Author: Andrius Kasparas (page 2 of 3)

Effectiveness of public relations: the actual result is first of all based on intuition (Part 2)

I believe that cooperating parties should talk about the effectiveness of public relations only if they are well educated in this field, i.e. a customer has to first of all know what he wants from public relations – media coverage, advice, creative solutions for the implementation of a certain idea or something else. If a specific goal has been set and a customer feels that it has been met, this means that there is something to pay money for. For example, if after a communication advice many things become clearer to a customer, if the aim is to change someone’s opinion and it changes, if we receive more positive or negative feedback – this is the result that we’ve achieved. Thus it is very important that in ideal case a clear goal in the relationship between an agency and a customer would be set. During the first conversation cooperating parties would have to define what they seek for, and this would not have to necessarily be very precise. For example, this could be the start of a dialogue between a company and community, initiation of a discussion, clarification of certain problem issues, etc. Therefore I believe that no universal option exists, and effectiveness does not have to necessarily be measured in specific figures – after all, we are not going to count how many positive reviews the community posted, because most usually it does not do that at all – instead, it calls, talks in a face-to-face meeting, etc.

I perceive public relations as the range of services, which on one hand get somewhat close to marketing, for example, when working with trade organizations, but the greatest part of these activities still is consulting, where money is essentially paid for chatting. Thinking that way I almost never felt sure, because I could nowhere find a view matching my opinion. And only now, having paid a visit to one large foreign international company I heard that, when reducing the number of people in the company, it was decided to see which functions in the PR department were not that necessary. And, you know, it was really pleasant to see that reporting function was crossed out the first. The Head of the Communications Department claimed that she saw no point in receiving reports drawn up by their employees, because it would be total nonsense if she was to decide on the performance results based solely on the reports. She said she was well aware of the functions each employee was performing and how they did what they did, and she stated that “if they do that well and I get what I want, this means that communications is done properly. And if I don’t get what I expected to, I decide about that from the fact that the function has not been properly performed rather than from reports”.

Thus, in my opinion, the effectiveness of public relations has in fact little to do with formal things. Methods for measuring effectiveness coming from marketing have become common in public relations as well, thus many customers find it difficult to pull away from them. Still I believe that PR is difficult to reconcile with what many call the result, as the actual result is first of all based on intuition – PR is either effective or not.

Effectiveness of public relations (Part 1)

One of the most commonly examined subjects in the area of public relations is the effectiveness of these activities. When working with customers I am constantly confronted with the question “So what is the result of your activities?” In fact, so many books have been written on this subject that everybody is well aware of the main methods for measuring effectiveness, which even students are taught. However, my view of this issue has always been different from that of others, even though I could not find the answer, which I follow myself, in the entire flow of information. And only recently I heard it while visiting one client in Scandinavia – “PR is either effective or not”.

Thus, in my view, in an ideal case there can be no objective measurements, as the existent ones most usually are only subjective calculations, comparisons of articles, etc. I believe that all of them come from marketing, while PR specialists simply adapt to them. Common methods for measuring effectiveness are the idea of advertising creators, who use the approach that everything can be measured, evaluated, calculated, circulated, number of impressions can be gathered, frequency and time on TV can be traced, etc.; however, all this is just a formality – advertising representatives rarely speak about whether someone actually saw the advertisement or not, whether or not it had some kind of effect. Of course, these things can more or less be calculated in marketing and advertising and that is common. The problem arises when attempts are made to apply those same evaluation criteria to public relations.

After all, what is true public relations? It is talk, communication, writing, reading, and mutual discussion. And what can be the result of a discussion between two people? Sometimes there is no result at all, sometimes the result is obvious, say, when after discussions two people change their opinion, they decide on something, get frustrated or, to the contrary, are fascinated with something. This is exactly the result achieved in public relations. Even though it may not obviously manifest itself – neither in articles, reportages, nor anywhere else – but someone’s opinion may change after certain actions, which would be the most certain result. I liked the idea of one person that calculating the effectiveness of public relations based on the number of articles appearing in media is the same as measuring the effectiveness of friendship based on the number of friends. After all, friendship is not required to create some product – people are friends because they feel good being together, it is useful for both of them in moral terms. So it is absolutely unnecessary to do that in public relations, although often required.

I am deeply convinced that public relations is a sensitive area, thus very similar to friendship. They are based on emotions, relations, things that cannot be felt but only anticipated, thus formal evaluation thereof is complex and essentially pointless. When do we say that a conversation was successful? When we feel good after it, are satisfied, relaxed or solve some problem, etc. Thus thinking about PR we should first of all talk about the level of satisfaction, i.e. if a customer sees actions being developed as beneficial, both sides feel perfect in their cooperation, this means that we will continue working and will not separate. However, if the benefit is not felt and a PR specialist does not manage to prove it to the customer, then we are likely to go separate ways. Of course all this sounds good in theory, as in practice you have to account to your customer on what was done, how much was said and communicated, otherwise, people won’t understand what they were billed for. Thus in the end we have to draw up reports required by a client, because some find formally presented things necessary and allowing to decide on the result.
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To Be Continued

PR ideas and complete rejection thereof – why in Lithuania?

