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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Campaign Tips, Flown in From Kansas

ST. PETERSBURG -- "Did you get up this morning and look at yourself in the mirror?" asks a confident young American to an expectant audience of 18 impeccably dressed Russian women.


The answer comes as a series of giggles.


"You should start talking to the mirror, start practicing, start getting your media lists together as soon as possible, because that is really important."


This is not to say that the women are not taking their instructions on how to run a successful election campaign seriously. Some of them are running as candidates for the new City Duma in local elections due to be held March 20.


The "political trainers" at work are from Women of the World, a Kansas-based organization founded by Lynn Hinkle, a public relations and advertising pro. The group says it aims "to provide the tools and training for women to become involved in emerging democracies."


Women of the World was founded in 1993 after a cultural exchange between the Leningrad region and the state of Kansas.


"What about legal and illegal methods?" one woman asks during a detailed session on fund-raising. The trainer, Patricia Davies, is surprised when the translator relays the question, but soon recovers her professional composure to explain that in the United States there are very strict guidelines on what goes and what does not.


From the back of the room at the International Institute of Women and Management on Nevsky Prospekt, Hinkle adds that in her country those who do not play by the rules go to jail.


"Campaign techniques are very culture-based," comments Alan Holiman, an academic also from Kansas who is studying local government reform in St. Petersburg. "Some advice given by my compatriots here is excellent if you work in Kansas City, but in St. Petersburg it is a little off the mark."


Another woman attending the session spoke up. "What if you ask someone for their vote and they tell you they are going to vote for Zhirinovsky. Should you just walk away, or try to persuade them to change their minds?"


"Don't waste you time on people who you know aren't going to vote for you," comes the answer, loud and clear.


The session was held on the last day of a three-day program that covered topics such as how to develop press relations, presenting yourself to the camera, developing an effective message and using sound bites, as well as the practical aspects of organizing a campaign.


Elena Tikhonova, a teacher and president of a local movement called Women for Survival, which campaigns for better child care, says she liked what she heard.


"If you take part in a social movement, it is important to know how to structure it," Tikhonova said. "It is also important to find leaders who can create an organization because without that you cannot solve any problems, especially political ones."


One woman used to running her own show, Lyubov Ogneva, had very clear ideas about how to package her message on Russia's needs. As general director of a factory that produces men's clothes, she has made sure her business survives the critical transition to a market economy.


"We now have almost 40,000 people officially registered as unemployed in St. Petersburg, 80 percent of whom are women," Ogneva said. "Therefore, at our factory we have created new jobs. We have hired a lot of young people and we have also created a proper training program."


She is standing as a candidate in the elections, defending the rights of entrepreneurs.


However, the women of Russia's second city are not the only ones to receive special attention. WOW, as Women of the World are also known, will be working with women candidates for the Ukrainian elections. They have also been invited to Kazakhstan and Bulgaria.


When asked about the difficulties of applying techniques learned in the United States to developing countries, Hinkle has no qualms. "As women we have a common bond," she says, "whether or not we share a common language, common social experiences or common government experiences."