How do you become the director of a PR Agency in Russia? It’s easy!

148 interviews. 74 women and exactly the same number of men. Agency directors, press service managers and heads of PR departments in iconic companies talk about how to reach the top in PR. 3 years and 400 000 characters later we* have pieced together the responses and created a picture illustrating real-life experience of the creative and practical people that manage external and internal communications.

In any business (and PR is no exception) there are two paths that lead to the position of General Director. The first is as a result of promotion and the second is by founding a company yourself.

It is no surprise that the freedom-loving Russian creative class took a fancy to the second option. More than half of PR managers created their agencies through their own efforts or hand in hand with co-founding partners. However, today’s directors provide completely different answers to the question “How did you create your own PR agency?”
Some say that it “happened spontaneously”, others open a communications company branching off from a former marketing department and others decide to head the PR-tier based on successful experience from journalism.

The classic way of becoming a PR director is to work through two or three companies, gain a foothold on one or more “communications” ladders and gather all your courage to bring together a group of like-minded individuals and start your business.

“To come in off the street and open up seems like nonsense, even though in our country nothing surprises us anymore. It is more logical to either be working in this sector already or to have a talent for it,” says the head of the PR group Komanda Bogatyreva, Igor Bogatyrev.

The directors of the first advertising and PR agencies in Russia have their own rather interesting story. The majority of managers with twenty years experience in corporate communications began their professional career in political consulting. “We had almost no experience, we had to learn absolutely everything on our own and very quickly: time was pressing,” reminisces Aleksey Semenov aleksey_s LJ user, publisher of the magazine Natsionalny Imidzh (Korporativnaya Imidzhelogiya) [National Image (Corporate Imageology)]. For some of them, the incentive to start their own business back then came from books read by chance. For example, classics of the genre such as Sam Black’s What is Public Relations?, or what became the student’s “Bible”, Marketing Management, by Philip Kotler.

Oddly enough, a good fifty percent of today’s PR leaders began their own PR business when they were young. “23 is exactly the right age when you should start a company and seriously begin something new,” says Aleksey Berlov, a partner of PREMO Public Relations Agency и Partyzanka Event Agency.

It is another matter that not everybody admits that taking risks under the age of 30 is scary. But that is what many people did. Scenarios such as “borrowed money from friends and began working partners. There were no other people close by who could be used to rise up the ladder” are not uncommon amongst communications managers.

And what about those who made it to a managerial position due to promotion? There are far fewer of these people – in the Russian PR field it is commonly believed that promotion from the bottom to the top is either impossible or pointless.

This is what masters of the PR community say: “PR does not have the kind of career ladder that you have in the civil service, for instance. PR managers in different agencies, whilst formally occupying the same positions, may have to resolve completely different issues. This happens everywhere,” explains Oleg Poletaev pontipilatus LJ user, Client Manager of the agency R.I.M Porter Novelli, now transferred to SPN Ogilvy.

Nevertheless, there are individuals amongst PR agency directors who have gone through difficulties to reach the stars. Conscientiously fulfilling their managers’ orders, they gradually take over their positions. Some people see this as a certain charm. For example, the PR business consultant and curator of the Marina Gorkina PR School, Marina Gorkina says “It was the need for a constant challenge that enabled me, over a number of years working in the corporate market, to move from being a departmental head to a PR director.”

What is more interesting is that starting from scratch or making your way up the career ladder is a question of philosophy. Despite this, most Russian PR leaders admit that creating your own business and getting it to work was far more interesting than choosing the alternative route.

“Founding an agency and becoming a managing partner is a great deal more difficult than being appointed a CEO. In the first case, you are the chief risk taker and the entire responsibility for the business lies with you,” says Nikolai Studenikin, General Director of PROtect Consulting Group and Vice President of IABC/Russia. In any case however, it is “more interesting to do your own thing because this means realising your own ideas and visions of what things need to be done and how they need to be done in order to make the world a better place,” says Yana Arshinova, General Director of the PR agency Feld Public Relations.

On the other hand, nobody can argue with the fact that moving through all the levels in an organisation is useful: you get a better understanding of its structure and work system. In the future, it will be much easier to manage a company that you already know like the back of your hand. Furthermore, being hired as a manager is more interesting as you get a great deal more free time and have far fewer psychological worries.

The managers of Russian PR agencies agree on one thing (they do not work on their “home” territory for nothing): the best thing is if you approach the idea of running your own business not only with a good knowledge of the sector, but also with passion. Any movement is interesting if the landscape changes beyond the window, new and pleasant companions are met along the way and new objectives are formed.


Text prepared by Maria Kosobokova and Roman Maslennikov

More than 100 interviews with heads of leading PR agencies in Russia are always available at the following website address in Russian - http://pr-maslennikov.livejournal.com/111516.html

* A joint project by Exprimo translation agency (www.ex-primo.com) and PROSTOR: PR & Consulting PR agency (www.msk-pr.ru).