I have already talked about why PR is necessary in Lithuania for the promotion of tolerance. With the majority of our society finding it hard to accept various manifestations of diversity, “piar” activities in themselves are much more difficult to develop. So how is work performed in such an environment and what problems we as communication specialists face?

First of all it is worth mentioning that when we live in an environment where it is impossible to hear many opinions or only one of them can be heard (as it was in the Soviet Union, in which we used to live), thus it is not even worth talking about PR. In such a case, a propaganda society, where everything is based on one approach, is dominating. Currently, when the Lithuanian mentality is developing from the Soviet thinking towards normal and right society, i.e. open society determined to accept a different perspective as well, “piar” services are becoming more diverse. In such an environment we can find for our activities much more colours, words and sounds, actions and attractions and whatever one may think of, while such activities in a closed society would be much more difficult. However, manifestations of intolerance still very prevalent in our society make the actual possibilities of PR activities more difficult.

When wiling to tell to the public something new, give them new ideas that are good, well-used in other countries and develop a discussion on that, we are often faced with a problem, which can be identified as a “total rejection”. People are not ready to listen to what’s new, because this fact alone sounds like something scary, bad, incomprehensible, thus, no normal discussion is possible here. It could start only once a person acquires certain education, reads some number of books, gets to know and sees the wider world. A discussion is simply not possible with a person who is not ready for it. The truth is that usually the discussion cannot evolve when people who are educated, have seen a lot and are open to the world try to engage in it with those who are reserved, poorly educated and have little comprehension of the world. This can also be observed between countries, when so-called high-trust societies cannot find a common language with low-trust societies. This is the reason why Lithuania is often struggling when communicating with the Scandinavian countries or Russia – each of them is talking from the stance of their societies, where tolerance is perceived quite differently.

And different attitudes form very easily. Let’s say, if a kid who acts in school somewhat differently than usual is constantly mocked, he is likely to be scared to stand out from his peers in the future and will have a complex for his entire life. Same goes for the society – if it is constantly instilled with an idea that only customary and traditional things are good, any deviations from these standards will be rejected. Thus, in such a case PR activities become very complicated, because you have to choose to either develop it as it is acceptable to that society, or you will immediately face a counter reaction. In Lithuania we are constantly observing this: Chevron coming to Lithuania, nuclear power plant, sexual minorities and many different ideas that are new in principle are quickly rejected. What’s worst is that it is very easy to slip a thought to a society viewing things from such a perspective that all this must be resisted. We won’t name out loud those slipping such a thought, but it probably goes without saying that we have some unfriendly-minded neighbours, who, living in such environment themselves, are well-aware of principles of the intolerant society. It is enough to threaten these people with atom, Chernobyl, Fukushima, show a picture of burning water running from a tap, and they stop thinking, close up and start resisting it all. It is enough to show a family consisting of two women instead of a father and a mother, and a person blocks up, all this is terrifying him, seems unusual and he starts to immediately protest, there is no room for discussion and no PR evolves in such a case. However, besides all this the same person can absolutely calmly pass a garbage dump, calmly react to the fact that his neighbours drink, and lose control of himself when his child does not have anything to eat – these are the views that aren’t that uncommon, thus resistance to them is very sluggish.

I still am trying to look at the bright side of this matter seeing that Lithuania is gradually moving towards a tolerant society. I hope that in the future with people looking into the world from a broader perspective and becoming more open to discussion, not only will the work of representatives of my profession be more interesting, but also it will be easier for them to contribute to spreading the ideas useful to society. And this is really motivating!

Why is PR necessary in Lithuania for the promotion of tolerance?

I have heard one accurate thought that the real PR is a profession of a democratic and open society. The more the society is democratic, the more efficient, open, professional, etc., can public relations be. Otherwise, the more the society is autocratic, the more communication tends to turn towards propaganda. Thus it would be fair to say that movement from autocracy towards democracy is also the movement from propaganda to PR. What is the situation in Lithuania?

Unfortunately I have to admit that our society still isn’t tolerant. On the contrary, there are many inexplicable manifestations when domestic violence is tolerated, however a vast majority opposes sexual minorities, black people, etc. Thus it is obvious that a majority of people have distorted values. And this is not surprising: the truth is that when a person is locked no matter where – in prison, in a country, in depths of a countryside or somewhere else – he automatically develops a rejection reaction to everything that seems unusual to his environment. Because of those 50 years of occupation all this is so strongly rooted in the Lithuanian society that even when engaged in the PR practice this problem is encountered very often.

