In the first column for "Ukrainskiy tyzhden" Anastasia Magonova talked about the peculiarities of state PR in Ukrainian style and the impact of social networks. Why at the beginning of the lockdown PR was replaced by propaganda and how the fear of death formed the basis of information campaigns:
People come to PR experts with problems, and if the situation is bad, the PR expert always has a job. Not surprisingly, that in 2020, the focus has shifted from public relations as such to state propaganda.
For example, the message "stay at home" broadcasted by the Ministry of Health was a real propaganda.
Peculiarities of state PR in Ukrainian style
The work of PR specialists with the state sector has little to do with how commercial PR works.
In the business sector, specialists always have a contract with clearly defined conditions and a guarantee of payment. In the governmental sphere the situation is somewhat more complicated.
On the one hand, PR in the public sector is always associated with high image and reputational risks. Any state structure is under the focus of attention of journalists, experts, law enforcement agencies.
And in Ukraine, there is an opinion that budget expenses for PR activities are excessive.
On the other hand, to work in the public sector one has to maneuver between conflicts of interest. PR experts who support businesses have clear KPIs, they can measure audience coverage, promote certain products, services or theses.
In the public sector one always has to take into account the conflicts of interests of different political forces. In Ukraine, unlike, for example, the United States, there are no clearly spelled out laws that would regulate PR in the field of politics.
If Americans can be guided by the lobbying law or officially obtain the status of a foreign agent (and this status has no negative connotation!), in Ukraine all PR and GR are little homegrown ones.
For the last 2-3 years Ukrainian PR activities have been directed towards the West.
Why did it happen? British, American and other foreign embassies within the framework of international cooperation grant money to Ukraine for development of communication strategies.
This is how a tendency has emerged towards modern PR for official bodies related to grant financing.
But what is worth learning from the United States is the relationship between PR, GR and IT. Previously, PR experts played on the client’s narcissism. One could show and say: "Look, they wrote about you in a magazine!"
Now we have conscious clients, they rely on numbers, facts. That’s why PR experts need to collect a huge amount of data and analytics that only IT can provide.
The impact of social media on the public sector
In 2021, if a politician does not have a Facebook page, this is counted as a minus. Even representatives of the Cabinet of Ministers need their own pages on social networks, although their target audience is not individuals, not network users in the broad sense of the word.
Ministers do not need to be heard and understood by a specific person. But the Cabinet of Ministers has its own target audience: the Office of the President, foreign contractors, businesses.
These companies all use Facebook, that is why politicians are starting to pay more attention to social networks.
The so-called opinion leaders are closely connected to social networks. Since the time of Poroshenko everyone has been working with them, all major political forces have their own network.
Politicians spend a lot of time talking with opinion leaders and getting them to their side. Even the Office of the President has a person to deal with it.
How the lockdown “blew up” the PR market
While people were sitting at home during the lockdown, the Ukrainian PR market literally exploded. So even those who did not even think about being interested in PR, abruptly started to work with it.
Although politicians did not sit at home, they worked in state structures. And the whole communication was built in such a way that officials took pictures wearing masks but continued to work for the good of the people.
Nevertheless, even after a year of the epidemic, not all press secretaries in Ukraine go with the times, and not all state structures have such a staffing position.
State-owned enterprises often cannot hire a qualified press secretary who at least knows how to post for social media, so they have to delegate these tasks to assistants or HRMs.
It is important to understand that the propaganda invocated by the public sector is not some kind of a terrible evil, but a massive information message that "shouts" from all sides. It is often based on a game of fear.
Thus, the fear of death became the basis of information campaigns at the beginning of the lockdown. Even for business the question was posed as follows: money or life. Due to this, the restrictions required during the epidemic could last for such a significant period of time.
Positive issues do not work, so now the state PR is betting on negative ones. Until now, most people get information from TV, and TV is all about fear, which makes ratings.
In such circumstances, it is useless to try to play on positive emotions, one has to take into account the editorial policy of the channels. In the commercial sphere, a PR expert can use positive messages, but not in the public sector.
How the epidemic changed PR
If before the pandemic everyone organized conferences, presentations and reporting events, convened as many journalists and experts as possible, during the lockdown it became impossible.
Everyone had to switch to Zoom, but presentations in Zoom are not as effective as on stage. You cannot set up professional lighting, show slides on a big screen or otherwise influence perception.
In view of this, politicians were forced to write out their speech messages more carefully. They started to be followed much more attentively as online does not give any other choice, there is nothing to distract attention.
The epidemic itself is not yet a guarantee of negativity from the society. In the government sphere, negativity is always associated not so much with people's dissatisfaction as with a conflict of interest: when someone launches an “against” campaign.
For example, negativity towards the president is directly proportional to Zelensky's rating. The more the President makes mistakes, the more oligarchic groups attack him, turning the population against him using their own channels.
The whole work with state structures is based on trying to intercept information attacks and work with them. There is a lot of negativity. And the problem with information attacks is only intensified by inconsistency of state structure’s actions.
We also have to work with information attacks aimed at one person. I call such situations "who will run to Zelensky faster."
For example, a person wants to replace a certain minister, and the attempts to reach the President by all means start. Moreover, now there is a tendency to keep in touch with the Office of the President to have the opportunity to reach out to the President, to him alone.
The main tools of state PR in 2021:
- Contact with journalists. It is important to communicate with journalists, to give them relevant comments, explaining what exactly the structure is occupied with. Meetings with media representatives are perhaps the most important tool for the public sector.
- Press releases. They sell well and tend to be even more effective than social networks.
- Social networks. Some businesses need LinkedIn to network with their future overseas partners.
I don't consider bots to be tools at all, although many politicians use them. I believe that sooner or later Facebook will solve this problem.
In any case, you need to fight not for the number of likes, but for their quality. It is better to have 15 post likes of "live" users than a few hundred ones of bots.
Sometimes one has to form a press service from scratch. When an official occupies a new position he does not yet have his own press secretary, and if the PR team remains from the predecessor, it still needs to be changed.
Because it will not work in the interests of a new person. And it is important to find out from the very beginning which people in the ministry or other structure should be fired, which ones should be left - this can also be a part of work of a communications adviser.
Finally, a few words about working with negativity issues, which cannot be avoided in 2021. I always advise my colleagues: when you know for sure that people may not like the information, you should go out with the message first.
You need to try to make the negativity manageable. For example, talk about the weaknesses of the reform, but do it in a controlled manner shifting the focus to less painful points. In addition, it is important to immediately explain to people how to act in a new paradigm.
Negativity is often caused by the fact that people do not understand why reforms are taking place, how they may affect their lives, so it is important to inform people.