are restricted. However, up until now approaching this issue has been a scary thing – supposedly this means going against the ideas of the free word and press.

In the presence of the existing situation, social media plays an especially important role. Today, each of us can have our own media tool, as basically this is free of charge now – creating a Facebook profile, blog or enacting another media tool has become as easy as pie, which only proves the fact that nowadays it is much more important to build confidence. If you are able to gather an audience which has confidence in you and always provide that audience with high-quality information, having one’s own media tool is absolutely easy. I often ask my students who do they trust more – a blog or Respublika? I personally am much more inclined to trust blogs, because here a very clear criterion prevails – either I have confidence in a person writing it or not. A possibility of choice here is very simple – if he deceives me at least once, I will lose my confidence in him and will no longer read his blogs. Meanwhile, it is very difficult or absolutely impossible to find out what is behind bought articles appearing in various media tools. Thus it is essentially like a veil of smoke, which makes it difficult to see, which information serves whose interests.

Some 10–15 years ago it was hard to even think about any role of social media. Back then, you could easily hit the wall when disseminating certain information – if some media tool was terrorizing or extorting you, you practically had no chance to defend yourself. It is difficult to describe how disgusting this feeling is, when the public trusts some media tool, but in fact the latter is making dirty money. Today, in the presence of social media, we have a lot more possibilities to tell and show everybody who is who. Information in social media is much more wide-spread, thus the possibility to be heard is also much more likely.

Generally speaking, all this is not needed in those countries where media tools operating in such methods are not that well-established. Countries with deep democratic roots are well-aware of the fact that following such a short-sighted path, readers will soon lose their confidence, which will sooner or later negatively affect the activities thereof. We still have to try very hard to take over such an approach. People in Lithuania are quick to notice why some media tools are attacking the European Union, presidency or something else – certain interests manifest in all such cases. However, I am glad to be able to say that slowly but surely we have also been moving in the right direction. Let’s say, during the presidential election of 2009, where the usual practice of purchasing promotional articles was entrenched, the election headquarters of Dalia Grybauskaitė had strictly and clearly said that they had refrained from engaging in such activities. And, despite the fact that attacks were started against Dalia Grybauskaitė and certain opinions were formed with respect to her, this had no effect on her election results. The public was able to sort out the right information, search for it in properly operating media tools, and participate in meetings with the candidate for presidents and to perfectly decipher who is who.

I always thought that a separate body, which could properly monitor this process, was needed. However, I am continually becoming more convinced that the consciousness of people is coming naturally. Of course, there will always be people who will blindly trust even that information which was purchased or clearly labelled. Even when viewing clear advertisements, for example, of food supplements, they trust everything that is said, thus it is almost impossible to convince such people that the best food supplement is their way of life. Let alone hidden advertising… Thus we should not have any illusions that suddenly everyone will start distinguishing purchased information. However, I have faith that deceivers themselves will vanish first of all. Still, I see two sides to this problem – if readers lost confidence in a certain media tool, they would no longer purchase the product provided by it, however, if they buy it, this means that they trust it. Thus, here a great responsibility also lies on each somewhat more critical reader.

Overall then, it is necessary to emphasize that the practice of purchasing hidden advertising so prevalent in our national media is a huge evil, which, besides all other things, is also difficult to grasp. I am sure that if certain media tools disappeared, our life would become much brighter. But the efforts of each of us, the readers, to show concern and properly decipher are necessary for that.

INTERVIEW: Role of PR Specialist in the 21st Century, or the Primer of Honest Communication

This sunny spring day we offer you to read an interview with Andrius Kasparavicius, a member of the Council of the Lithuanian Public Relations Specialists’ Association, manager of Komunikacija ir Konsultantai Agency and a lecturer. The interview focuses on the role of a PR specialist in an organisation and on honest communication.

Public relations and advertising, marketing and communication. Their limits, fusion or drastic separation are often discussed. Where is the dividing line between them in your view?

