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: <http://www.lrvs.lt/a-kasparavicius-rsv-specialisto-vaidmuo-xxi-amziuje-arba-saziningos-komunikacijos-pradziamokslis/>