Hi to everyone. By way of an introductory guest post, I’ve decided to discuss some nationally-flavored copywriting issues, myself being from and writing in the Ukrainian universe. Hopefully, this post might come useful to those of you who deal or plan to deal with post-Soviet countries.
There’s a major gap between traditional Western, developed-countries copywriting, and stuff, which we face here in the CIS. For one, there’s a profound difference in the mentality of the general public. For over 70 years of the Soviet Union reign, people had no access to product variety, no access to free-form advertising, no notion of marketing creativity – there was just no need. The Soviet Union public never experienced bright advertising, PR and copywriting stars and campaigns.
Then, in one sweeping motion, in 1991 (the death of Soviet Union), it all changed. Essentially, it was as if a whole different planet came crashing down on top of people’s heads here. For many years on, people were (and still are) “re-inventing the wheel” in terms of marketing and PR approaches. Combined with peculiar Slavic mentality, subconscious trust of anything printed in mass media, suppressed creativity and very late Internet penetration (in 1995, an hour of I-net access here in Kyiv cost circa 6 US dollars – impossible for majority of the population at the time – and we’ve only seen wide broadband access just 3 or 4 years ago), this brought on some peculiar differences. A lot of Western business pioneering business life down here made costly mistakes when misjudging marketing approaches to local mentality.
So, here’s a couple of reasons why our local copy is sometimes on different sides of the same universe (and not just geographically):
1. Concise vs. flowery
Modern Western PR copy (releases, articles, presentations etc.) is strongly moving towards clear-cut, concise material – words like “leading”, “innovative”, “best”, “unique”, “breakthrough” are now more and more considered bad taste and cliché. Well, not so in the post-SU world. Here, the readers/consumers still love to see flowery language. They implicitly trust the superlatives, and mistrust products/companies, which aren’t described as the best ones. By way of an example, a “market leader in ___” company could be anywhere within top-15 companies in its sector, and this is considered okay.
2. Numbers vs. text
We live in a different economic world here. Circa 30-45% of the economy operates “in the shadows”. Corporate taxpaying is heavily avoided or minimized. Corporate raiding is still widespread. Now, given those basic conditions, would you be happy stating your real operational and financial data to general public, risking increased interest by both the Tax Administration and “evil” competitors/businesses/government officials? Probably not. That’s why even the trans-nationals here often keep their public numbers to a bare minimum, unless potential advertising benefits from posting those clearly outweigh associated risks.
Business media, of course, drive demand for more factual data rather than fuzzy text, but it’s still a long way off Western standards.
Something that you see as given – putting PR materials out right after respective events or news – is often not a given down here. Excruciatingly detailed reconciliation of materials with the client is more often than not more important than timely info launch. Copywriter colleagues at PR agencies here complain time and again that due to the above, info launches sometimes take place 1-2 weeks after the event/news piece itself. The fact that local blogosphere and “citizen journalism” is only just developing doesn’t help the proceedings, as there’s no competition from “third-parties” on potential info launches. But then, given local Slavic mentality, timing is a “stretchable” notion anyway – missing deadlines here is generally considered a norm. So, companies pushing for perfect timing don’t always win, since public here doesn’t quite put strong value onto timely news.
4. Quality vs. budgets
While a common problem around the world, PR budgeting issues here have been aggravated by the global financial crisis (which emerging markets have been hit by most painfully). Thus, in order to limit costs, press releases here (at least now) can carry quite a number of different news pieces, instead of going by the “single news – single release” rule, preferred in the West. Frequency of releases and articles is of course, much lower. Copywriters are pushed heavily to fit in as much useful info as possible into a single info launch without losing readability and reader interest. Thus, any company deciding to spend more, will easily win the local informational universe.
5. Public vs. private business
Points 3 and 4 lead to one very important difference between the Western and local landscapes. The majority of large top-of-market local B2C businesses with strong brands etc. are private companies with just one or a couple of owners at best. Public companies are a rarity and they mostly concentrate in the B2B sectors (mining & metallurgy, oil & gas, chemicals, etc.). Now, what this means in practice is that those private companies aren’t required to do any info launches or use other PR tools neither by regulatory bodies nor by public shareholders. Anything they launch into the info universe is of their free will, and designed to basically advertise them and their products directly, rather than report good/bad operations to the shareholders and thus control their stock value.
Hence, PR copywriting here is mostly just a form of advertising in the media, rather than a corporate communication tool.
I’ll stop at that for that first post. Special thanks to Ben Locker for devoting some space on the Copywriting Blog for such international copywriting discussions. Should this generate interest, I’d be happy, with Ben’s consent, to expand with some further comparison thoughts in the next post. Any comments are welcome – I’d be happy to answer each and every one!
Inna Imas is a Ukrainian copywriter/journalist/marketing specialist. She used to write for a leading Ukrainian marketing magazine (over 40 full feature articles in her portfolio) and work as a PR/marketing consultant. Right now she works as a PR copywriter at Pleon Talan in Kyiv – a job that feels like a paid hobby. Inna’s happy to communicate and share experiences through Twitter and LinkedIn.