I don’t believe in marketing as a means of communication. There is no such question of where public relations end and marketing starts for good public relations specialists. The entire 20th century was based on marketing and advertising. In this view, it was the golden age. Why? Because having had experienced the deficit of goods for years we stepped into an open market and oversupply. Statistical data show that a typical citizen of the Western world sees around 500 advertisements a day and that a commercial is trusted by 14 per cent of people only. The advertisement as such in the market saturated with goods and services has lost its position. As a means of communication it died and we have to admit the fact. Times change and today the open knowledge society which appreciates communication, discussions, opinions, and substance lives the age which may be called the golden age for public relations. In principle, this subject has been discussed on a global scale and the limits or dividing lines have been clearly drawn in the bestseller The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. I don’t believe in the idea of integrated communication. Communication, social networks and mass media are the tools of public relations. Full stop.

Let’s talk about the role of a PR specialist in a company or organisation. What is it like in the 21st century?

I liked the idea expressed in the World Public Relations Forum (WPRF 2014) that a communication specialist is the voice of conscience in an organisation. It is evident that a PR specialist does not determine business-related processes, such as the expansion of a company, the field of commerce or similar fields which are supervised by managers. Nevertheless, a PR specialist should take part in all these processes, i.e. to point those processes in the direction which would allow talking of them in the future with no difficulty. When these processes in a represented organisation are right and transparent in terms of morality, the enterprise will have no troubles or obstacles in communicating them.

Another important role is that of a “window cleaner” showing the organisation the external world. Organisations very often get stuck or see themselves as very important: they start thinking that one or another strategic decision will change nothing. This is the moment companies are faced with crises. Our task is to show what people talk, what other organisations do, what the prevailing views in individual communities on one or another issue important to the organisation are.

Everything sounds simple but how to explain that to managers? A marketing unit remains to be the division to get the most attention and finances in an enterprise.

There is no single piece of advice here. There is only one way which is no news for a public relations specialist: everything takes time. First, a situation will change only when a manager understands what we do. Managers have to be taught, they have to understand the power public relations have, what communication means and how to implement it. Invite them to different PR initiatives, organise training for managers. We, specialists, often gather together, communicate and discuss in various forums, solve problematic situations on the specialist level and our managers don’t even know about that. We have to admit that so far the marketing specialists have put much more effort. The way of communication will open only when everything is based on trust and when the manager needs no explanation what you do in the company. I take a dim view of the attempt to delineate the efficiency of public relations since very often public relations in an organisation are seen as the tools of marketing: they are assessed in the number of articles, accessibility, the amount of publications and other figures. But how should the efficiency of communication and discussions be assessed? We do not measure a good marriage by means of the number of children or the size of a house…

Let’s go back to the subject of honest communication. How to remain honest in communication with communities when the interests of several groups interfere? I am aware that you have considerable experience in this field.

This question is fundamental but actually relevant. How to remain a just, honest man when everyone around you is cheating? You have to understand that you don’t necessarily have to do what everyone else does. What should be done in Klaipeda, Kaunas, Vilnius, where the interests of communities and even the arguments of communication are different but the company, nonetheless, has decided to invest there? What should be done in a smaller region where mass media terrorises you and, actually, runs up a protection racket. What should be done when a fictitious article is brought and you are suggested to pay for it not to be published? It is very hard not to say ‘no’. On the other hand, if you are able to do that and show disregard for what is happening in the short term, everything will eventually turn out for the best. Public relations include not only relations with mass media but also communication with the public, with public institutions, communication in social networks, etc. First, everyone will say you are like all the rest, you will apply the “earthmover” principle, but when you don’t do anything of that, people will start trusting you. You can look them directly in the eyes and invite them to hold a dialogue – it will make everything much more easier. A company has to understand that social responsibility does not mean bribing people, e.g. ‘we will build a road for you’ or ‘take the money and keep silent’. Communication, explanation of the planned activities, of the effect on the public, the opportunity to observe the process, and education dispel any doubts. People protest against what they do not understand. And, certainly, yes. Such process takes longer. Another simple recipe – to talk in right place at the right time, i.e. when you are heard, not when people gather to yell and turn into an uncontrolled crowd which, in principle, is incapable of telling why and against whom it fights.