I constantly get to see intolerance to any different opinion. In such a case a person has his own conviction, which very rarely is based on something objective. However, this conviction cannot practically be changed, as a person perceives any alternative as a bad one. This means that the more open the society is, the more our work as communication specialists is valuable, useful, and the easier it can be developed. While when working in an intolerant environment it is really hard to provide our services to such society. And in general even though tolerance is widely discussed in Lithuania, in reality a person accepting the world as diverse as it really is and living among like-minded people can often be unpleasantly surprised seeing that the majority of the society is absolutely intolerant and, seemingly, perceives same things contrarily. Various manifestations of such intolerance look very painful and tasteless, thus one starts thinking that it might be worth engaging in public relations for promoting tolerance itself in Lithuania.

Last time such a thought crossed my mind during the European Basketball Championship, when I accidentally took a glance at Facebook, where I did not expect to see and hear that much. The page was bursting with comments about black French and explanations that the European champions already are the champions of Africa, and all other nonsense. Taking a step deeper this can be seen in almost all areas: domestic violence, hatred to people of different nationalities, blacks, gays – all these are birds of a feather emerged since ancient times. After all, witches were burnt on fires in the past just like eggs or other items are thrown at gays nowadays. The reason for that is a foreign body, something that looks unusual, emerged in the society. And where did the democracy go? The fact is that the previously existent societies cannot be called democratic, as some king, duke, etc. ruled back then. And no PR existed there – just propaganda dominated back then: catholic, royal, Soviet, etc., when holding a different opinion meant bane. Thus, a question arises how should our society of today be called? Unfortunately, what we are currently observing and are faced with can be named as manifestations of underdeveloped “old-school” society.

I believe that we, Lithuanians, were very close to European values, but later on, in Soviet times, took a large step back. And now we are in “in transition” state trying to pump out of ourselves all that nonsense that we had been instilled for all those 50 years of Soviet occupation, and trying to break free from all of eastern culture. Yes, the good news is that we are moving towards a tolerant society. Meanwhile, while we are on the move, we have to talk and engage in discussions about that as much as possible.

Diversity – a challenge for today’s communication

When participating in the 2nd World PR Festival, which was held in Italy, the city of Trieste, I discovered one very interesting word – diversity. This word was the centre of the whole theme of the festival. The concept of diversity discussed during the festival and the basis thereof was associated with the idea that all people are different. Of course, this is not something new in the world, but I myself consciously thinking about it once I heard people talking about diversity specifically. And the most interesting part is that the current situation, when we are moving from a uniform society towards a diverse one, is addressed in the west as a communication problem.

In fact, we could talk about the uniform world, i.e. non “diverse” world, at the time when no internet existed and when the world had not yet been turned into one big village. In other words, we did not yet have the chance to reach each other at a click of a mouse and were living packed in our communities: English – in England, Pakistanis – in Pakistan, etc. But today’s situation is completely different – society is rapidly becoming more diverse. Some very interesting statistical data was provided in the 2nd World PR Festival (I wonder if it proved to be right). It claimed that in 2011 only 11 per cent of UK residents will be described by five clearly distinguishing criteria, such as a white person, heterosexual person, capable person, etc. Thus, it was believed that with passing time people will become more different faster and only a small part of them will meet a uniform “standard”.

In such a situation, looking from the PR perspective, several questions arise about PR’s role in a truly “diverse” society, as it is no longer clear how to act and what to do in such a diverse environment. After all, one thing is to act in Lithuania where all people are more or less similar, their way of thinking is almost the same, and an absolutely different thing it to engage in communication activities in a place where each person is distinctive and unique. Since I’ve already mentioned Lithuania, I have to say that I’ve always been interested in the “diversity” aspect from the perspective of Lithuania. We have to admit that we are still far away from a real “diverse” society. We are a homogeneous society, the members of which still are much alike – all are Lithuanian, all think similarly and all are trying to break free from the trail of the same post-soviet environment. However, without trying to purposefully copy problems existing in other countries, we have to clearly say that we have a “diversity” problem in Lithuania as well. Problems of urban/ rural areas, men/women and those of sexual orientation could be named as one of its most visible manifestations. In addition to the above problems, issues arising due to different nationalities could be mentioned here.

This time I want to talk more broadly about the “diversity” problem of ethnic minorities in Lithuania. In our case we can talk about ethnic minorities of Poles, Russians and Belarusians. Sometimes I wonder how they feel in our society. After all, most of them live in their closed communities, practically secluded from our outspread Lithuanian mentality. All you need to do is drive 20 km away from Vilnius, chat with some person living in any village and you will easily realise that you aren’t be able to understand each other when speaking in Lithuanian. Even more – most probably, there you won’t be able to understand each other in principle because of different ways of thinking. Thus a question arises whether we do not live in some sort of an aquarium and, believing that everything is fine with us, we are not missing some important things that have been analysed in the world for a long time. I myself as a communication specialist often come to thinking whether our activities are able to reach all target audiences (including ethnic minorities) and speak a language that they understand.

