In a column for Obozrevatel, Anastasia Magonova told how PR in the public sector works:
A (PR) specialist must always take into account conflicts of interest. Otherwise, he will not be able to fulfill his duties. But, contrary to the popular myth, GR rarely uses compromising evidence against opponents. Such methods are used less and less.
I myself recommend clients not to waste energy on "crap". It is better to invest the same time and resources in positive messages that will spread faster. People are so used to seeing compromising information against politicians that they have stopped reacting sharply to it.
Where the interests of various structures collide?
Conflicts of interest are monitored in the media and press releases of government agencies. Any authority that conducts its activities, one way or another, comes into conflict with some other state structure.
Let's say the ministry has a recreation area. This is a non-core object, it can be transferred for privatization. But then you will have to show all the financial statements related to the recreation area, and such objects are often not just not profitable - they can be heavily indebted. It is clear that one ministry does not want to raise this issue, while the other insists on privatization. That's a conflict of interest.
There may be another type of conflict. For example, when various deputy associations want to see “Their” candidate as director of a large structure in order to have more influence. If the post is occupied by an "unfamiliar" candidate, any messages from the other party in the media will be a priori negative. The programs of some parties already contain such confrontations: they are always against certain actions of politicians.
Conflicts of interest can even arise with allies. As a rule, they are based on the fact that everyone wants to be the first to enter the information field with a positive message. Often there are conflicts in terms of communication when everyone "pulls the blanket": trying to be the first to announce the results of an investigation or case.
Not one person is always working on the same bills, but a group of specialized deputies, experts, consultants; government organizations can also participate. Accordingly, the press service can agree on the joint exit of all participants to the conference with one message. But there will definitely be someone who will come out with a message first – even if there is an agreement on something else.
How should PR specialists act in a conflict situation?
If someone manages to be the first to leave with a positive message in the information field, we usually wait for a little. We have enough resources not to chase the novelty of news feeds. There are media outlets that are ready for cooperation, well-promoted pages on social networks, there is an opportunity to negotiate with good publications. Therefore, we can rely not on the speed of the message, but on its quality. Let someone be the first, we can compensate for this through the high reach and quality of the information campaign.
You can agree with partners: if they are the first to enter the information field, let them indicate us in press releases. And we, for our part, for example, will mention them in our interviews.
To avoid mistakes, PR specialists need to understand the alignment of political forces in the media, analyze their opponents and even friends. Opponents may use some kind of anchor words that are clearly associated with them or with their position. If we do not analyze these "anchors", and simply use them in our messages, we will reinforce the position of our opponents.
Let's say the ministry comes out with a message about the "sale" of objects. However, "sale" is the word used by the opposition in the context of "they are selling their homeland!" Therefore, it is not worth using it in communication, it is better to talk about investments, jobs, but definitely not about a sale.
As for the alignment of political forces in the media, of course, a competent PR specialist will not come with "pro-presidential" material to the opposition media. Therefore, it is important to follow the political processes in order to track conflicts, quarrels between the parties in time, and to understand which media are better not to contact now.
During conflicts of interest, PR does not necessarily use negative messages to circumvent their opponents. Sometimes they act more subtly: they put positive news about competitors on the "flush cisterns", that is, low-profile media, constantly publish disinformation. Such a publication becomes a "bell", for example, for the Cabinet of Ministers that opponents are playing an unclean game.
How PR specialists should cooperate with clients?
A PR person – like a lawyer or a doctor, you should be sincere and frank with him. If the client is silent and hides something, the communication campaign runs the risk of failure. It is clear that a politician, an official will not share secrets with a stranger, even if he works for him. Therefore, we do not ask for a lot of information at once, in the first month of cooperation – anyway, no one will give it to us.
But it is better to be honest with PR specialists because they always act in the interests of the client. They cannot know all the secrets of what is happening on the sidelines, how successfully the official or politician held the meeting. However, there is an important nuance with meetings.
When a client goes to a meeting, for example, to the president, we always ask about the results not only of himself but also of other participants. Because their vision of the situation may be completely different from that of the client, and it is important for us to get an objective point of view. The client himself may say that everything is fine, but other participants in the meeting will point out communication errors.
Once, we had a client who did not want to provide any information about his situation and affairs but wanted to improve his own image. The person didn’t answer questions, didn’t tell anything, so we couldn’t help this client. If we understood what he was planning to do, we could turn his plan into theses and convey them to the target audience. But we didn’t even know who his partners or opponents were, so we had to refuse cooperation.
Sometimes press services do not want to share information because they feel the competition. A politician can count: his press service will provide all the data and as a result, we do not know anything.
Lack of information is the main problem in state PR. Therefore, we try to get as much information as possible: we walk around and ask different parties and businesses what they think about the law, reforms, and so on. Information from one person is never enough.
How to respond to information attacks?
If a massive information attack begins against a client, we arrange a press conference or record the appeal. We can also meet with the business or other stakeholders to explain directly how things are going. On the same day, we arrange an informal meeting with journalists to provide information to them too. This is usually enough to remedy the situation.
In case of less active actions of opponents, we publish our message on social networks and the media. In an information attack, the main thing is to act quickly. You can make the material not 100% perfect because the reaction speed plays a major role. And while we are finalizing all the theses and statements, there is a risk of losing.
We give journalists insights, off-label comments, and answer uncomfortable questions. Of course, when we have a cool news item, we will definitely share it with various editions. It is necessary to understand journalists: it is important for them to find interesting information and raise the ratings of the publication.
The mistake of many PR is that they look at journalists as a tool. However, in-state PR they are the target audience, which needs to be explained what you do, how you do it, why you do it.