Not hitting rock bottom

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  • B2B
  • Derby
  • PR
  • PR experience

I went to university to study foreign languages, probably because I love to read. Besides studying fiction and languages, I majored in teaching. In my second year, I started doing an internship, which showed me that the teaching profession was not for me. Because when children sneered at the knowledge I was trying to impart to them (it was not so rare), it hurt me a lot. So, at the same time I signed up for a journalism course. The work of a journalist seemed meaningful and interesting to me.

After graduation, they tried to make me a news anchor at the city’s TV station. That brilliant plan failed because of my fear of the camera, which I was more afraid of than Pennywise. It was my first embarrassment. However, it was what prompted me to apply for an internship at the editorial office of a popular newspaper. In two weeks, I had five articles published, and it was a bid for success, so I was happy to be hired!

My first month on the job was an epic fiasco. I was at a festival on an editorial assignment, attended a touring production of a famous theatre, and accidentally fell in love with one of the actors. Yes, I was 20 years old, and I was a romantic. The fact that we met the same night at a party after a play with this very theatre group and this very actor and drank a few beers together added fuel to the fire…

When I brought the article to the editorial office, my manager ironically defined its genre as “A confession of love with an overwhelming desire to draw public attention to it.” And then rewrote it from the first to the last word. It was a fiasco with the bitter aftertaste of a love drink. Since then, I have watched dozens of shows, conducted hundreds of interviews with actors, politicians, businessmen and musicians, but gave myself a promise not to fall in love with interlocutors.

My interview with Kakhaber “Kakha” Kaladze, now the mayor of Tbilisi in Georgia and at the time a famous soccer player who had just signed a transfer with the Italian club Milan, was almost a complete failure. Kakha hardly spoke any Ukrainian or Russian, and I did not know Georgian. It turned out that, despite the time and place of being coordinated well in advance by the editorial office with the press service, for some reason this very question had been overlooked.

The only thing that saved me from embarrassment was the fact that Kaladze came to the interview not alone, but with his friend, the Ukrainian footballer Andriy Gusin, with whom he played together in Dynamo Kyiv. Luckily for me, Gusin turned out to be a very eloquent, erudite, and funny man. So out of 20 questions that I prepared for Kaladze, Andriy answered 18 of them (RIP and thank you, Andriy). The interview turned out to be lively, heartfelt, and moreover at the time it was recognized as one of the best interviews by Kakhi Kaladze… However, I knew very well that this success was pure chance and a bit of luck. What to do if you are not satisfied with the result? Of course, change your approach, no matter what problem you faced. Since then, any meeting or interview I either organize myself, or double-check at all stages…

When I decided to try myself in PR, I was attracted by everything in this industry. The opportunity to look at the company through the eyes of a journalist from the inside. The chance to learn the specifics of different businesses.  And most importantly, to use the media experience for the benefit of clients. Of course, it was great that the owner of the agency believed in my abilities and managerial experience in a major international publishing house and invited me to the position of director of PR-department despite my lack of PR education.

In 2004, when I was taking my first steps in PR, there was a practice in most Ukrainian communication agencies to send invitations to press events by e-mail and immediately after that to call journalists (more than 50 contacts) to find out if they would come. I still don’t understand why this was necessary. I remember one client insisting on a press event, to put it mildly, on the same day, in the same city and from the same industry as another press event, which clearly interrupted media interest. My arguments and suggestion to change at least the date did not help. Calling a journalist about such an event is a big mistake, I can swear to you on that as a journalist who was also besieged by PR people at one time. In 30 minutes, they blew me off 30 times. I even though that’s what PR all is about – calling the media and getting rejected. Fortunately, it turned out not to be so😊.

It is worth mentioning that while PR in the UK may be considered old-timer, Ukrainian PR started in the early 1990s, and at first it was only a separate function of public relations, and only in the political structures of Ukraine. And this is not surprising, since Ukraine became independent only in 1991. It is noteworthy that in post-socialist countries, which includes Ukraine, the political PR – in contrast to the commercial – did not spare money.

But over time, the formation of business has spurred the development of PR in Ukraine. There was an urgent need for professionals, which again, not surprising in the absence of basic vocational training (the first Department of PR was founded in 1992 at the Kiev Institute). That is why there are so many retrained journalists among Ukrainian PR-specialists. By the way, the first Ukrainian PR-agency opened in 1997 (previously provided services PR full-service advertising agencies). Well, such positions as PR-manager and PR-director appeared only in 2000…

A couple of years later I suffered another epic fiasco in the field of, I repeat, very young PR industry. Our client, a well-known international manufacturer of construction materials with an impeccable reputation, wanted to invest in a factory in Ukraine (along with similar production lines already existing or under construction in the UK, Canada, Norway, Croatia, Poland, etc.). All documentation has been developed, coordinated and transparent. Representatives of the company together with the managers of the PR agency travelled to the area where the construction was planned and attended the public hearings.

It was then that we ran into the antagonist, a local MP who, as it turned out later, also wanted to build the plant and had his own views on the area. He prepared a group of residents, provided them with posters, paid them money, and they rallied, disrupting one event after another, and even tried to beat us up. Each of our attempts to communicate looked like Bosch’s paintings of hell. This is how I learned from my own experience what black PR is and found out that there are not many acceptable PR tools in my arsenal to counter a spontaneous information attack and fight corruption. As a postscript I would like to mention that the client never managed to build a plant. And I, out of desperation, took a training course on working with negative information.

This representative selection of my hiccups does not pretend to be anything. I have combined them only to remind myself that the phrase “It is inherent in every man to err, but only a fool is inherent in persisting in his error” is relevant for a reason…

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