This problematic aspect of national identity was especially relevant in the past, when various companies in Lithuania did not want to hire people of other nationalities. This is still relevant in Latvia, where there is an abundant number of both Russian and Latvian companies, where people of different nationalities very rarely mix together. Often only the Russians or only the Latvians work there, and their mentality is fundamentally different. In Lithuania, similar problems are still prevalent when it comes to Polish or Russians, as not all Lithuanians still comprehend what a great contribution to business each of those people of different nationalities can make to business – the truth is that having hired a person of a different nationality, the road can be paved to a much brighter horizon with more opportunities to be had.

In a general sense, it is easy to comprehend that not only striving to make others similar to oneself is shortsighted, but also it is unnecessary. “Diversity” philosophy, which follows the approach that there is absolutely no need to try to make people homogeneous, supports this fact. This approach is also followed by the largest IT companies, such as IBM and Microsoft, which claim that their strength lies in “diversity” rather than homogeneity. After all, the better a company is able to hire people who are distinctive in different ways – skin colour, linguistic sense, sexual orientation and all other things, the healthier and wealthier it is. After all, in such a case it can get a lot more from each individual and different person rather than from a body of uniform people. This fact is well illustrated by this video clip.

Thus, even we in Lithuania still do not have many large “diversity”- related communication problems, however, it is absolutely obvious that sooner or later they will reach us as well. Each company will face this inevitable distinction and the resulting concerns, thus it is high time for each company to start preparing for a future where diversity is commonplace.

Community Relations in Lithuania

From a theoretical point of view, community relations are a type of PR. I would say these kinds of relations are the purest type, because here, any intermediaries are eliminated. Information is transmitted by the sender directly to a community, which may be reached both through media and using other forms of communication. I find this PR area one of the most interesting, though, I must admit, due to a lack of strong communities in Lithuania it has been rather poorly developed so far.

The process of community relations has two participating sides – a company and a community, and they should be equal. I am saying “should”, because in reality, the possibilities and options afforded to companies usually outweigh those of communities. For instance, a company comes to a community: if the community is strong, it is able to formulate certain conditions and requirements under which the company may start operating in the community’s environment. However, if the community is weak, then the possibilities of the company, which is able to hire lawyers, PR specialists and other professionals, outweighs those of the community, which, in such a case, does not have time to formulate its wishes and needs. What is the end result for the weak community then? Not knowing how to present its demands, the community usually stages a certain action or a small protest, at that point alarmed businessmen give money to the community chairman and thus everything goes beautifully quiet, let’s say, “everyone remains satisfied.”

Why are communities weak in Lithuania? Because, during the Soviet times, communities were destroyed here. And once you keep on destroying something over such a long time, you will succeed in total or nearly total destruction. For instance, in the Scandinavian countries, naturally-formed communities are very strong, they are active, and they are reckoned with. While in Lithuania they, so far, are either very formal, or amateur, and are only able to make noise. Today, communities here are usually angry, enraged, dissatisfied and feel deceived, and investors, at the same time, either quietly mutter, or choose direct confrontation – a dialogue between these two sides is hardly possible. With this it mind, it is obvious, and practically impossible for these sides, led by anger, to achieve an adequate result or agreement. An angry person will never decide rightly, because he or she is not led by reason, but by negative emotions. Therefore, I believe that it is very important to consider how communities in Lithuania should be enhanced. After all, it would be fascinating, some day, to receive an assignment to do a piece of work for a community, not only for a commercial company.

I believe that this could be done, first of all, by the very communities, because a true community is the one that is established by itself. And there are quite a number of such examples: often, groups become established on the basis of a place of residence, let’s say, quite active communities are establishing themselves in various towns. They often begin with the establishment of playgrounds, try to receive funding for various needs in various ways and little by little develop their activities. However, being at a nascent stage, communities often do not know how to act. When a major investor comes to such communities, the communities become frightened and confused. Not being able to present their community demands in a professional manner or find common ground, they take up a position of contradicting the belief that they will thus achieve something. This is how a popular investor’s saying was born in Lithuania (and probably this holds true not only in Lithuania, but also in all the other states where communities were being destroyed over 50 years of Soviet rule): “If you want to invest in Lithuania, you need to have a lot of land and no neighbours.” Certainly, such a situation is hard to imagine, because each plot of land borders on something, therefore, avoiding neighbours is practically impossible. So an investor has two choices: either get into an open conflict with a community and choose legal proceedings, or try and find common ground and, somehow, come to an agreement. It is in the latter case that a community has the most opportunities to act.

A community would obtain the most gains if it started not with confrontation and fighting, but with speaking and discussion. With or without conflict, if an investor follows certain requirements without violating any rules, he or she will emerge in the environment of that community anyway. Moreover, every investor is not interested in conflicts. Thus, if a community showed a desire to discuss the situation, an investor would also quite easily reach this discussion stage. This way of interacting is also the most suitable because the possibilities and opportunities of communities are usually much smaller than those of investors – it is hard to imagine that a community would be surrounded by the same high-level professionals that companies have (lawyers, PR and marketing specialists, etc., which work in a professional manner, are well versed in the laws, etc.), therefore, the only way for a community to achieve best results is to engage in discussion.

