Communication Support of European Union Activities in Russia
Since 1991, the European Community has been supporting political and economic transformations in Russia. At the root of the system of assistance based on the Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS), lies the combination of EU experience in the sphere of market economy and democracy with Russian specific character. Over the past twenty years, the European Union has been financing the work of advisers, European experts and investing heavily into mutual efforts aimed at developing federal and local legislation, support of various organizations, as well as into major investment projects.
However, despite benevolent intentions and significant financing (just over the period from 1994 to 2006 under the TACIS line the Russian side received more than 3.7 billion euros for the implementation of 1,500 projects in 58 regions) the program was declared inefficient. The analysis, which was performed by EU institutions, identified a number of factors that prevent the projects from achieving “tangible result”. This resulted in the program closure and significant redesigning of the system of assistance (which, of course, continued to be rendered, but based on different principles), and moreover, in the enhancement of communication aspect significance within the framework of this system.
The Delegation of the European Union to Russia (until 2009 — European Commission Representation in Russia), which combines the diplomatic function with the role of coordinator of issue and control over grant implementation, was assigned a function of informational support of EU activities in Russia not only in the sphere of political, economic and cultural cooperation (diplomatic missions of many major partners of Russia function similarly), but also through informational support of EU funded projects in Russia.
- Raising awareness of the European Union, its activities on the territory of Russia;
- Strengthening of positive evaluation of the effect delivered by the projects funded by the European Union in Russia;
- Increased presence of the EU position on the topical issues of political and economic relations between Russia and the European Union.
- Creation of high-quality communication channels and platforms for expert and mainstream audience in order to communicate information and receive feedback;
- Strengthening loyal relations with journalists and opinion leaders of the expert community;
- Expansion of a number of information sources independent from the EU that speak highly of the EU role in Russia;
- Drawing of attention to EU activities which are positive for our society, through the system of public events that demonstrate a variety of positive aspects of European cooperation for Russia.
Tactics, creative solutions
The key approach to conduct all business events of the program was represented by the principle of discussing the issues of concern from both sides. It is obvious that within the Russian information space in respect of any issue of Russia-Europe cooperation the opinion of Russia prevails. By analogy, within the framework of the events organized by the EU, all Russian participants expected “brain washing” — the predominance of European standpoint, which, however, was not the case. Programs of all conferences, discussion of all issues in the created mass media and etc. has always been based on the principles of equal presence of varied opinions of all interested process participants. The representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other Russian state bodies have always been invited to join the “round tables”, the scientists of the Russian institutions and research centers — the expert panels, state mass media journalists — the media seminars, and etc.
Such approach dramatically enhanced the level of trust in everything said and done by employees of the EU Delegation, as well as by independent participants of the events supporting the “European standpoint”.
All events and information holders were planned in such a way as to ensure the maximum personal contact between the target audiences and information holders. Despite extremely limited financing a large number of press events were held “on the spot” — in the areas of cross-border cooperation (from Russian and European sides of the border, in Saint Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Vilnius, Tallinn etc.), allowing to attract “local” participants of the processes under discussion, and enabling the guests to ascertain the correctness of any given opinions.
Despite the importance of all target audiences, the key project focus was put on the youth outreach, primarily students. According to many Russian studies it is the students who favor Europe and commit themselves to it. Interest in education and employment in the EU countries was one of effective drivers of students’ involvement in the EU projects, and afterwards the youth spread information and the EU standpoint to other target audiences.
It should be noted that the department of press and information, which performs the functions of press-service, exists and actively functions in the Delegation, its employees took an active part in the implementation of communication projects, however, simultaneously they were completing current tasks concerning the coverage of activities of the European Union institutions and officials, pursuant to the diplomatic protocol requirements.
Implementation of the project was carried out for several years from 2007 to 2012 and actually consisted of many different projects carried out both individually by the agency, and in consortia, as well as by other communications agencies and academic organizations — it is necessary to mention these projects since this will help to build a holistic picture of the entire project.
In accordance with the objectives the practical activities for the project implementation can be divided into several focus areas.
- Development of the EU information resources in Russia and working with expert community
- Reorganization and updating of the official website of the Delegation of the European Union to Russia
- Publishing of monthly newsletter “EU and Russia: News Review”
- Publishing of vEStnik information and analytical magazine
- Reorganization and update of the specialized projects website eu-visibility.ru
- Launch of regular radio show “Mayaki Evropy” (Beacons of Europe)
- Launch of Euro Pulse infotainment portal
- Working with EU funded project teams
As noted above, one of the key ideas behind the EU communication program in Russia was the expansion of the range of independent information sources about the EU activities, as well as the focus not on statements, political negotiations and etc., but on particular projects and actions implemented for the benefit of the citizens of our country. With this in mind, the important task of the Delegation was to encourage organizations and teams performing various projects under the EU-funded grants to communicate more actively with their target audiences, clearly identifying themselves as the project implemented at the EU expense, and emphasizing the role of European partners in solving significant problems for the Russian society.
However, the practical implementation of this idea faced major problems, caused not so much by unwillingness of the project teams to talk about the role of the EU in their work (such “desire” was supported by obligations documented in the grant agreements), but rather by the inability to perform communication activity as a whole.
Work with project teams, which could be both large organizations and teams consisting of one or two enthusiasts, was carried out in several directions:
- Development of regulation for communication support of the EU funded projects in Russia. This regulation was developed to clarify the targets and the necessity of PR support to the representatives of the EU-funded projects. Special consideration was given to the standards of visual project design: the proper use of the symbols of the EU, Russia and the project itself during websites development, preparation of booklets, posters and any internal and external materials.
