Perceptions of PR in Bulgaria

15 years, 7 months ago


Dessislava Boshnakova analyses the findings of an opinion poll on the image of PR conducted among members of the public in Bulgaria.

The first representative population poll concerning the image of PR in Bulgaria was conducted among 1001 people at the end of 2006. The research is the first project of the PR Factory of ROI Communication. Its aim was to find out the level of recognition of the PR profession among the public in Bulgaria.

The findings were analyzed with the assistance of the sociologist from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Emilia Chengelova, Ph.D.

A lot of PR agencies, PR practitioners and in-house departments contributed to the research, taking part in à series of fund raising events, organized by ROI Communication. The following short report is a primarily descriptive report of some results, deeper analyses and interpretation of data will follow.

Name Recognition

One of the most important conditions for establishing the image and the reputation of a profession is the level of its recognition and name. In the Bulgarian media certain actions are often described as "PR tricks". The PR practitioners use the English name of the profession – Public Relations. Those who are not connected with the profession most often encounter the Bulgarian translation of the profession – "vrazki s obshtestvenostta" – 60,3%. This is also the only name of the profession which is encountered by the majority of the respondents.

24,5% of them come across one of the Bulgarian ways of writing "PR" and 22,3% come across h the other way of putting down PR in Bulgarian. Much fewer encounter the abbreviation PR (19, 7%). The term "public communications" translated in two different ways is encountered more often than public relations. 30 % have met either of them while only 13% have heard the term public relations.

It is difficult for such a young profession to clearly state what it exactly does if it is not able to establish a unique name used by all the people.

PR is mainly associated with publicity (46,9%). The other activities which are considered PR are advertising (39%), propaganda (22,2%) and marketing (19,6%). These results speak loudly that PR has to make a campaign by which to explain the difference with the other activities. Mutual

understanding and dialogue which are some of the terms included in most of the definitions of PR are in the end of the scale obtaining just 9,6%, According to the interviewees there is almost no connection between PR and sponsorship. Just 6,9% think that they are connected.
In could be concluded that PR is something, which people know as a name, but the PR practitioners will have to explain what it is actually for.

Providing media coverage is the main PR function according to 47,4% of the participants in the research. The others are event management (42,6%), advertising (36,3%) and image making and reputation management (34,9%). These results exactly match with the results of the previous ROI Communication Research which was carried out among the PR practitioners, who claim that the most wanted services on the market are media relations (89,4%) and event management (71,9%). According to the respondents there is almost no connection between PR and CSR (3%) and advising the management (8,2%). 14% of the interviewees appreciate the importance of PR for management and for relations with customers.

Familiar Terms

Spokesman (78,4%), press conference (62,7%), press centre (55,7%) and press attaché (42,1%) are the best known terms which the interviewees are certain about. These terms had existed as a part of the Bulgarian language before the political and social changes in 1989 and before the entrance of PR as a profession in Bulgaria.

One of the basic tools of the PR practitioner – the press release – is known by just 5% of the interviewed. So it is logical that the politics consultant, which is also a familiar word is better known than the image maker (38,6% to 26,5%).

63,8% are sure about the meaning of the Bulgarian translation "vrazki s obshtestvenostta" while only 20% are sure they know what Public Relations is. So we could logically conclude that it has to be cleared up that "vrazki s obshtestvenostta" is nothing but a translation of Public Relations. And the two terms mean one and the same thing. This is necessary for those who don’t know English. If we use all the names, there is a risk to make the impression that they mean different things and it will be very difficult to create the image and the reputation of the PR profession.

It is known in PR that the practitioners are invisible, because their clients are the ones who stand in the front. It is also known that journalists very often start practicing PR. Bearing this in mind it is necessary to explain who are the people associated with PR in the public opinion. Most of them are former journalists. In first place is Dimitar Tsonev (44,3%), followed by Evgeni Minchev (31,1%), Neri Terzieva (25%) and Tsvetelina Uzunova (12,7%). Leading PR practitioners are known by few: Maxim Behar (6,3%) and Diana Damianova (1,8%).