In my opinion, when a community finds out that an investor is going to become established nearby, the community should go to the investor and say “We are your neighbours and we are willing to get along with you, however, we would also like to ensure that we have the rights that we are entitled to. Therefore, we need professionals to work for us – lawyers, PR specialists, etc.” And most importantly, the community should ask for financing for these services, that is, ask that the investor consider financial support for these services, and that the community could choose two people to represent it – a lawyer and a PR specialist. Quality work with the community would be possible only when fees are clearly agreed upon, a tender is arranged, and such professional specialists, receiving the foreseen remuneration for their work, are found.

I believe that a breakthrough is possible in Lithuania in the area of community relations only when a community takes the above-mentioned actions. If these actions are taken, an investor could be an equal partner with a community – both sides would be represented by professionals. Under such conditions, a community and an investor would enter into a dialogue and a real battle using figures, facts, and opinions, as well as a professional discussion would ensue. If the aforementioned happenings occur, I have no doubt that they would be useful to both sides – an investor would find out what it does wrong and when, and could quickly change actions, while a community could get maximum benefits for itself from an investor, as a future neighbour, and properly get along with the investor as well.

Overall, and regrettably, I must admit that in Lithuania communities are not ready for such thinking. They do not believe yet that such manner of communication is possible and try to achieve everything only by shouting loudly and angrily. Therefore, I would like to wish communities to grow stronger and think in a broader and more open fashion and, I believe, there will definitely come a time when we receive clients from communities, not only from businesses or other entities.

Social Media in the Eyes of PR Specialists

As communication rapidly develops in virtual space, a question is often raised as to the current role of social media in the entire PR system. Before the emergence of social media in the world, information could be found clearly and simply. A clearly ordered and standardised structure was in place: there was a transmitter of information, means and instruments whereby the information was transmitted, channels (media) and, finally, in this manner, the message reached the recipient. What happens then, when social media is added to this system? How should one perceive it—is it an instrument, a means of the media, a channel, or something else—and how should one live with that?

Sometimes I find it very interesting to observe how communication professionals respond to certain changes taking place in their environment. One such change is the fierce attempt of social media to destroy a stable world of communication wherein communicators were used to living so far away from each other. Because everything used to be so easy in the past: if you wanted to publicize a message, you would draw up a press release and send it to a journalist who disseminated it, and once the message appeared in public space, it would become known to all. With the emergence of social media, however, this system has changed. Social media has become an unclear addition thereto, promoting a discussion as to how this variety of media should be understood – is it a new type of newspaper or a means of reaching the audience, etc? Thus it is clear that a change has occurred and it is not possible to ignore it, therefore, communication specialists tend to take up a certain position, and they respond to this phenomenon very differently.

It is of particular interest to observe professional communication specialists who assert that “I do not use social media on principle.” I do not know why they take this position, however, I can presume that they avoid social media as if going on the defensive, as if not willing to learn and understand something new. In this case, by not taking part in the life of social media as a matter of principle, they try to disassociate themselves from it. Then, there are communication specialists who try to affirm social media and take up a position that “Well, it is temporary, this is a certain fashion which will soon pass and everything will remain the same in the end.” And the third group of communication specialists, on the contrary, is actively interested in social media and believes that social media has an established place in the future of communication.

Besides this, opinions of PR and marketing specialists differ greatly. At one conference, I heard the opinion of one PR leader named Paul Holmes. His idea is that social media had changed the world by 95 percent for marketing specialists, while it had not changed, in principle, anything for PR specialists. This means that upon the emergence of this communication platform, marketing specialists started having very many questions as to how to handle it, while PR specialists have recieved far fewer of such questions. PR professionals would have been engaged in the dissemination of the content in the past much like marketing professionals, and therefore, social media has emerged just as one new, additional form for the dissemination of that content.

Thus, encountering such multi-faceted responses, I increasingly tend to believe that the establishment of social media is a logical and natural development of communication forms. And this does not mean either something completely new, or something that no longer fits the PR system which we have had so far. The system just needs to be improved, and new principles of working with the system should be created. In fact, social media could be described as an addition toalready-existing communication forms.

The addition of social media to existing communication forms enables every one of us to have a particularly large selection of tools, which we can use to develop successful communicative activity. After all, before social media, our toolbox was quite small, and with the emergence of social media, the toolbox substantially increased in size. Now, we have in our hands numerous possibilities—at an entirely low cost—of reaching enormous audiences, consolidating them and disseminating our message to them. This is, I would say, a dream of any communication specialist who used to work in the field some 20 years ago. With the emergence of social media, dependence on the disseminator of information, who used to dictate all the conditions, declines little by little as time goes on. Therefore, I believe that it is strange for communication specialists to fear or ignore social media, because it means that we fear the very essence of our activity. Thus we should simply think about opportunities granted to us by social networks and how we can best use available means for the dissemination of our information, which we found difficult before, to disseminate through existing media.

