Sunday, March 27, 2011

Is this PR or is this reality? – A collision of business and public interests in Russia

For Russia, a country where you have a developed government sector, striving business sector just but a rudimentary public sector, the question is quite hot, according to Andrey Lapshov, President of IABC/Russia. That's why Nikolay Studenikin, IABC/Russia Vice-President on Crisis Communications, moderated last week a roundtable devoted to the issue at RIA Novosti's Press Center.

The participants of the roundtable shared some of their thoughts on the topic.

Igor Demin, Press-officer, Transneft (oil pipeline monopoly), said: “There are three types of collision and interaction: real issues during the construction and maintenance, business interests, political interests.”

Demin then gave example when PR is used to profit from the commodity markets: “The first oil makes it to the market through the eastwards pipeline. Suddenly, Yakutia's parliament starts speaking of oil spills. The price of futures in London falls down. If you know of such PR in advance, you can earn tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Lack of culture and Soviet heritage can explain such rude moves. Jacob Minevich of R.I.M. Porter Novelli explained: “In the West you have sustainable development. In Russia you have a kind of heritage when apartment blocks are built around factories.”

Minevich also said that the regional managers seconded by Russia's ruling party are alien to the region they've been assigned to. Local businesses find it convenient to work such authorities through public organizations.

There's been some progress even with the public hearings, according to Minevich: “Public hearings used to exist only on paper now at least they are formally for real.”

Vyacheslav Leontiev, Managing Partner, Leontiev & Partners, blamed Russia's slow judicial system for poor efficiency in handling cases involving officials. “If the legal system worked properly there would be no need for massive PR in the media,” said Leontiev.

This reflects with the opinion of Oleg Solodukhin, GR expert at the CROS company: “The Khimki forest issue was raised at first to sack the mayor. But the result has surpassed all the expectations.”

There may be a less dramatic explanation to sudden outbursts of PR activity. Konstantin Mikhailov of Archnadzor (NGO working to protect Moscow's diminishing cultural heritage, translated as “architectural watchdog”) said: “Accusations are heard when our opponents haven't got anything else to say.”

Mikhail Dvorkovich, CEO, Press Hall communcation group, said: “A rare occasion when an NGO is created not as an instrument in somebody's hands.” He urged everybody to go through a list of Russian NGOs (in Russian) and marvel at their origin and founders.

Dvorkovich recently created an association of entrepreneurs which he called a new type of NGO. “The members are bound to two things: not paying bribes to officials and courts, paying all the taxes. We put their voluntary contributions to good cause,” Dvorkovich said.

Studenikin summed up the two hour discussion: “The public sector in Russia should become a strong instrument of affecting both the business and the government sectors. At the same time PR has become a part of the reality and cannot be taken out of the context of the important public issues and business processes.”

Please refer to the video recording of the roundtable (in Russian) for more details.

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