A PRofession Exists
The profession of PR manager appeared in Kazakhstan relatively recently, but it has become very popular and highly sought after. Every company that respects itself has a specialist or even a whole department for maintaining relations with the government, the public and the media. However, their sphere of activity is so wide that a question arises: who are these PR people?
It is believed that there are about 500 definitions of PR. However, none of them provides a full idea of the meaning, aims and objectives of the profession itself. The most widespread definition is that it is a specialist who is responsible for creating and maintaining a favourable public image of their company, as well as a positive intracorporate image. This results in the activities of PR managers being divided into two parts: work within the firm and work with the “outside environment”. The latter aims to interact with the business partners and clients of the company, government officials and the media, public organisations and the population.
Work within the firm consists of maintaining a “healthy” climate in the team and uniting all the company staff members on corporate values. PR managers are responsible for publishing an internal newspaper, editing materials for a corporate website, planning special teambuilding courses and carrying out many other activities that are useful for their company. Larisa Kokovinets, director of Kazkommertsbank’s PR department, believes that internal PR is very important because it is company staff members who advance company reputation. “Staff members’ opinions about their company and projects they carry out, influence the views of their relatives, friends, relatives of their friends and so on. In other words, they are absolute representatives of the brand,” she said.
The history of the domestic PR sphere started in 1994 when the first international PR agencies entered the Kazakh market. They mainly supplied information support to Western companies that wanted to take part in investment projects. Later, having completed their tasks these agencies left our market. Simultaneously, the president, the government and national companies created their press services. It was precisely then, in the mid-1990s, when the Kazakh and National Press Clubs were set up to offer a permanent ground for interacting with the media and other structures interested in PR. FMCG companies were first to create PR jobs but they considered PR only as an auxiliary instrument of marketing.
The situation cardinally changed in 2000-2002 when rapidly-growing local companies started to realise the necessity of creating positive reputation and building the “right” communications with clients, partners, the public and the government. This produced quick results. Only three or four years ago experts said that there was no fully-fledged PR market, whereas now they point to its significant growth both in terms of its size and range of activities, as well as the significance and prestige of the PR profession.
Even though the sphere of PR’s application is very wide, we still can single out three main directions. Above all, it is the financial and banking sector (there is a lot of money, therefore greater resources). Speaking about the peculiarities of banking PR, Sulushash Magziyeva, the head of ABN Amro Bank Kazakhstan’s corporate communications department, stresses that “banks sell neither goods nor money — they sell information about money”. She also says that “in order to sell this information well, banks need a similarly ephemeral thing that makes this identical information fatter, richer and more attractive”.
The second sector where the PR as an instrument of reputation building has strong positions in Kazakhstan is the oil and gas sector. However, the main point for this sector is to build contacts with local people in oil regions.
The third sector is the IT sphere which needs professionals who are able to deliver information about hi-tech products to a wide range of consumers in an accessible language.
To Be and Be Able
The PR speciality combines many other disciplines. Highly-qualified PR managers, having worked in the market for many years and learned all the tricks of their trade, say that it is impossible to make a PR manager out of any person. Sulushash Magziyeva believes that this is all about experience and if someone wants to work in this sphere they have to have experience in different spheres. There are no come-and-go people here because in terms of stress the PR job is on the same level as doctors and fire fighters, accompanied by an incredible pace of living and irregular working hours.
Experts say that the most important qualities and knowledge the PR specialist should have are journalistic skills, creative thinking, the basic knowledge of marketing, branding and advertising, and fluency in one or several foreign languages. In addition, PR managers should have thorough knowledge of their companies’ orientation and social psychology, semiotics, linguistics and the theory of negotiations. They should know IT and special software well, and understand politics and jurisprudence.
The general director of the PG Communications PR agency, Asel Karaulova, says that PR managers should be able to solve completely different tasks, from preparing a press release to organising a large-scale PR event. Stress-resistance, interpersonal skills and the ability to quickly solve tasks are inseparable qualities of PR managers, she believes.
Summarising all this we can make the portrait of an ideal PR specialist — they are extroverts who have wide knowledge and erudition.
The PR market is currently facing acute shortages of qualified specialists. However, in 2004 instead of satisfying the growing demand, the Education and Science Ministry abolished the PR speciality as a discipline. This problem has not yet been solved even though the National PR Association and the Kazakh club of PR professionals, Piarshy, are trying to restore this discipline.
Nevertheless, the Kazakh Economic University’s sociology department, the UIB’s MBA programme, the KIMEP’s journalism department, the International Business Academy and the Kazakh University of International Relations and World Languages offer the basic knowledge of this speciality. The PG Communications and Renaissance PR agencies and the KIMEP education centre offer training courses on PR.
