President’s Perspective – PR in Interesting Times12 years, 7 months ago
Maria Gergova celebrates the sweeping changes of the past two decades brought about by the digital revolution and fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, while also assessing the challenges facing Public Relations professionals at this difficult time in the g
I am very excited and a bit nervous to be IPRA President in this special and, according to all forecasts, ‘difficult’ year. On top of that, for me it is a real honor and a big responsibility to represent one of the fastest developing PR markets in the world – the countries from the ex-communist bloc.
The reason is that I, and other practitioners from these countries, have had to go a long way to get near the level of our colleagues from the developed PR markets. Therefore, for me it is a great recognition for us all that now I have the honor to stand in front of the biggest international PR association and say, “We did it”. And this is only the beginning – we are yet to prove ourselves and will get better and better.
Almost 20 years ago, for some of us life took a completely new turn. We had to start afresh, coming to terms with new ideals and new values while entering a new social and economical environment. The word ‘PR’ was almost, if not totally, unknown. This is how I felt as a representative of the countries that had been behind the Iron Curtain for a period of 45 years.
Shock of the new
Internet was the new word for the whole world; just as PR was a new word for us. Everywhere, online communications were still at the fetal stage. So, about 20 years ago we were all on the threshold of something new, unknown and exciting. Something that changed completely our way of living and working. Something that led to a complete makeover of the PR industry.
For us – the representatives of the ex-communist bloc and current PR practitioners – the change from PRopaganda to PR, combined with the introduction of the World Wide Web, was really overwhelming. Once upon a time the Chinese had a curse, “May you live in interesting times!” I, however, think that this is a real blessing. Today in the current crisis, we say: “We shall overcome this as well.”
In Bulgaria there is a saying I like a lot because it charges me with positive energy: “What does not kill us makes us stronger.”
It seems like only yesterday when the newspapers in Bulgaria were full of party slogans. There was hardly any product or business news because there was no private business. Nor was there competition in the sense we understand this notion today.
All messages were one-way. There was no dialogue. There was no choice. Propaganda! Today we not only have active and dynamic dialogue but also strongly developed multipartite communication that goes in many different ways. Only 20 years ago in my world there were hardly any brands. There were two types of bread, one cheese brand, one cooking oil brand, etc.
Far greater choice
Today we have to make a choice among scores of brands in a single product category. All these scores of brands and services today invest in PR. They were not present on the market 20 years ago, and, respectively, there were no PR experts and PR agencies.
Yet they are here today. There is competition. As a result, investment in PR increases constantly and the PR business is developing and facing challenges. The quality of PR services must increase all the time, as must professional and ethical standards.
With the big international companies entering our markets immediately after the changes, the young and inexperienced PR experts had to meet the quality requirements for PR services set by these big companies. This was a flying start for the beginner PRs who had to match, or at least approach, as quickly as possible the PR professional standards of the developed countries, where PR has a history.
So, the requirements of the big multinational companies entering these undeveloped markets mixed with the enthusiasm and energy of the young PR experts, who had just discovered what it feels like to be on the other side of the Iron Curtain, proved to be a strong and good enough combination. It created the conditions to facilitate the fast development of the PR profession in these countries.
Today, when I look at the work of numerous colleagues from this region, I can proudly say that we have done well in catching up with our fellow practitioners from the developed markets and that we have achieved very high professional standards.
This dynamic journey, during which we have searched, discovered, changed, grown and learnt the secrets of the PR industry, was worth every minute and all the effort.
Changes in the world
The world over, the internet has changed the way we communicate and the way we do PR. The countries of the former Iron Curtain have faced the same challenges in this respect as the developed PR markets – i.e. the total transformation of the PR industry due to the quickly developing new technologies.
Multipartite online communications take the PR profession to a new level, where there are new requirements for more knowledge, skills, flexibility and activity. These new modern communications, while posing a lot of challenges for PR experts at the same time present extraordinary opportunities.
Today information flows in many directions 24/7. We have to be constantly aware, to monitor the messages, the news, comments in chat groups, blogs and social networks.
Do people believe in the information they devour in the digital internet world? Do they trust the online media, or the social network they belong to, or do they trust the information received from close friends? How can we, the PR practitioners, reach the key target groups in the most effective manner?
Did we ever imagine 20 years ago that 3 million ‘friends’ of Obama on Facebook would influence the results of the U.S. presidential election campaign? Did we ever imagine that a mother’s comment in a small mothers’ chat room would ruin the image of a bank? Did we ever imagine that we would replace watching TV with surfing the Internet – an environment in which an ever-increasing number of people spend more and more time?
These are many questions, the answers to which we are yet to learn. As PR experts we are faced with the challenge to discover new and more effective methods to reach out and communicate with the various stakeholders, so that our messages will be heard and understood.
Do we need to rewrite the code of ethics from the past? The new digital environment requires new, slightly updated ethical rules for the PR experts. What is the information we deliver to consumers and through what channels? Are we anonymous? Are we honest? Today we need to ensure that we will adhere to the ethical and professional standards so that users do not lose faith in the information they receive online.
All these changes in the last 20 years have made our lives very interesting – both on a personal and professional level.
I would like to conclude my first presidential letter with the following message: Let not the crisis and changes frighten us. Each and every new challenge makes us better, stronger, more creative. It opens new doors and new horizons…for us and for our profession.
I wish you success in 2009!
Maria Gergova is IPRA President 2009 and managing director of United Partners, Bulgaria.mail the author
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