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.