- Holding of working meetings and media trainings for the projects’ representatives. 4 times a year 1-2 daytime group seminars were held for the projects representatives responsible for communications.
- Communication consulting of the projects’ representatives. In addition to group consulting, to promptly solve a set of evolving problems and issues, the agency’s employees provided individual project recommendations, from the badge layout to the full-scale PR strategy. Over the two years of operation this center rendered consulting services in various forms to more that 700 grant receiving projects.
- Mass Media Relations
Essential specifics of Mass Media relations in this project was, first of all, the general background of Russia-EU relations media coverage, which has changed multiple times over the course of work on the project following the changes and details of political environment. Secondly, the agency has never had a mandate for direct informative communication with journalists (diplomatic mission, operating not through its own official press service is quite rare) and has never had actual possibilities to conduct full-scale media communications.
At the same time, the possibility to “open” many doors with EU “name”, as well as to exercise diplomatic leverages, for example, to arrange press tours abroad, was a significant advantage.
The combination of all those factors determined the specific methods of mass media relations carried out in the course of the project implementation:
- Media monitoring and content-analysis of publications
- Conducting of media trainings for the employees of the Delegation of the European Union to Russia and work groups of the funded projects
- Seminars and informal events for the journalists
- Competition for journalists and bloggers
- Creation of the open image bank of EU Delegation and implemented EU-funded projects, which rendered substantial assistance to journalists and editors in the preparation of materials.
- Conducting of public and educational events
In addition to working with journalists, state bodies and expert communities, the EU assigns high priority to public events and other forms of interaction with mass audiences.
- Support of the EU student programs (Erasmus Mundus and Tempus) and “Euroschool” training cycle throughout Russia.
- Conducting of Days of Europe Festival in Russian cities.
Days of Europe Intercultural Festivals conducted several times a year in various Russian cities may be considered unique in terms of promoting the image of European Union and forming public loyalty. This grand event unites the residents of Russia and European countries by virtue of communication with the help of universal language of painting, cinema, photography, dance, gastronomy and many other spheres of modern life. Over 2-3 days of the festival, the guests take a wonderful journey across European countries, they can familiarize themselves with the most current trends of the European culture development without leaving their hometown.
Over the time of holding Days of Europe Festival in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kaluga, Arkhangelsk, Rostov-on-Don, Perm, Kazan and other cities, the Agency has developed a set of solutions that interconnected the events of the Days and the possibilities of the cities where they are held:
- Development of concept for conducting and organizing the official protocol events (official festivals opening ceremonies and gala concerts with the participation of the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Russia and local authorities, etc.);
- Performance of major work to engage partners in supporting conducted events under limited budgets, including universities, public organizations and etc.;
- Organization and holding of public debates and “round tables” with the participation of specially invited European and Russian experts;
- Organization of media support for all festival events, development of mass media communication strategy, organization of events for mass media;
- Organization of information and promotional campaign for the purpose of the maximum coverage of the festival and involving residents of the cities to participate in the events by way of drawing for tickets at the most top-rated local radio stations, promotional campaigns conducted in the central streets of the cities and in the universities, social media competitions and etc.;
- Creating of the festival identity, as well as development and production of all promotional and handout materials: TV and radio commercials, banners, event posters, flyers etc.;
- Development of design and structure of “Days of Europe” website in different cities;
- Organization and incorporation into the “Days…” program and support of annual film festivals, gastronomic festivals, exhibitions and etc. aimed at involving the youth in the festival;
- Conducting of lotteries on the knowledge of major facts about the European Union, establishment of European language schools, video clubs, computer games and body-art areas, as well as other various competitions.
The result of the agency’s work on coverage and drawing attention to the relationship between Russia and EU, as well as on supporting projects implemented by the Delegation of the European Union to Russia was multiple traffic growth of the official website of the Delegation of the European Union to Russia and the official websites for projects submission — up to 2,000 monthly unique visitors.
Awareness-raising seminars and “round tables” on mutual relations between Russia and EU organized by the agency for federal and local journalists was attended by more than 300 journalists from different Russian regions.
More than 150 projects’s representatives visited specialized seminars and media trainings on mass media relations. Over 700 projects funded by the Delegation of the European Union to Russia after obtaining personal consultations on the informational support consequently moved to the whole new level in presenting their projects to the public and mass media.
Launch of vEStnik information and analytical magazine and newsletter “EU and Russia: News Review” enabled to attract more than 5,000 regular subscribers from among the industry experts.
Annual Days of Europe Festivals conducted by the agency, became landmark events for the residents of the city. For example, in 2011 in Rostov-on-Don more than 60,000 people were directly involved in the festival events, 95 journalists visited the festival, and the aggregate information coverage exceeded 400,000 people. In Kazan more than 7,500 people participated in the festival, 85 journalists attended it, and over 200 publications in the local and federal mass media were dedicated not only to individual events, but also to the specified problems and areas of cooperation between EU and Russia.
More than 900,000 people were informed following the results of the festivals’ advertising and promotional campaigns. More than 20 partners rendering financial and other support to the conducted event were engaged in each of the cities hosting Days of Europe Festival. The representatives of the European Union, members of the European Commission and the Government of Russia, representatives of federal and local authorities, employees of major public organizations, representatives of Russian business, educational establishments and many others were among the high-ranking guests who took part in the events.
The success of the festivals and communication program in general created positive background for Russia-EU summits, as well as for future EU initiatives in Russia.