Consequently, in my opinion, social media means development and a new stage, which should be viewed by communication specialists with eyes wide open by using the opportunities afforded by social media. It is important to regard social media in a creative manner without lingering over the same theories and habits that communicators had 10–15 years ago. After all, it is far wiser, instead of resisting novelties, to start changing ourselves, change our thinking and realise that social media, indeed, opens major opportunities in communication, many of which are yet to be understood.

Today’s public relations reputation

It so happens that representatives of various professions often follow the proverb “the shoemaker’s children go barefoot”. It usually happens that a watchmaker owns a watch, which does not work properly, while a shoemaker wears boots that are worn out. Public relations are no exception. Even though this activity is focused on the creation of reputation and on-going consultations on the issues related thereto, the public relations profession itself has a rather bad reputation in society. Only a small part of people realize that this is a good and appropriate activity.

We have to admit that we, communicators, ourselves are responsible for the kind of PR reputation which has formed nowadays and what the public thinks about us. Being engaged in a number of works, we have very little time left to tell about who we really are, what we do and what we strive for. Furthermore, we often impair the reputation of our profession not only by the omission of actions, but by acting as well. Quite often I get to meet people who identify their activities as public relations, even though in fact their work has nothing to do with that. For instance, I happened to see an internet website of an agency listed as providing PR services, where a possibility to arrange a famine campaign (supposedly we will starve for you, if needed) was named as one of the methods for solving and publicizing issues. Calling such a service, which artificially creates an incident deriving from other than own beliefs, a PR would be absurd; instead it should be clearly identified as cheating.

In a broader view, it is enough to listen to politicians and public figures – when they talk about PR, this activity almost always has a negative connotation. Most often when these people try to criticize the opponent, the latter is said to be “engaged in PR”, “these are public relations”. And people actually engaged in active communication are treated as those doing nothing of value, simply trying to take advantage of public relations. Society believes that PR specialists are engaged in deceptions incomprehensible to people; that they are using certain secret technologies and try to affect people’s opinions. Ironically enough, this is a currently prevailing image of my profession and only people who work in this field are aware of the fact that the publicly dominant perception of PR is only vague reflections of this activity – actually such things have nothing in common with what real PR is.

I started thinking where the real side of the perception of this activity has gone? After all, I believe that PR is a good, positive, and respectable profession to be chosen and understood by many people, without seeing these specialists as doing something bad. I am sure that PR acts as a basis for a social and communicating society. In a world with an ever-increasing need for exchange of information, the role of a communicator is especially important. In this environment the number of people who wish to intensively communicate is constantly increasing, leading to a problem that not everybody is capable of doing that. Therefore I often find it funny listening to such observations that: “this politician speaks in his own words, while this politician has someone who writes speeches for him.” But in fact neither of the cases should be condemned. It makes no difference whether a politician writes speeches, his blog, maintains his Facebook profile by himself or has someone who does that for him – in both cases the reader is faced with the views of that same person, who holds and is willing to communicate to them. After all, not all doctors, businessmen or politicians are great communicators by nature, not all of them know how to quickly and effectively tell society about what good and useful things they do for the sake of it. Thus, in such a case, a communication specialist simply helps a person not able to communicate well.

I firmly believe that PR activities, more than any other type of activities, are transparent and based on trust. It is quite difficult to measure, but it is true that one inaccurate step, one lie or deception in PR activities could lead to very bad consequences. In such a case, one can never be sure when these inappropriate works will come out; moreover, they are most likely to emerge when a specific result of your work will depend on them. The math is simple here – once you take a wrong step and deceive someone – you immediately become vulnerable, your reputation is shaken. In such a case, negative consequences will also directly affect a customer, because each thought said about him automatically becomes hardly believable because of your own controversial steps. It means nothing to people to simply say “you of all people should better keep quiet”.

Therefore, all PR professionals thinking about the reputation of their profession must seriously evaluate each step they take. By acting fairly and finding time to explain to others who we really are, what we do and what we seek, we could expect a significant impetus for the development and support of the reputation of our customers as well as that of our profession.

Principles of successful public relations activities

This time I want to talk about things that, in my opinion, are some of the most important aspects of successful public relations – these are proper work principles. Real PR is inseparable from the principles of ethics, or they can be said to be the foundation of these activities. Thus, each PR or communication specialist should master several simple things and use them as the basis for their actions. These things are extremely simple, I would even say banal, but, on the other hand, it is quite difficult to find people who actually follow these principles in practice:

1) Telling the truth. This well-understood principle enshrined ever since biblical times gains special importance in the area of PR. The rule is simple – there can be no lies in communication. There can be no dissemination of false facts or figures as well as other fraudulent things. Why? Because the real public relations are based on truth and trust. Once a press release containing false facts is sent to a journalist and these facts are released to the public, trust of a large group of people – not only that of the journalist, but of the editor as well – will be instantly lost, and eventually the entire agency will fall under the shadow cast by that one person. After all, information is often of interest to a journalist not only when it contains a unique message, but the reliability of its disseminator plays an important role as well. Once trust is lost, working in PR field becomes very hard.

