Category: Lithuania (page 1 of 2)

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.

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.


 

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.

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.

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.

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.