Monday, June 20, 2011

Social Media Relations industry in Russia: Lacking own PR and dependingon PR budgets

Russian Managers Association held a meeting of its Committee on Mass Media and Information Policies last Thursday. Communications in the era of competition between the social and traditional media was the main topic. Here are some excerpts from the presentations and the discussion.

Speaking on the customers’ behalf, Olga Pestereva, PR Director of Skylink, a 3G mobile Internet provider, said that the question is not whether but rather how to deal with the social media. Skylink outsources social media monitoring and projects to Insiders while the social media strategy was devised by New Internet. Project outsourcing involves risks that may inspire social media trolls. “If you don’t close down your Internet project properly, it will get covered with snails, just as the bottom of a vessel,” Pestereva said. The one risk is that bits and pieces of information could become misinterpreted while the other is that the project’s social community could be reused by the PR agency for another client.

Skylink handles social media through a corporate avatar where 99 per cent of the communication is down-to-earth help, advice and support. Subscriber referral rate is the main KPI for the social media communications at the company.

Keeping the communication channels open is very important for success in the social media. “Disgruntled users are our main asset. You don’t exist if you’re not criticized. We reply to all – the critics and the readers,” Alezey Zakharov, President of Superjob.ru, a major recruitment portal in Russia, said. Superjob.ru would often post an official statement from an employer in reply to an angry letter from current or former employee and then close off the discussion. HR would be the main corporate contact for Superjob.ru.

Phillip Gurov, Senior Partner, Gurov & Partners Communication Group, thinks that the notion of setting social media against the traditional media is not a correct one. Because, convergence and interaction have shaped the behavior of modern mass media. “The value of readers’ comments to an article is on a par with the value of its contents,” Gurov said.

Another bridging similarity, according to Gurov, is the dominantly passive attitude towards content. Just as the journalists are asking for a press release instead of attending a client’s press conference, social media users require a lot of content to feed their emotions.

The set-off between traditional and social media in Russia resulted in the lack of integrated communications. PR is handled either in-house or by a PR agency while social media are taken care of by another agency. “At the same time in the US most well known PR agencies offer SEO to their clients,” Gurov said.

As a consequence, the social media relations market in Russia features huge discrepancy in prices and standards. It is low on professional ethics and measurement tools. While paying journalists for PR-initiated stories is frowned upon, sponsoring bloggers many consider not an adverse activity. There is also an issue with measurements – how would you compare a tweet, a blog post in LiveJournal and activity of a group in Facebook.

Ilya Balahnin, Director, Paper Planes, a social media relations agency, thinks the social and traditional media cannot be set against each other since “they are not even like apples and pears, more like water and apples”.

“Social media relations agencies are more into strategic management and culturology,” Balahnin said. Therefore there should be separate communications policies for such relations.

Balahnin added that the huge discrepancy in prices for similar services comes from the fact that social media relations services are subcontracted by PR agencies. The way to fight this would be to hand over such services to HR. “Troika Dialog uses Facebook to get 200-300 interns each year under their New Talent program,” Balahnin said.

This could make sense, especially since it seems that outside Russia Social Media and Public Relations are best handled by companies of different breeds. However it's best to proceed with caution as Konstantin Maksimiuk, Creative Director and Partner, New Internet, warns us that "social media is no magic wand if the underlying product is bad".

Another thing for sure - Social Media Relations agencies in Russia could definitively use more of self-PR to reduce their dependency on PR budgets.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

PR budgets of over 1/3 surveyed private companies in Russia to increasein 2011

PR survey results encompassing 600 private Russian companies in 8 key economy sectors were announced yesterday by its organizers in Moscow. The total 2010 PR budget of the participating companies was estimated at $1,66 billion. For 2011, 37% of the companies plan to increase their budget.

The survey was carried out in February-April 2011 by the IFORS consultancy in partnership with Russian Public Relations Association, Russian Association of Corporate Media and Communications Directors and Maximov Publications.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Role of PR in developing Russia’s civil society - close to zero?

