"No Cheaper nor more Expensive"
MN: Mikhail Borisovich, what is the relationship between society and the development of culture?
M.B. Piotrovsky: I think that culture and cultural establishments are closely connected with society, since our task is to bring all achievements in culture and the arts to the people. That is to say PR is also an essential part of our work. We communicate with society, in particular, using PR consultants and journalists, since it is necessary to show the particular value of our cultural heritage both to the wider public as well as a the small group of people in government.
MN: Are there difficult cultural points where the resources of PR specialists are especially valuable?
M.B.: Yes, I think so. One of these difficult points is explaining what culture is and how it differs from Ĺpopular culture'. This distinction is not overly clear. One person might think that popular culture is part of culture in general, another might consider them to be different. Is the mass media part of culture? And what about television? Is it a part of culture, propaganda or something quite different? The second point is underlining the significance of culture as something more important than economics, politics and the like. We must also show, explain and encourage the understanding of the true significance of culture like economics, as a part of national consciousness.
MN: And what is it that you as a PR "customer" would like to receive?
╠.┴.: More attention on what we would like and what we actually have in mind. Sometimes things occur which are not immediately clear for people, or those who write about us, to understand. We would like people to understand these things better and to evaluate them at a deeper rather than superficial level. Recently in a well-known Moscow newspaper an article was published about the skating rink on Palace Square. There is a phrase: "It would be better to go to the State Hermitage Museum, where tickets are in the meantime cheaper ". That "for the meantime" is typical for the gutter press. So I will take the opportunity to explain myself: at the State Hermitage Museum we do have an entirely social pricing policy, which does give everyone the possibility of visiting the State Hermitage Museum for free for those who need it: pensioners, students, school children. We do this despite of the law: we do not have the right to do so, but we find the means. We endlessly explain that this didn't happen by accident but is a deliberate policy and not a simplistic approach of "here, a bit more expensive - there slightly cheaper". The unwillingness to understand such nuances is insulting since we spend our resources developing such policies. We would like people involved in PR to delve deeper into such things and talk about not only the events but also their intrinsic value, which we create through these events
MN: Is the problem of "Black PR" or libel relevant to your area of work?
M.B.: Yes, extremely. We encountered this when the thefts occurred and a huge amount of material came out about the State Hermitage Museum which was not only negative but clearly distorted the situation, aimed at blackening the museum's reputation, this was "black PR". We had come across it before when information was published with a view to creating a negative image of the museum rather than to talk about the museum. But that was a completely different matter. A general tendency to blackmail and extortion was behind this, trying to force the museum to put part of its collection onto the market... There may be internal or external political goals behind this as well as economic motives. We come across such problems in the cultural sphere very frequently.
╠N: And how do you deal with them?
╠.B.: With the aid of our friends who are journalists and those who understand that cultural institutions are suffering from cultural problems. It is not easy: they, the "whites" using only legal methods, have significantly fewer opportunities than the "blacks", since negative news is always received with greater excitement than positive news.
╠N: Meanwhile, PR professionals, politicians and public figures talk about creating a positive image for Russia. How do you think such an image is created and maintained?
╠.B.: I think that a positive image for our country can be created first and foremost by considering our cultural legacy and how we relate to that legacy. The State Hermitage Museum is one of the greatest cultural symbols of our country, because it is specifically the State Hermitage which is a large, universal museum which displays all cultures which existed in Russia. It is one of those things which makes Russia European. We are a part of European culture, but geographically are not part of Europe - the State Hermitage Museum is the evidence of this. And how the country relates to the State Hermitage Museum and how the museum develops, will be a sign for how they will judge Russia. If the State Hermitage Museum astounds the world with its exhibitions, it means that Russia is strong and that we do have something to be proud of. There are few things which created such a positive image for Russia as Sokurov's film Russian Ark. It had a huge success around the world. I have been at numerous showings and people watch with pleasure the positive historical image of Russia, the Russia they know from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Shostakovich, Mandelshtam, Akhmatova: This is a somber Russia, but it is sincere, a Russia with a high level of culture, a Russia with its own problems but a Russia which in its heart is wonderful. Our art bears out such a Russia, and people really do want to see it.