The fact that 44,7% of the interviewees agree or mostly agree with the statement that PR and advertising is one and the same thing should raise questions about the right positioning of the profession. 62,6% of those who think they know what public relations is, tend to think PR and advertising is one and the same thing. There are even more people, 68,2%, who claim they know what "vrazki s obshtestvenostta", but think that PR is the equivalent of advertising.

This trend shows that there is a difference between how the two terms "vrazki s obshtestvenostta" and PR, which actually mean one and the same thing, are perceived. It could be concluded that the majority of those who are familiar with terms, connected to PR (vrazki s obshtestvenostta, public relations, spokesman, image maker, press attaché, press centre, special event, and communiqué) do not make a difference between PR and advertising. This is another proof that there is no correct concept about the nature of the profession, even though the people think they know what PR is. At the bottom of this may be the too big popularity of the term PR as a word with no sense.

44,4% consider PR a kind of a propaganda, which is something that every PR practitioner avoids using or giving a reason for associations with their job. Most of the interviewed (69,5%), who claim they know what public relations is mostly agree that PR is kind of a propaganda. This shows that the concept the people have is not correct but they think it is. On the other hand those who are familiar with the term "vrazki s obshtestvenostta" tend to define PR as propaganda.

The difference of about 10 % shows that PR is thought to be propaganda mostly by those who think they know what it is. This is confirmed by the fact that 77,6% of those who are familiar with the term press release mostly agree with the statement that PR is a kind of a propaganda. Knowing what PR is suggests deeper knowledge of PR.
For the interviewed the difference between journalism and PR is not clear. Those who agree or mostly agree that PR is a form of journalism are a little more (29,3%) than those who disagree with this statement. Although there is no clear notion of the nature of the PR profession 46% claim that PR is a fashionable but not a new profession. As for lobbying, most of the interviewed cannot judge if it is connected with PR (57,8%). There are also a few people (37,1%) who agree totally or to some extent that lobbying is part of PR. More than half of those who are familiar with some of the terms Public Relations, spokesman, image maker, press attaché, press centre, special event, communique agree to a certain extent that lobbying is part of PR. Familiarity with the PR terms suggests a deeper knowledge of the profession.

Statements About PR

In order to make sure what the real attitude towards PR is, we asked them to evaluate the veracity of a couple of statements, some of which are true and some not, but however exist in the public opinion. The findings clearly show the weak cognoscibility of PR in Bulgaria.

In the eight statements the answer "I don’t know" scored the highest as most of the people (60,1%) cannot judge if PR is a misleading tool. Even though they are not familiar with the profession, the respondents have a positive or mostly positive attitude about its potential. Most of them disagree or mostly disagree with the negative statements about the PR profession. 28,4% of the respondents categorically disagree that PR misrepresents the reality in order to create a wrong perception. 21,5% disagree that PR is a misleading tool, 18,7% do not agree that PR helps in spreading rumors.

The statement that PR misrepresents the reality in order to create a wrong perception is not largely supported by those who are familiar with some of the terms: vrazki s obshtestvenostta, public relations, spokesman, image maker, press attaché, press centre, special event, and communiqué. Of those only 2,7% agree and 22,7% mostly agree. Among those who are familiar with public relations as a term 5% flatly agree and 23% mostly agree with the statement. At the same time, 48% of those who are sure about the meaning of vrazki s obshtestvenostta (the Bulgarian translation of public relations) are not sure if PR is a misleading tool. According to those who know what public relations is the most are those who cannot judge – 34,3%, while those who agree or mostly agree are 33,8%, and those who disagree are 31,8%. The lack of a clearly differentiated opinion shows that there are many unclear points.

It is encouraging that most of those interviewed associate PR with cleaning up the reputation – 14,8%. 13,7% agree that PR is part of the democratic society and we cannot do without PR in the modern society.72,1% of those who know what image maker is and 69,8% of those who know what PR is mostly agree that PR is able to clean the stained reputation or to create a new one. This shows that PR is largely connected to reputation.