The 6th PR in the Russian Press Awards ceremony (see my previous post) was followed by a roundtable on the role of PR in developing Russia’s civil society. Both traditional media and social media were considered as channels of communication and interaction with the audience. Here are some highlights of the discussion.

“Russian media offer too little opportunities and formats for covering society-related topics that are important for the business community,” Natalia Mandrova, President, Primum Mobile, said. She added that while information journalism is widely practiced, there is no such thing as social journalism. “As a result we’re under impression that the civil society is in conflict with the rest of the world since mass media cover conflicts only in their active phase.”

Social media are therefore considered a growing competition for the traditional media. However, Mandrova believes that one should concentrate mostly on the content side and not on the tools side. Because, thanks to the Internet, there are so many of them. “We find ourselves transforming into a specialized editorial,” summed up Mandrova.

“In Russia and some other countries mass media seem to be underplaying their role. Social media therefore help to fill the gap,” Boris Eremin, President, Russian Chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA), said. Another feature of Russian society, according to Eremin, is the fact that conflicts are mixed up with confrontation.

Seems there is a case of a vicious circle involving PR, media and the civil society in Russia. Can it be broken?

“PR is a paid-for activity. A customer is therefore needed for PR to work with the civil society. The best customer would be the state while the society itself would not be as good,” Andrey Lapshov, President, IABC/Russia, said. “How great is the role of PR in developing the civil society in Russia? It’s close to zero – there is no customer. And the function of PR could be a developing or a restraining one, depending on the customer.”

Igor Mintusov, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nikkolo M group of companies, sees Christian analogies in media development: “We used to have ‘Hohe Politik’ Gods and the press as mediators between them and the audience. The social networks have marked the new epoch where the media’s role is strongly reduced or eliminated.”

Mintusov thinks that those PR practitioners who are real citizens don’t need any ‘orders’ or ‘customers’ to help develop the civil society.

Victor Gaft, Director General, Image-Contact Consulting Group, reminded the audience that the main topic of the roundtable was in fact the most controversial category of the “PR in the Russian Press Awards”. “We have often found ourselves short of representative stories to judge and eager to retrospectively change the category’s name,“ Gaft said. “To improve the quality of the articles in the future, we need to agree on the definitions of PR and civil society as well as on the rules of the judgment process,” Gaft added, giving quirky examples of reverse-engineered definitions of the terms from his perception of the shortlisted stories.

Opinions of the five experts gave a good PR overview of the subject. It was high time to listen to alternative standpoints.
“Civil society issues are researched mostly in science media. However only a few citizens ever read such media,” Vladislava Konstantinova, author of the award-winning article “President’s blog as communication tool between the authorities and the citizens”, said.

On the other hand, Konstantinova thinks that blogs and social networks cannot be considered as mass communication media, especially in the rural areas of Russia. “Blog posts of mayors of small settlements yield few comments compared to the thousands of the country president’s blog,” Konstantinova added. She concluded that in some regions like Perm local print media is quite good at covering civil society issues where in others, including Moscow, the situation is lot worse.

An interesting perspective was given by Denis Nezhdanov, political scientist, Founder & Director, National Strategy Foundation. Comparing Russia’s civil society to that of the USA, he outlined that lack of strategy hinders development of the civil society. “There must be a Russian dream,” Nezhdanov said, adding that the state should be responsible for setting the right trend.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

PR journalists from mainstream media awarded in Moscow

The sixth annual awards ceremony for PR journalists from mainstream print media was held in Moscow yesterday. Awards in four categories were given to journalists from the Commersant-Dengi (Merchant-Money), Kompaniya (Company),Vlast (Power) magazines. Readers’ prize was given to a journalist from the Argumenty I Fakty (Arguments & Facts) weekly newspaper for her article called “Fake fans and purchased likes: how brands conquer social networks”.

The PR in Russian Press Awards is organized by the Sovetnik (Advisor) magazine and portal with support from Russia’s main PR associations, including IABC/Russia.

Please note the links refer to Russian language stories translated by Google. A separate post will dwell on a roundtable held right after the ceremony. The full ceremony and roundtable video may be seen here (in Russian).