Saturday, August 20, 2011

Does PR still stand for propaganda in post-putsch Russia 20 years on?

On 19 August 1991 I woke up in London to a terrifying live TV reportage of tanks moving into Moscow — the failed coup had just begun. My wife and I were spending a short summer holiday with my parents and sister in the then quiet financial heart of the capitalist world. Our little son and mother-in-law stayed behind in the USSR, a socialist country on countdown to extinction.

Twenty years on, I'm writing this blog post from London, again on a summer holiday with my wife. We had made our choice back then to return to a new country in order to stay in the homeland. Some things rarely change while other things change like rare-show.

In his opinion piece in the latest issue of Sovetnik, Russian magazine on PR published by the owners of same-titled portal, Guy Khanov wrote that commonly used terms such as 'communication technologies', 'humanitarian technologies' and 'public relations' say nothing of the professional objectives of those who deal in them.

“The history of PR was falsified by PR practitioners themselves using PR technologies,” Khanov wrote. “I am confident in declaring that PR is all but merely the beginning of the word propaganda.”

In the Soviet days there was so much propaganda that even advertising was part of it. TV ads were shown in a separate program. Most of the advertised goods were not freely sold in shops. The whole point was to make the viewer proud of the country that produced them. That is, if she could get hold of a decent TV set to watch the ads in the first place.

To prove propaganda is not just a trait of Soviet/Russian PR, Khanov mentioned the recently publicized case of Facebook using Burson-Masteller in its 'war against Google'. He then went as far as 1622 in search of the origins of the word 'propaganda'.

The Soviet propaganda went into oblivion twenty years ago with the country that gave birth to it. PR as public service and not as propaganda should ideally outlive brands, products, services, companies and people behind it. I think PR practitioners in Russia and elsewhere should make up their mind and become political scientists or advertising experts if they prefer the ways of propaganda.

UPD: On 21 August, twenty years ago we drank with my late dad in London in his TASS-rented flat at Edgware road to mark the end of the putsch. The following afternoon I went to Madame Tusseauds with my wife Anna. She hugged Mikhail Gorbachev's wax figure and I took a photo of her. A security officer said we shouldn't do that. I told him we were Soviet and could not hide our feelings. He said they had tried to call up Soviets the whole morning. I replied there was no wonder none had turned up early...

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