Katerina Tsetsura:



Katerina Tsetsura:

“Learn by doing and learn by thinking”

Regional Post’s interview with one of the leading experts in Public Relations, Dr. Katerina Tsetsura, who was one of the key-speakers of the 4th Annual PR Summit Armenia

Interview : Areg Davtyan


Katerina Tsetsura, Ph.D. is Gaylord Family Professor of Public Relations and Strategic Communication and the Director of Graduate Studies at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma in the USA. She is the author of two books, over seventy peer-reviewed publications and more than one hundred conference proceedings and papers. Currently, Dr. Tsetsura is the Vice-Chair of the Public Relations Division of the International Communication Association (ICA), and a member of the Global Commission on Public Relations Education.
From 19th to 21st May 2017 Dr. Tsetsura was sharing her valuable insights in Yerevan within the frames of the 4th Annual PR Summit Armenia.
Initiated and organised by Deem Communications, the 4th Annual PR Summit Armenia is the premier platform for PR and communications professionals to explore best practices and trends of Public Relations worldwide, network with top PR practitioners from leading local and international agencies, bring input and add value to the ever changing communications landscape. The theme for the upcoming professional event is Trends and Convergence of Communication in Armenia and worldwide.
The three-day event featured an array of hands-on sessions, workshops and discussions, as well as B2B case presentations enabling individuals, non-for-profits and businesses to be successful and grow by connecting with their audiences and staying relevant. This year the 4th Annual PR Summit Armenia brings together seasoned experts from the US, Europe, Russia, and Lebanon and over one hundred keen professionals from Armenia.
Regional Post had the opportunity to interview Dr. Tsetsura ahead of this major event.

Today’s technological age has changed business life in almost every aspect. How does this affect the field of public relations?

— Absolutely! Progress brings many changes to all aspects of our life, and the field of public relations is no exception. Today, our world is shrinking thanks to the compression of time and space: someone in one very remote corner of the world has access to the latest news or announcements made in another part of the world almost instantaneously, on the fingertips, at one stroke on a mobile device or keyboard. That means public relations practitioners have to always be alert to what is happening around the world. That is why issue monitoring and social listening are so important in today’s public relations practice. But listening and understanding how conversations affect stakeholders’ perceptions and expectations about the organizations is only the beginning – companies must also be ready to respond to challenges in the shortest amount of time and, most importantly, be proactive in anticipating which issues require attention.
Some basic rules of public relations, however, never change: trust and transparency are as important as ever. Honesty, desire and ability to listen, to change as expectations and values of society and the public at large change, have always been, are and always will be central to any successful public relations practices. In the end, organizations exist only as long as the people allow them to exist and prosper. And this long-term effects of public relations efforts should be in focus of all CEOs and leaders.

What about media: what are the biggest challenges that journalists face all over the world today?

— Our research shows that one of the major challenges that the media face worldwide is a decline of trust among publics and media consumers. A lack of transparency in the process how news gets into the media and past experiences of paying or providing favors for news coverage to support certain goals have drastically changed the landscape of the news media. Increasingly, people in many countries are suspicious of the newsfeeds as they learn that some companies try to compromise the integrity of journalism by buying news coverage or providing services and products in exchange for news coverage. This is also true for political parties in some countries. I have been leading research on media transparency for over a decade. We found that non-transparent bribery practices for paying or influencing news coverage created the environment in which today’s media are scrutinized. When in the past, news stories have appeared as a result of payment or advertising influence (because advertising departments put pressure on editorial news staff in terms of which news to cover), today we see more and more direct influence in form of native advertising and content marketing. As long as these new forms of information sharing are not clearly identified and separated from the journalistic, news content, we will continue experiencing issues of distrust.
Today in many countries around the world (even in countries with traditionally strong journalism industry, such as the US) people are very sceptical of news stories. But many companies have a false sense of comfort when they claim that their readers know and can separate what is news and what is paid information. Some argue that today’s media consumers are less concerned about who paid for news rather than how useful the news is to their lives and well-being. But research showed that regular readers and viewers are not able to effectively distinguish between paid and nonpaid media content – or at least, do not pay attention to the fact that some articles can be marked with the lines, such as “Advertising” or “Paid Message.” Once they discover, however, that the message has been paid, their trust in that media channel declines. As long as journalists continue to contribute to this confusion and blurred lines between what is paid and what is not, the expectation that the media can provide true and reliable information will continue to decline. We as a society no longer trust the information and will look for alternative channels to receive news. That is why it is imperative for modern media organizations and journalists to resist pressures of publishing content in the news media when it is not clearly marked as such: these media companies are creating more troubles for themselves by ruining the trust their consumers place in them and in their media channels today.

In your research papers you often explore the role of women in public relations. How does it differ from what men do? Is there no equality yet in PR?

— Women in public relations have come a long way in achieving their successes in the field. However, we are still far from equality. Of course, depending on the country, you will see different levels of women’s involvement in public relations. Almost in every country around the world, the number of women is higher than the number of men who work in public relations with exception, perhaps, of political campaigning and communication. However, even in the countries where women are a majority of public relations workforce, men still occupy many leadership and managerial positions. In some countries, the field is positioned as a woman’s job – which also creates additional stigma for the profession. My research shows that it is important for us as PR professionals to emphasize that both men and women contribute to the field and thus both should be present in all aspects of public relations practice.

As an educator, what is the first thing you tell your students? On what should they focus when studying PR?

— One of the first things I tell my students is to learn by doing and learn by thinking. My goal as an educator is to help students to discover the beauty and value of knowledge in everyday professional practices. I demonstrate the importance of cutting-edge research and theory development in strategic communication and public relations by engaging students in meaningful practical exercises and activities and create real-life opportunities for students to work hard and to see the results of their work.
As part of my learning by doing approach, students are exposed to the latest theories, practices, and trends in public relations and work with actual small, medium, and large-size organizations in the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia to solve communication challenges. My students complete and present research and strategic communication plans and projects to the top management of global and local organizations.
Learning by thinking encompasses a comprehensive understanding of the rapidly changing global environment and must challenge students to become intellectual leaders within their professional and societal communities. A university graduate should not only master his or her area of study, but also must be an intellectual who is willing and ready to share knowledge with others. In my classes, I ask questions that encourage students to think deeply about topics and to explore alternative viewpoints that challenge their current views and that may confront students’ own professional and personal values. I dare students to think unconventionally and responsibly about their chosen profession and about the place and role of public relations in contemporary global society. When I bring my global research and my professional experience and expertise to the classroom, I spark students’ interest in the world beyond Oklahoma.

You also specialize in media transparency. Do you think the world of media has achieved significant results in that field?

— We already discussed some of our research in media transparency. Our research and its dissemination showed real results in the last few years. For example, research on media transparency in Poland, which we conducted together with the Polish practitioners’ association, allowed PR professionals in the country to revise and adopt a new code of ethics and create a more robust approach to identifying the qualified PR players in the market, especially for foreign companies. My media transparency research also got a great traction in Finland, one of the most transparent countries in the world, where today’s media are struggling with issues of native advertising and trust. My Finnish colleague and I just completed a research project to help media companies in Finland to develop a transparency framework for disclosing content marketing and native advertising. Currently, we are working on another research project in Finland, called Opening the Black Box of Content Marketing, to discover the nature of consumers’ expectations toward content marketing and media messages.