About one third of the interviewed (32,9%) share the opinion that PR helps in achieving mutual understanding and 38,3% think that PR helps educating the publics about important problems and issues. The majority of those who are familiar with vrazki s obshtestvenostta (45,5 %) cannot judge whether PR helps for achieving understanding, which is one of its main functions according to most of the definitions for PR. On the other hand the majority of those who are familiar with the term PR agree that it helps in achieving understanding. This shows that the Bulgarian translation of Public relations is not associated with the nature and the functions of public relations, even though both of them name one and the same thing.
The results clearly show that the society puts its trust in the PR profession and allot the role for creating a civil society to it. The Bulgarian PR practitioners have the chance to create a good reputation.

What Is PR Useful For?

According to 47,2%, PR is useful for image making and reputation management, 41,9% - for organization of public information campaigns, 30,5% for providing media coverage. Although PR is expected to have a leading role in society, the profession is mainly associated with images, reputation and media coverage.

When asked to compare journalism, advertising and PR, 33,3% of the interviewed claim that journalism is very important. Advertising is perceived to possess significance by 26,5% of the

respondents and PR obtains 12,6%. The number of those who consider journalism and advertising very important or important is almost the same (77,7% to 71,7%), while PR reaches 53,3%. Although PR is still young in Bulgaria (it has existed as a profession only for the last 17 years), its significance for modern society is highly appreciated.

It wasn’t long ago when it was written in a Bulgarian magazine that the editors had been receiving letters from readers, who complained that they didn’t want to read PR articles. Most probably those articles were nothing but advertising, because if they had something to do with PR, nobody would ever recognize they were so. It often happens that the PR practitioners do not see the name of their client in the news, even though they see their news in the media.

According to the interviewees it equates to advertising when the name of a company, product or brand is mentioned in the article. They consider as information the articles about government institutions, about health or about companies which have a great influence upon everybody. The same subjects are the most difficult for the respondents to decide whether they are information, PR or advertising. The articles about charity, foreign companies and politicians are flatly defined as PR.

It could be concluded that the media consumers sometimes have a very good intuition about the purpose of the articles in the media. This is a hint that it is good to mention the name of the client, but only if it is relevant to the news. Otherwise it is perceived as advertising and PR loses its effect. It has been proved that a well-written, impartial article is of much more benefit than a laudatory article, which is immediately perceived as advertisement.

Politics, Politicians, Parties And Elections

PR is still strongly associated with politics. This conclusion is due to the fact that 42,7% of the interviewed think that PR has influence on the organization of à pre-election campaign. According to 30,5% it exerts influence on the politics as a whole.
On the opposite, very few of the interviewed think that PR influences the economics. It is essential for launching a new product (26,6%) and for stimulating sales (24,3%). PR has an effect on the journalism according to 23, 3%.

The PR practitioners should make it clear how important PR is to the civil society and the NGOs. 23,1 % think it has some influence on civil society and 14,4 % assume it has influence on the NGOs. Only 38,9% of those who are familiar with the term "vrazki s obshtestvenostta" agree that PR has some influence on politics as a whole, while 52 % of those who know what public relations is are under this impression.

According to the interviewees the deputies are the least trustworthy – 51,4%. To the greatest extent they are not sure if they trust in the PR practitioners and the executive directors of the companies, who are still not very famous to the public.

It is obvious that the most trusted are those who can be often seen – physicians (68,4%) and teachers (68%). The interviewed trust scientists the most (74.2%). PR practitioners are trusted by 23,7% of the interviewed, advertisers by 26,9%, and journalists by 50%.

Who Takes Care Of Their Reputation?

If you are asked the above question you will probably say without even thinking about it: every person and every organization. The difference is that some do that well, others not. Only 4,1% of the interviewed think that companies take care of their reputations, while 44,2% answer "I don’t know". These five companies care the most for their reputation:

As far as the public people are concerned, the politicians are the ones who take care of their reputation. 7, 3 % of the interviewed think so. The President Georgi Purvanov is the one who considerably distinguishes from the others. It is interesting that the public people, who are not politicians that take most care for their reputations are the showmen Slavi Trifonov and Evgeni Minchev.

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The Author

Dessislava Boshnakova

Dessislava Boshnakova, Ph.D. is senior assistant professor at New Bulgarian University, and owner of PR agency ROI Communication.

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