Public relations in Central and Eastern Europe present specific communication challenges that require special attention and a strategic approach. Under the auspices of The Museum of Public Relations, a panel discussion was recently held with experts from each CEE country. Among other things, they highlighted the key role of understanding national aspects in designing effective campaigns.
Central and Eastern Europe has regularly been the focus of Western attention, but its influence and importance has gradually waned and declined. However, the war in Ukraine has shown that the balance of power has shifted back, which in a tragic context highlights the economic and political importance of the region. “Parts of Eastern and Central Europe have become a haven and home to many Ukrainian refugees, including many of the greatest minds in various fields. As a result, many companies from around the world are shifting their attention to this growing intellectual capital. Surprisingly, this is creating numerous opportunities for collaboration and investment not only in the field of communications, but in many other areas as well,” said the event’s first panel moderator Chris Karadjov, Ph.D., professor of journalism and mass communication at California State University.
“There are significant opportunities for the communications industry in the fast-growing Central and Eastern region. The sector is showing remarkable strength and resilience. Indeed, I daresay its importance has reached unprecedented levels in the wake of the ongoing conflict and tragedy in Ukraine,”adds Chris Karadjov, PhD.
Among the main themes was the importance of understanding the cultural and linguistic specificities of different countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The region is renowned for its diversity and varied historical and political contexts. Each country has its own unique identity and requires a specific public relations approach.
The webinar panelists included:
- Patrik Schober, Managing Partner PRAM Consulting (Czech Republic)
- Seyhan Ayel, Founder and CEO of OptimoreGroup and Atlantis Consultancy (Turkey)
- R. Nagy András, Director of Probako Communications (Hungary)
- Todor Ianev, Managing Partner of Janev & Janev, Chairman of the Board of Worldcom Public Relations Group (Bulgaria)
- Rick Serdiuk, co-founder and creative director of Banda (Ukraine).
It Won’t Work Without Digitalization and Local Access
Participants agreed that digital transformation has fundamentally changed the way organisations communicate with their stakeholders. The rapid development of social media allows for widespread dissemination of information and the ability to respond quickly to new challenges. However, this requires flexibility and the ability to adapt to new technologies and communication channels. At a time when we have easy access to information from different sources, a strong brand and a good reputation are among the strong competitive advantages.
However, this also entails the risk of misinformation and propaganda, which have become all the more dangerous with the advent of digital mass communication. Panellists pointed out that Russian campaigns often use social media and so-called “trolls” to spread misinformation and create confusion. The language barrier thus poses an additional challenge, as many people in the region do not understand English and rely on Russian media.
“The impact of misinformation extends beyond the public and government spheres and can affect organisations and businesses. Based on these findings, APRA, the Czech Public Relations Association, has developed seven principles that managers and communications experts should follow. Together they offer a comprehensive approach to tackling and combating misinformation,”added Patrik Schober.
Although these principles were initially met with disinterest, they were later adopted by a number of European PR organisations in the context of the situation in Ukraine. The principles include defining disinformation for each organisation, educating management about the risks, avoiding advertising on disinformation sites, supporting credible media sources, withholding information from disinformation sources, establishing crisis communication procedures, refuting false information and emphasising the need for verification through independent sources and fact-checking platforms. Together, these principles offer a comprehensive approach to addressing and combating disinformation.
Precise localisation is another key factor for successful communication. Each of these countries has its own specific market environment, customs and preferred communication channels. It is therefore essential to develop a PR strategy that takes into account the local environment and works with experts and partners in the market. Discussants stressed the importance of having people in their team who have a deep knowledge of the market and culture.
At the same time, it should be understood that PR is not only about communicating with the public, but also about building relationships with various stakeholders such as journalists, government institutions, NGOs and other relevant actors. Given the diversity of Central and Eastern Europe, it is crucial to identify these stakeholders and build partnerships with them based on trust and mutual cooperation.
The War in Ukraine From a Communications Perspective
“When the conflict began, the prevailing belief, supported by media reports, was that Ukraine would succumb within three days. This caused shock and distrust among Ukrainians. But by January 2023, the percentage of Ukrainians who believed in victory had risen to 56%. According to the latest result, an overwhelming 95% of Ukrainians now believe in victory,” says Rick Serdiuk, co-founder and creative director of Banda. He has been instrumental in promoting Ukraine’s reputation around the world over the past year and a half.
“From a communications perspective, the current conflict in Ukraine can be seen as a war of two brands. The Russian one was already damaged long before that, but Ukraine has managed to raise its reputation to the point where it is considered a trusted partner of the US,” Serdyuk adds. Ukraine’s brand is continuously gaining strength. Its credibility as a reliable partner has improved significantly, with its reputation score rising from 49 points in 2021 to 67 points in 2022 – almost doubling in just one year. In addition, according to this year’s Global Soft Power Index, Ukraine was recognized as one of the 20 most influential countries in the world.
“In the fight against the Russian propaganda machine, the solution is easy: use your own brand and maintain a consistent presence not only in the media, just as our president does, who regularly communicates with Ukrainians using various tools, including his iPhone. Our Deputy Prime Minister does the same. So at the government level, we use branding techniques to counterbalance propaganda,”Serdiuk adds.
Sustainability and CSR is Gaining Importance
In recent years, the trend towards sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become increasingly common in Central and Eastern Europe. Customers and the public increasingly expect companies to have a positive impact on society and the environment. In this respect, organisations need to integrate sustainable and socially responsible initiatives that respond to local needs and values.
In conclusion, public relations in CEE has its own specific challenges that require comprehensive strategies and adaptation to the local environment. With the growing importance of social media, digitalisation and sustainability, it is essential to constantly adapt and innovate in order for organisations to successfully position themselves and maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.