Magazine article Communication World

Evolution of Modern Russian Communication

Magazine article Communication World

Evolution of Modern Russian Communication

Article excerpt

The term "Russian public relations" still sounds somewhat strange to many people. Nevertheless, this profession in Russia already has evolved into an interesting history, short as it may be. That history deserves review not only because it provides a look at the evolution of a profession that did not exist 10 years ago, but also because of a new quality in communication. We can trace the development of PR in Russia through three stages:


The Journalism Stage: A Focus on Openness and Politics

From the very beginning, political reforms in Russia emphasized freedom of speech as a key element of a democratic society. In the late 1980s, Russian society was learning how to express opinions openly. In fact, the 1989 elections of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union were considered to be the first democratic elections in the USSR because, by then, public opinion and free press had come into the political arena. By 1991, no organization in Russia was rejecting the public's "right to know."

Former journalists became the first people to work in the field of Russian public relations. Their first task was to satisfy mass media's interest in their employing institutions, and they adopted a tradition of openness to the public. The new practitioners understood the nature of the media from their own recent experience, so they were able to turn media interest to the advantage of their organizations.

One remarkable PR event of 1991 came soon after the attempted coup in the Soviet Union. The Soviet secret service was radically reformed, and members from the Supreme Soviet of Russia, the St. Petersburg city council and the democratic movement inspected the KGB headquarters in St. Petersburg, Russia. They were looking for evidence of recent antidemocratic activities, but at some point, the inspection turned into an adventure. The most radical members of the city council demanded a detailed inspection of the building's basement where they believed there were cells of an interior prison, and perhaps, places for torture and executions. The St. Petersburg KGB press service led the tour, which proved to be good material for journalists who accompanied them. All the major newspapers published humorous pieces describing some deputies wandering between water pipes and electrical cables in search of blood spots and hidden doors.

Having dealt professionally with the mass media, and having opened their institutions to them, PR practitioners had their second task defined: to provide good publicity for their organization. In 1992, it was not uncommon for political organizations, and even some businesses, to generate good publicity for themselves.

Political public relations dominated the media because of the society's interest in it and because the media followed the radically changing political institutions. On the other hand, the media had no real interest in business, and there was no business communication in place: State-run industries had not traditionally communicated about themselves, and new businesses were more preoccupied with simply surviving. This changed in 1991 after economic reforms brought media's interest into the economic sphere. While political PR was concerned mostly with media relations, business PR was limited mostly to the search for cheap publicity. What business media relations existed were primarily the work of a few foreign specialists serving clients who were moving into the Russian market.

When Russian businesses turned to communicators, they were looking for two things: positive words about their goods and services that would reach customers, and a substitute for advertising, which was becoming more and more expensive. It didn't take long for an enterprise to figure out it could pay a journalist to write something positive about it. This scheme worked well because of the abundance of the underpaid journalists.


The Bureaucratic Stage: Controlling the Message

By the end of 1992, many organizations found themselves in a tough situation in terms of media relations. …

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