Dossier: Andrius Kasparavičius is the manager of Komunikacija ir Konsultantai (or simply KOKO), a public relations agency, and a lecturer at Vilnius University. As he put it himself, he has been working in the public relations sphere since 1997, thus there would be only one line in his CV as he has worked all those years in one place. However, it could take as many as five pages to describe in detail everything he has done in the agency because his work encompasses many different spheres and businesses. What prompted him to choose this field? Andrius’ mother Laima Kasparavičienė, a veteran in public relations, offered him to set up their own business. Andrius admits that as a graduate in economics he was attracted by the idea to have his own company. No one knows, whether he would have become a PR specialist if somebody had offered him to become a baker. But today this is the field Andrius is deeply ‘stuck in’ and has no intentions to withdraw from it.

The interview drafted by Birutė Norvaišienė and Toma Lipskytė, members of Lithuanian Public Relations Specialists’ Association and published in Association’s webpage: <>

Is Each Customer a Good Customer?

People of various professions can often be faced with a question of whether or not each customer is a good customer. The answer to this question greatly differs depending on the area of operations. After all, let’s say doctors take care of each person following the Hippocratic oath, thus in such a case, the relevance of this question is highly doubtful. But what is it like working in the PR realm? It seems that a majority of the same tools can be adapted here as well.

This aspect is particularly interesting in PR activities, as here one often gets to think if what behaviour would be right in one or another situation. Let’s say, how should I react when a party declaring social-democratic values addresses the agency, even though personally I – a potential representative of this party – follow liberal views – would it be better to work with such a customer or to refuse to work with him? After all, we often find ourselves in much more challenging situations. As an example, we can look to the well-known 1 Baltijskij kanal case, when even the Lithuanian media openly stated that there would probably be not a single PR agency willing to work with this customer. What would the best behaviour be in this situation? View it simply as a potential customer, who needs help, or to stop here? There are a number of such examples, thus personally I have always been interested in determining where that limit actually is – how to combine customer interests and personal beliefs, and should this be done altogether?

First of all I should say that, in my opinion, any customer is not necessarily a good customer. PR activities are strongly influenced by certain values, thus it is essentially different from other professions, for example, from the previously mentioned work of doctors. Public relations is communication when it is not possible to simply distance oneself from a thing being publicized. Thus, you have to be sure about the things you communicate or at least to not oppose them. I think that each time there is a customer whose area of interests is in conflict with personal values of a project manager, one has to carefully consider that. Let’s say if I personally do not agree with the introduction of the Euro. It would be honest and fair to refuse to participate in such a project and not to contribute to the publication of such information. The PR profession must maintain a balance between what you actually support and what you communicate. Also, work principles of a customer himself are very important here. If he asks to work using shady methods, for example to bribe the media and behave in a way essentially in conflict with PR activity principles, it would be wise to refuse such a job.

Thus each public relations agency should talk a lot about what is right and wrong. After all, it could happen that once an agency wins a tender, a certain project will be delegated to a person who is in principle against that project, for example, smoking. And in such a case it would be best and most professional for a project manager of such a project to refuse to work with it. An ideal case scenario is that before taking part in a certain tender, each agency would clear up an overall approach of its employees towards that particular project. After all, should it turn out that they view it as a negative thing, participation in such a tender would be awkward in principle.

Therefore, I have to say that each customer is not necessarily is a good customer. Thus before starting to cooperate on a job, one has to ask him or herself whether an attitude expressed by a customer is in line with his own beliefs, and to consider whether one would like to be identified with that attitude. The truth is that in communication, when creating a customer’s reputation, you are creating one for yourself, thus it is important to choose with whom to work and whom to refuse.