People often argue what a lie actually is and what is the truth in PR field. Many people claim that only children view things as black and white, while life is much more complicated than that, thus, the existence of solely the truth or the lie is impossible; usually everything is perceived as being “in-between”. In such a case, many people ask me “If we say half the truth – is this the truth or a lie?” Thus, in this case I stick to absolutely childish logic – there is the truth and the lie, everything else is only an interpretation. After all, if the profit of my company is THAT MUCH, there can be no other truth, unless I can wonder why it is not lower or higher, and so on. This is the reason why each communication specialist has to keep checking all the facts. But knowing that doing so is not that easy in today’s world, it is often necessary to simply rely on a person conveying them – so I go back to the word trust once again. This is why I believe that the key thing to be kept in mind by each communication specialist is telling the truth.

2) A do-no-harm principle. Each professional communication specialist should engage in spreading positive information, which should not come as a surprise in the view of the fact that negative information tends to spread quickly by itself. This is what media of nowadays thrives on, as it finds it easier to take a negative piece of news rather than a positive one. Therefore, in my opinion, our task is not to communicate negative news, especially when this is done at the expense of others (for example, disseminating negative information about competitors). This is what makes us, PR specialists, different from the so-called black technologists. Black technologies are a lie, the dissemination of it or an attempt to make an elephant out of a fly in order to hurt someone. Usually people mix up these two things believing that all PR specialists are masters of black technologies. Since PR activities are based on the principles of telling the truth and doing no harm, these two activities can by no means have anything in common.

But there actually are a lot of temptations to apply the principles of black technologies in PR activities. Not only is this determined by certain emerged situations, but such requests can also be forthcoming from customers and bosses, thus those, who do not work in the area of communications, often believe that a short-term result received in such a way is better than nothing.  Thus, it would be fair to say that when working in PR field one has to have a strong enough will and know the principles which are to be followed in one’s work. A phrase of one public relations specialist who writes about ethics saying that “each communication specialist should have his own code of ethics and strictly follow it” would be very appropriate here. This is very important as there are no laws regulating communication activities, particularly in ethical sense. Such personal code of ethics is necessary for each person understanding the value thereof. Using it as guidance would leave no more questions on what I can and what I cannot do.

3) Preserving privacy. When talking about preserving privacy, telling the truth should not be confused with total openness. The fact that when talking about a certain person or company we do not reveal certain things does not mean that we are telling half the truth. There are a lot of business-related private matters, such as trade secrets. In such a case by failing to preserve confidential information we are violating the rules of communication activities. A public relations specialist should know the limit between how much information about a person can be disclosed to the world, how much of it he can disclose by himself and the disclosure of how much of it would be ethical altogether. The same applies to companies, as, depending on the nature of their activities, some companies can tell more about themselves, while others have to remain more reserved. Thus each communications specialists must have a good knowledge of such matters because his inadequate actions could lead to a seriously impaired reputation of a customer.

In general, there are more principles of ethics, but I believe these three are the main ones. In my work experience, I managed to always move forward sticking to these principles. Even though there were many offers and wishes to violate these principles, I am deeply convinced that successful work in the area of public relations is possible only when being faithful to own beliefs based on the principles of telling the truth, doing no harm and preserving privacy. It is great to know that instead of engaging in some black, dirty business I am doing work, which is actually respectable, honest and beneficial. These are the public relations that the development and promotion of which should be continued.

Lithuania – a small, yet important fish in the vast of global ocean

Once largest in Europe, today’s Lithuania ranks only 123 in the list of the countries of the world and does not surprise anyone with the number of residents, which is slightly less than 3 million; however, in the ocean of science and technologies this small ‘fish’ quite often does better than even most largest ‘whales’ of the world.

Lithuanians are ones of the most educated people in the European Union (over 90 per cent of the population ages 25 to 64 have secondary or university education). This is the country were cancer fighting medication (TevaGrastim®) that was recognized in the world was created, scientific laser awarded as the best by the prestigious Prism award (created by Ekspla company) was constructed. Here, people have the broadest fiber-optic and public wireless Internet connection in Europe, etc.

Technologies are the fast ‘stream’ for this clever small fish on the way to wide waters. This is the statement that, perhaps, quite a lot of Lithuanians or foreign businessmen would agree with. Technological skills of our fellow countrymen are demonstrated by research conducted under the order of the Information Society Development Committee under the Ministry of Transport and Communications. According to conclusions of the experts, a part of the country’s population that uses computers and the Internet has increased by 5 per cent each. Currently, of 75.2 per cent of people in Lithuania use computers and 73.3 per cent use the Internet.

It is difficult to believe that Lithuania has joined World Wide Web not too long ago – a little over 20 years ago, right after the restoration of Independence. On Lithuanian Internet’s birthday, 10 October 1991, when satellite communication equipment presented by the Norwegians was installed on the building of Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament), the channel data rate has made only 9.6 kilobits per second.

