In an interview for Sostav.ua, the director of PR agency Zeleni Agency, Artem Zeleny, told how the war killed the language of glamour, why business, culture and creative industry will no longer be able to stay out of politics.
— Did the war affect the market of PR services in Ukraine?
— The war definitely affected the creative industry, but we persevered, and this is the main result and success of the year. I could list the projects and tenders that we won in 2022, new PR tools, call ourselves the leader of the PR services market, tell that we are the first, the best and the most creative. But that's not true, and readers will quickly see that it's fake and pretentious. The war increased the demand for honesty and sincerity in communication, and this cannot be ignored. Therefore, to be honest, 2022 was a disaster for the Ukrainian market of advertising and PR services. During the war all companies tried to simply survive. Zeleni Agency succeeded in this, which makes us very happy.
— So PR is needed during war as well?
— Business tries to work in any conditions, but communication with the audience is changing. Brands are looking for the right intonation, trying to advertise products correctly not to offend people. Public relations is a way to show people the broad front of resistance to war. Here, you cannot do without the help of communication specialists. At the same time the tools have completely changed. The advertising husk about the glamorous life no longer works and sounds like bullying. But business can talk about pressing issues and thereby attract people with its honesty and openness. Perfect people and companies are annoying. Those who are not shy about talking about problems gain customer loyalty in return.
— So the ideal picture of the world, which is usually built by advertising, does not work in Ukraine?
— Advertising, even in wartime, will show the world as better than it actually is. The advertised product seems to make our life more convenient even in extreme conditions. PR is more difficult. Here it is important to find the right tone of voice. If it succeeds, media interest and free publications about the product are guaranteed. This year, the Ukrainian people and their creativity helped us find the right tone. Music, rap, memes born during the war became viral and were often used by PR. For example, the dog named Patron, which helps the Armed Forces to search for anti-tank mines, has become a symbol of security. Toys, postcards, T-shirts, hoodies with the image of the dog immediately appeared. What business did not use Patron's image to find a common language with the audience? A similar story with the rooster from Borodyanka. The figurine was found in a destroyed building when the occupiers left the city. The rooster became a symbol of the resilience of the Ukrainian people, and business propagated this story. All these touching situations became part of communication, thanks to which the world discovered Ukraine.
— Did the war affect the requests of your customers?
— The clients themselves have changed. The creative industry is a field that promotes existing businesses. In other words, we serve companies, goods, and services that need advertising, PR, and marketing. Retail has always been a big client of PR companies, but it was one of the first to suffer from the war. Logistics collapsed, warehouses with goods were destroyed. Many female specialists went abroad, and it was they who usually monitored the smooth operation of production chains and the fulfillment of contracts. It took time to renew these processes. It was not time for PR and advertising.
— How did you manage to save the company?
— The war, no matter how paradoxical it sounds, reoriented the market of creative services from the commercial sector to fundraising. First, PR and advertising began to be involved in volunteer projects. Zeleni Agency did not stay away either. Professional creatives raised money faster thanks to unusual ways of communication. This unprecedented collaboration between advertising and volunteers proved to be unexpectedly effective, and this collaborative work continues.
The second direction is cooperation with international funds and non-governmental organizations.
The third direction is work with the public sector. The authorities tried to move away from the official language, saturated with clericalisms, and turned to professional PR for help. But it turned out that the creative industry itself in Ukraine is not always able to speak to the audience in a simple human language. So it turned out that such a tired stamp "in compliance with the president's order" was written by PR staff more often than the officials themselves. It is easier to say: "Zelensky signed the decree. It needs to be fulfilled," was out of the question. At the same time, expressive text and empathetic communication are an important trend of the new year.
— I would believe about state structures and the office, but does business also do with this?
— I would say that business is at the forefront here. I recently received a letter from one of my clients. Literally, it sounded like this: "A courier will be sent to you to pick up the documents." I almost screamed after such a phrase. Entrepreneurs think that this sounds more solid, but in reality, the opposite is true. Write simply and clearly, refuse spam mailings to clients, prepare individual letters for each, express your thoughts consistently, reread what you have written.
I usually suggest that clients write a letter to their grandmother. At first they hesitate, but I patiently explain. It is important to present information in such a way that even your relatives, who are far from the business, understand the point. If they don't understand, then your addressee probably won't understand it either and will send such a letter to the trash can.
We at Zeleni Agency pay a lot of attention to work with the text, be it a press release, a brief or letters. But writing simply, clearly and expressively, as it turned out, is not so easy. Adverbs, complex syntactic constructions come to mind first. If the sentence is broken down into simple sentences, then it is a clear, empathetic text. This one will definitely be remembered by people.
