Liisu Lass: Food for public relations thought in the wake of Kallas scandal

Liisu Lass.
Liisu Lass. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Head of TV news at ERR Liisu Lass writes how this week's Kaja Kallas scandal could serve as a textbook example of what not to do if you are a public relations manager.

I have said once before that the scandal that we have seen unfurl over the last couple of days would make a good study aid for PR specialists. While I will not launch into a detailed analysis of every aspect, I will try to construe what the ordinary person in Estonia has or has not seen in the last three days.

Last Friday, August 18, ERR sent Arvo Hallik, one of the owners of Stark Logistics, its CFO and supervisory board member, a series of questions to learn what and how much the company was hauling to Russia. The company's website still listed a contact for Russia-bound transports at the time. The reply came on Wednesday, this week, and not from Arvo Hallik, but the firm's executive manager Kristjan Kraag.

Leaving aside the weekend (which was spent celebrating Estonia's Day of Restoration of Independence), the company had over three working days in which to respond. The PM also had five and a half days to realize the press was taking an interest in her husband's business. Those working in PR can try and guess whether the information even reached Kallas or stirred someone on her team.

On Wednesday, people tuning in to the evening "Aktuaalne kaamera" news could see the PM, wearing sunglasses and visibly irritated by the press' questioning, fail to realize why she should comment on her husband's business activity in Russia and how come the journalist in turn failed to realize she is the prime minister...

None of the businessmen involved agreed to appear on camera.

The next day, people could once again see the prime minister bristling when answering journalists' questions during the government press conference. Kallas' husband and his business partners refused once more to appear on camera, instead trying to blend in with the wall when being filmed through the glass. The press never received comments from Arvo Hallik, with replies instead sent in by Stark Logistics executive manager Kristjan Kraag and later majority shareholder Martti Lemendik.

On Friday, people could see AK anchor Margus Saar read out a written statement by the prime minister where she said she had no plans to resign. The people of Estonia did not see or hear from Arvo Hallik, for whom the PM has effectively served as his public relations manager, and who is really at the center of the scandal. Hallik said on the day that he has decided to sell his shares in Stark Logistics.

Long story short, the premier and her team had a full week in which to come up with things to say and do in this situation. Not once have I seen those involved tell the Estonian people into the camera, "I am sorry and I apologize." In a crisis such as this, written statements and changing your story every day just isn't convincing!

Kaja Kallas is a foreign media darling largely because of her support for Ukraine, and she gladly communicates with journalists from various countries. It is a shame that in a situation which directly concerns Ukraine and Estonia's credibility abroad, the prime minister cannot find the time to look the people of Estonia in the eye and give an explanation!

The comment was originally published on Liisu Lass' Facebook page.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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