Tag: Reputation

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.


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.