Another way of acquiring skills in the PR sphere is to undergo training in press services or in the PR departments of major companies. Thanks to the high demand for this training, these companies have even started to select hopefuls.
Cash on the Nail!
The salaries of Kazakh PR managers directly depend on their experience and professionalism. Moreover, the workload and the company’s size also play a significant role. A university graduate without experience can hope for $300-$500 a month. Mediumlevel PR specialists (who have experience and skills) earn from $800 to $1,500. The heads of PR departments earn between $2,000 and $3,500. Finally, PR vice-presidents and directors earn up to $6,000 a month. This difference in pay is explained by the “immaturity” of the profession itself — there are very few genuine professionals on the market, who are capable of solving strategic PR tasks, while there are many mediumlevel specialists, who often do technical and routine work.
PR and the Media
There are two “opposing” communities on the media market — journalists and PR people. The problem is that the editorial offices of some media outlets do not want to publish or air information provided by companies for free, even though this information is not obviously commercial. At the same time, both say that in order to fulfil their jobs they need to work with one another. Journalists need their own people in companies to inform them about company news and help them access specialists for comments. For their part, it is very important to PR people to put their information out to the wider public.
Since there is no sense in confrontation in this situation journalists and PR people are trying to compromise. Sulushash Magziyeva says that PR managers realise that placing paid materials is a source of revenue for the media, and that is why they have to pay even for information which is interesting to the public. “When we telephone newspapers and say that we have a really interesting material for publication, the press immediately asks money for it. Why? This news could increase readership and boost circulation, therefore the cost of commercials.”
Another problem specified by PR people is journalists’ unwillingness to establish direct communications with PR services. Ideally, these communications should be two-way, but journalists often ignore these contacts, trying to obtain information directly from company heads. PR people do not agree with this and say that “we are your messengers, couriers and representatives in companies”.
Partly, PR people say, this is linked to the fact that many talented journalists are lured to the PR sphere now, whereas incompetent and unprofessional staff members remain in editorial offices. Although, PR people admit, the market of financial press is growing and competition forces business reporting to improve its professionalism.
While discussing the topic of “paid PR materials” it should be noted that despite the opinion that this phenomenon exists exclusively because of the media’s policies, often companies themselves willingly pay for PR articles. This means that this problem is linked to the imperfection of both the media and the PR market. Asel Karaulova says that when clients ask them to conduct a PR action they have to start with explaining the basic notions: what PR is, how it works and what it is needed for. Usually, not only company heads but also many PR people do not have an understanding of the kind of instrument that PR is. They often understand paid materials in the media as being part of PR.
A reason for this situation is that it is not rare for come-and-go people to work in PR departments who came, for example, from administrative or secretary jobs. Top managers forget while hiring PR specialists that they are hiring an adviser, not an ordinary executor. PR specialists should suggest to their bosses a style and tone for communications with one audience or another.
Kazakh companies often underestimate PR managers’ work. They are treated as “universal soldiers” who can do everything from preparing press releases to finding a restaurant to mark their bosses’ jubilees. As a result, some PR managers artificially create tension in public relations of their companies to overcome it “heroically” later. These, to put it mildly, non-standard measures are caused by the misunderstanding of PR managers’ functions and top management’s unwillingness to delegate powers to them in taking decisions relating to maintaining an organisation’s positive image.
Outsourcing and PR
Domestic companies solve the problem of shortages of internal resources to conduct their PR activities by outsourcing. Although, as it turns out, there are not many professional PR agencies on the Kazakh market (main players are PG Communications, Renaissance, PR Management, and some others), demand for their services is growing. Another advantage is that demand is growing for more complicated PR products, such as drafting PR strategies and building anti-crisis communications.
While choosing a PR agency the main criterion is that its services should range widely, because it is easier to work with one partner rather than five or six outsourcing companies. And this is normal — each of them have their strengths and unique products.
The Piarshy club of PR specialists will mark its fifth anniversary this year. The club aims to develop a professional PR market. To achieve this, it carries out several major projects every year. Firstly, it is a PR forum held in May. Secondly, it is the launching of master classes at the UIB and Kimep universities. Thirdly, it is an annual student competition of PR projects, the winners of which do not have problems with employment after graduation. The latest innovation is PR seasons that are held four times a year. These measures are open for everyone — PR specialists, journalists and other professionals — help them establish business contacts.
PS. The domestic business is actively entering international capital markets and working closely with Western partners. This means that Kazakh companies will have a greater number of business tasks that are hard to solve without PR instruments. This means that the domestic PR market has promising prospects — the main thing is to ensure that the qualitative growth catches up with the quantitative one.
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