— And in general, the authorities and business have a request for a clear text?
— The authorities definitely have it. Otherwise, how do you explain the national love for Oleksiy Arestovich? He communicates easily, answers questions, does not use clericalism. To be honest, you should give credit to the people in power. They try to speak humanly.
Take at least President Zelenskyi. He has always worked in the field of communication, and it seems that it may be easier for him to communicate with the masses. But he was dealing with the language of satire, and the war forced him to look for new words, emotions, find appropriate intonations, completely switch to the Ukrainian language, and this is a very important trend of wartime. The president succeeded.
Business is more difficult. Companies returning to the market have many fears. Sometimes justified, sometimes not. However, it is worth remembering that templates, correct, arrogant words are annoying. Clear, understandable and truthful text, the ability to call things by their names increases loyalty.
— But how to explain to business that there is no need to be afraid of being weak?
— It's not easy. But it is important to convince that we are all at war, and therefore we need compassion and mercy. Even if you're a cool brand, there's nothing wrong with talking about your difficulties, eventually complaining about broken roads or Russians depriving Ukraine of electricity. Slogans that the company is the best and most successful are perceived as deception. Miscalculations, on the contrary, cause understanding. You can show your best sides, and at the same time do not hide losses, expenses, emotions.
In general, it seems to me that Ukrainian society lacks compassion for itself. Heroism is brought to the fore, which, no doubt, is important. But we should not forget about the colossal stress in which we are all now.
— Do you think that heroism is not always beneficial?
— Heroism is important. Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, doctors, rear-line workers, volunteers, and now also electricians who are restoring energy — they are all making incredible efforts to ensure that Ukraine survives. But we really want heroic images not to overshadow what our victory is forged from. And these are trenches, dirt, stench, blood, death.
Right now, the DTEK company has hung up Kyiv with posters with the image of an electrician working at the facility. But does such an image resonate in the minds of Ukrainians? Perhaps it would be worthwhile to show not an ideal electrician, but a person who restores networks in soot and dirt. Have you ever seen an electrician in an ironed uniform?
Another example. After paying for the goods, self-service checkouts in Kyiv supermarkets issue a bill and say: "Thank you. Glory to Ukraine!". And it is not clear - buyers should always answer: "Glory to the heroes"? Still, there should be a sense of proportion so as not to devalue the meaning of such important words for Ukraine.
Ukrainian women and men - we are really cool. But, pasting another "Good evening, we are from Ukraine" on a T-shirt, can decrease understanding of the tragedy true scale.
— And how many companies are still trying to stay out of politics and pretend that the war does not affect them?
— Ukrainian show business liked to emphasize its apolitical nature. And now stars are performing at Khreshchatyk metro station, and everyone supports the ZSU as one. The war has shown that it is not possible to stay out of politics. Musicians and singers finally understood that detachment from politics will not save them from Russian missiles. Enemy missiles don't care, they destroy everything in their path. Today, the reputation of an artist depends on whether he/she has a civil position.
This rule applies to businesses. If earlier companies preferred to distance themselves from politics, now it is impossible to ignore the war.
Advertising in Russian is moveton. If Ukrainian was perceived as a state language, now it has become part of business ethics. Press releases, briefs, media kits are now only available in Ukrainian.
— How does your company help Ukraine?
— We choose projects related to the support of the Armed Forces, assistance to displaced persons. Employees of Zeleni Agency participate in volunteer projects. We donate to support the Ukrainian army. And all our activities today are connected with humanitarian projects and war.
— What will the PR of 2023 be about?
— I would like to talk about global trends in the creative industry. About the fact that care for the environment, respect for the older generation, and support for the youth will dictate fashion in next year's PR. But the war brought devastation, grief and suffering to Ukraine, and we do not have to talk about global trends. Yes, we will also take care of the environment, but by clearing the country of anti-personnel mines. Yes, we will also think about the elderly: how to find a roof over their heads instead of the one destroyed by Russian missiles. All this pain and suffering will penetrate into communication. Business will continue to participate in charity, creative industry will help volunteers to collect money for the army and/or displaced persons.
At the same time, world interest in Ukraine will grow, and here the creative industry has room to turn around. I think that many Ukrainian advertising and PR companies will enter the international market and win many international awards. Communication will be conducted only in Ukrainian. After all, in many years we will pay tribute to our beautiful, melodious language.
If we talk about the technologies and methods of the PR industry, then I would look in the direction of artificial intelligence. I think that in 2023 more and more content will be visualized with the help of artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence will begin to generate texts as well, but here everything is more complicated. Learning to write clearly, empathetically and simply is not so easy for a person, let alone a machine.