Even more surprising is that just two years ago Vilnius, the capital of the country (the same place where the above satellite communication equipment was installed), was recognized having the fastest Internet in the world (32.41 MBps on the average). Moreover, same 2011 Kaunas, the second-largest city of the country, ranked fourth in the above global rating. Therefore, most likely, you should not be surprised that today the Internet in Lithuania has become a necessity not only for the young, but also for the elderly. According to experts of the Information Society Development Committee, over one year the number of Internet users ages 50 to 59 has increased by 10 per cent and made 61.5 per cent, the number of Internet users ages 60 to 74 has increased by 15 per cent and made 36.7 per cent. Even mobile Internet is already used by one quarter of the country’s population.

In connection with distribution and booming of the Internet, an increasing number of different newsportals and specific topics portals has started to appear in Lithuania. People started to write blogs, create chats, discussion forums. Business sphere has aimed at gaining profit from dating sites and advertisement sites. To this moment, the small country has as much as 5-6 largest news sites that constantly compete between themselves for site traffic  (www.delfi.lt, www.15min.lt, www.lrytas.lt, www.balsas.lt, www.alfa.lt). Each of the sites, according to Gemius Audience, has 800 thousand to one million unique visitors per month.

It is interesting that forum for mums (www.supermama.lt) and as much as two advertisement portals (www.skelbiu.lt, www.plius.lt) are holding their positions among most popular sites for several years in a row. It is also obvious that Lithuanians hold information on cars (www.autoplius.lt, www.autogidas.lt), weather forecast (www.gismeteo.lt), dating (www.draugas.lt) and business news (www.vz.lt) important as these sites hold their positions among twenty most popular sites.

Let’s not forget about influence of the social media widespread all over the world. According to data for the first quarter of 2013, 59.7 per cent of Internet users in Lithuania used social network websites (Facebook, Twitter, One, etc.). According to research conducted by experts, the most popular activities here are communication with friends, family members and colleagues, tracking changes in profiles of friends and acquaintances, commenting photos, messages and news, searching for old friends or acquaintances, posting own news; users also share web links, etc..

Most popular social network in Lithuania, same as all over the world, is Facebook. Over one million residents of the country liked it. Popularity of the network has led to formation of an original culture of Internet communication in the country. A part of this culture was, certainly, adopted from the neighboring countries or the USA, the native land of the Internet; another part is characteristic only to Lithuanians. Social networks are the kingdom of memes and trolling, original humor (sometimes too much black and understandable only for fellow countrymen); it is also a surprising synthesis of entertaining and serious contents. Here we observe the same tendency that is noticed all over the world, that is that written content gives place to figurative content. To be more precise, the image has merged with the letter creating a fine combination, which gives birth to unique projects both in the social networks and in the World Wide Web in general.

When speaking about uniqueness, it is important to mention that this year Lithuania has hosted already seventh conference of LOGIN, the Internet and technological community in the Baltic States (www.login.lt), which annually gathers over 70 lecturers and 3,000 participants from all over the world. The purpose of the conference is to introduce the participants to the brightest tendencies of the next year. This year, the organizers managed to invite and hear the remarkable ideas of Steve Wozniak, the only Co-Founder of the global level technological Apple alive. Moreover, second year in a row, visitors of the conference and Internet users were encouraged to participate in the Internet awards and choose the best site of the year, social project, person of the year, best mobile application, blog of the year, etc. Scales and popularity of such event once again demonstrates that the Internet and technologies in Lithuania are one of the major sectors.

The fast development of the Internet is also contributed to by state authorities. At the moment, the Internet makes it possible not only to pay bills or perform other bank transactions, but also to search for a job on the website of the Labor Exchange of Lithuania (www.ldb.lt), to fill in and submit applications for benefits on Sodrа (Social Insurance Fund) website (www.sodra.lt). You can register an individual company, private joint-stock company or an association (www.registrucentras.lt), declare residence place (www.epaslaugos.lt), learn the score your child got at school (www.tamo.lt), inform police about illegal acts (www.epolicija.lt), pass exams virtually (www.nec.lt), registere for a doctor’s appointment (www.sergu.lt), learn public transport schedule or use special interactive map to see traffic jam locations in the capital (www.vilniustransport.lt), and use many other helpful, high value opportunities that save time.

It seems that the Internet, along with all its necessary attributes, has entered the life of Lithuanians like a hurricane and will, most likely, include even more residents in the nearest future. It is also obvious that the powerful technological potential of small Lithuania is used not only on domestic, but also foreign markets, whereas the population of the country readily shakes up the Internet. Let’s hope that over 20 years of the Independence of Lithuania and a natural entering of ‘wide waters’ of the Internet and technologies is only the beginning and the small fish escaping from the raging streamlet into the wide ocean would be growing, succeeding and doing better than many others.