Use of social media at work – helps or harms? (Part 2)

Statistics show that about 30 per cent of people in large organizations would like to communicate about their professional activities in various channels. And this does not necessarily happens in social media, but through direct communication as well. For example, it is easy to notice people who love to talk about their work or, on the contrary, avoid such topics in various parties. Some of them feel great being able to tell about what they do, thus becoming the centre of attention, while others stay away from that, thinking that this is not the best time for such talks. This is exactly what happens when communicating in social networks where the same statistics applies, thus in such a case employers should try to make the best use of it rather than prohibiting employees from communicating. The existing prohibitions only show gaps in internal communication – after all, employees become a very important voice of an organization, they can participate in various discussions relevant to the organization, etc. Large organizations are well aware of this fact, as they strive to create their social communication policy and encourage employees to blog, comment on issues related to their professional activities, etc. Of course, those policies clearly list what cannot be done, because various organizations can have confidential information, the disclosure of which is prohibited. However, what have social networks to do with it? If people were to publish secret documents there, their behaviour would be unacceptable. However, if they use this method for communicating with various experts, peers, expressing their opinions, etc., they are doing very useful work.

One of my previously mentioned studies revealed that the use of social networks does not decrease, but is instead increasing the operational productivity. Even though people are said to have spent an hour on Facebook and have done nothing, this does not mean that if we were to take away this time for communication from him that it would actually be used for scrupulous work – he may spend an hour just sitting and staring at a computer screen thinking about some personal business or engage in different activities absolutely unrelated to work. Of course it wouldn’t be right viewing the situation as only black-and-white. If a person becomes dependent on various communication forms while at work, for example, such a situation can often be observed in various bureaucratic institutions where employees spend hours and hours with the phone in their hands, then it is worth considering some more serious problems, though even in such a case a thought should be given to why that is happening. Maybe those 2-3 hours spent by an employee on the phone show that he does not have enough tasks, or maybe it is difficult for him to adapt in this work altogether, etc. In any case the problem here lies not in the phone or social network, but rather in the absence of tasks, failure to set goals, poor internal communication, etc.

Therefore, I personally strongly disagree with the existing communication ban in the workplace. I am sure that each employee has to feel well in their work, therefore, instead of prohibiting them from something, it is enough to simply explain which behaviour is acceptable at work and which is not. And then it will be possible to simply enjoy social and well communicating personalities.

Use of social media at work – helps or harms? (Part 1)

Today, one of the most relevant topics of discussion is the use of social media at work. Not that long ago our Ministry of Foreign Affairs prohibited its employees from using Facebook at work. This prohibition is only one of many, as I believe such measures are undertaken in other institutions as well, only people do not talk about that out loud. However, each such resonant event quickly sparks debates on whether this is good or bad.

Different studies, a cornucopia of which I’ve observed, attempt to answer this question. Interestingly enough they justify the idea that the use of social media at work is necessary, meanwhile I have not yet come across those studies, which would clearly prove that this should not be done. All these discussions raise one general question on whether one can engage in outside activities while working, i.e. can people go for a smoke, talk on the phone, chat on Facebook, etc. while at work? In my opinion, first of all the fact is how and why working people are faced with such a need in general. No one would be surprised by me saying that people are social beings who need to communicate – and here you have the answer. However, here two approaches that can be distinguished – the first case states that people can communicate only after work, as this is when they become social beings. Working people are believed to be only robots performing functions assigned to them. Another approach expresses the view that a person is a social being by nature, thus he should remain such at work as well. It is believed that this why he feels free, while when doing what one wants, the desire to create emerges. I am convinced that creativity is the most important basis for any activities. If a person becomes a robot, he loses many essential human qualities necessary in all activities. Of course, the fact of what kind of job we are talking about should be considered, because if we have in mind working with machines, people basically work as robots there. If during their work, which requires full attention, they were to start using Facebook, various injuries would be inevitable. Moreover, there are organizations, the presence of which on the internet is a bad thing altogether, for example, the State Security Department, employees of which most probably use local area networks. However, if we are talking about service, communication-related activities, which are clearly different from working with machines, such a prohibition is essentially absurd.

Prohibiting a person from doing what he wants can completely quell any creative origin possessed by him. After all, Facebook is only one of many measures allowing people to communicate, thus if an employee is prohibited from using it, he will quickly find another way to access communication with who he wants to be engaged with. Maybe he will no longer use Facebook, but will start talking more on the phone, take longer smoking breaks, coffee breaks and look for other opportunities to communicate with others. I am deeply convinced that such decisions made in organisations clearly show the obvious lack of understanding of these obvious things.

To Be Continued