“Ukrainian voices must be heard”: how PR Army keeps events in Ukraine in the spotlight with materials reaching millions of views

PR Army is an association of Ukrainian PR professionals whose goal is to prevent the world from forgetting about the war in Ukraine. They help Ukrainians to be heard in the Western media. The project co-founder, Julia Petryk, shares thoughts about the changes in their work over the year and outlines the areas requiring special attention. She also addresses the particularities of working with foreign media and explains how monitoring helps to reach goals.

On changes and refining processes

We came together as a volunteer organization on February 24, within hours of the outbreak of the full-scale invasion. Our work at the beginning of the russian invasion was quite chaotic as we lacked customized processes, tools, and structure. However, in a year, we have significantly grown and matured: we held strategic sessions, adjusted and organized the work processes, and hired a team, as it is tough to work as volunteers for a long time.

We have devised a coherent scheme. Besides looking for Ukrainian witnesses, experts, and heroes for stories at the request of foreign journalists, we also regularly send pitch digests to international media. We hold ongoing discussions of potential topics for pitches in the context of the events in Ukraine that may interest the global community. We then send them to the collected media databases and suggest experts or eyewitnesses for comments. In a week, we form a digest of about ten pitches on different topics we are working with at the time. It is most in demand among fixers who suggest relevant themes to their journalists. However, the media also follow our newsletters as a source of new ideas. On top of it all, we also pitch expert columns on current issues. They are eagerly published by foreign media that want to show the Ukrainian position on specific processes.

Overall, our work has become systemic in all respects. It is especially noticeable in particular initiatives, such as, for example, Where Are Our People, which covers both media work and advocacy in international institutions. It is necessary to keep focus and constantly work to ensure that officials and the international community talk about the illegal deportation of Ukrainians.

Specifics of working with foreign media

Speed is of utmost importance. Sometimes requests have a relevance period of minutes. Events happening in real time do not allow for hesitancy. There is a need for comments here and now. We have channels in Slack where a person starts working on a request without delay. In this way, the PR Army demonstrates its reliability, efficiency, and professionalism. For example, when a rocket hit a residential building in Dnipro, we had to find witnesses who spoke English fluently. If there are none, we inform you that translators are needed. Sometimes we are the ones who do the translations, and sometimes we look for volunteers.

The Western market is counting on promptness from Ukraine.

We may help Ukrainian state institutions because of our database of professional experts who comment on certain events. Moreover, all our witnesses and experts must have an appropriate position and understanding of what is happening.

Time zones play an important role. There are many particular subtleties: for example, you should not send letters to the USA when it is late at night there. PR Army configures mailings using the Ukrainian Reply.io service, so the journalist receives materials during business hours.

Julia Petryk, PR Army co-founder

On war fatigue

At the beginning of the summer, we did analytics, and we could already see the drop in interest in the war. Naturally, people get used to it. However, the decrease in the number of inquiries from journalists may indicate either fatigue from the war or, on the other hand, the existence of the already established contacts with Ukraine.

The emergence of a selective approach is noticeable: some topics cease to be interesting. If earlier, journalists wrote about different topics because all the news was hot and relevant. However, now we must plan our pitches more carefully. Journalists often need eyewitnesses to major events. However, it is not only about victims or direct witnesses but also about ordinary locals affected by the war - educators, farmers, etc. 

The bottom line is that we are working to ensure that Ukraine does not cease to be included in the global news agenda. Ukrainian voices must be heard. We always look for stories and ways to beat the world's information drives. Take the Olympic Games. To remind about the war in Ukraine in the context of this event, we are looking for the stories of our athletes who are serving and those who, unfortunately, died.

On monitoring and analytics

We saw the need to measure results very soon, as a lot was being done, but it was too chaotic and exhausting. Therefore, in the first months, we teamed up with LOOQME and quickly established cooperation.

We find handy the following possibilities:

— monitoring the release of publications published with the help of the PR Army;

— monitoring of social media and reposts from one media to another;

— measurement of engagement of publications in the media;

— media monitoring for appropriate or, on the contrary, harmful messages.

Reach and topics in media from February 24, 2022, to March 20, 2023

Key metrics to track

First, we pay attention to reach and geography. It is crucial, as the narratives that spread in the partner countries determine the course of further events. We can track the impact of these narratives. It is equally important that they are correct in those regions where Ukraine does not have significant support, for example, in Africa and Bulgaria where there is powerful Russian propaganda. We need to see if our messages reach them at all.

The breakdown by media is another important indicator. You can see our leading efforts in digital media but not on television and the distribution of the topics we work on — some gaining more attention and others resonating less with the public.

Working with disinformation

PR Army has recently presented the Voices of Freedom platform, which connects journalists with verified speakers and experts. It provides access to correct information from verified sources. The platform’s fundamental goal is the fight against Russian misinformation, countering manipulation and fakes.

It may not be easy to notice manipulation immediately, but it can significantly affect perception. For example, the commonly used "Ukrainian crisis" wording is inherently false. It is necessary to use the correct terminology and name the aggressor. There are people on our team who work with various services to track propaganda narratives. We get reports on certain narratives, their reception, and dissemination. For example, the messages spreading in Germany say that Ukraine should not be given tanks.

Naturally, we use media monitoring to track PR Army's performance, as well as the topics and geography of publications. Thanks to LOOQME, we can see the effectiveness of communication and the overall context.

Geography and potential reach of publications from February 24, 2023, to March 20, 2023

I have configured notifications in the Telegram bot with mentions by topic. Whenever there is a publication in the global media about, say, deportation, I can immediately see it and understand how trendy this topic is, how exactly it is being talked about, what words are being used, and which international media are writing about it. Besides the subject, the choice of words is what also matters. For example, it is wrong to call deportation "evacuation" as the aggressor does. There are many such nuances.

Cases with the highest reach

There are recent successful cases, such as the publication about Ukrainian women in science for The Independent. Also, it is the article with a comment by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Oleh Nikolenko on Russia's actions in the UN Security Council for Express.

Additionally, Mark Savchuk (one of the co-founders — editor) regularly appears on Canadian television and comments on the events in Ukraine in the context of their strategic consequences. He potentially engages 800K viewers on CTV (not LOOQME data)

But for me, the two most important cases of the PR Army are those that helped to free people from captivity. We cannot claim that this happened precisely because of the PR Army’s efforts, but our materials helped raise awareness in the Western media, after which people were released. I keep saying that if we could save two lives through media coverage, we did not create the PR Army in vain. Our main goal is the victory of Ukraine, and small victories give us a reason to carry on.

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