PR in Russia: Can you learn Russian PR techniques?

Before the year 2000, the discipline “public relations” was unheard of at Russian universities. Today, more than 100 higher education institutions of the country offer courses in PR theory. Can you learn PR, or is it a talent? Managers of major PR agencies, departments and press services of Russia gave an answer to this question. Professionals at the highest level gave advice on how best to start a career in PR and the education that you should receive, and they told us* how they became successful in their profession.

The PR sector in Russia has been developing for almost 20 years and we know that today’s managers certainly did not study public relations at university. There are not many people that believe in the quality of modern “professional” education.

“I interviewed a girl from the Advertising Institute, who right from the beginning told me that she had been taught the ‘concepts of naming positioning’. Another boy told me at great length about the serious and respected science of eventology,” says Elena Pastukhova from LifeStyle Communications commenting on amusing episodes from her personal experience.

“Students do not have profound knowledge and do not have a clear grasp of the discipline because their teachers are people who have read ten imported books and been told in all faith that this is all there is to PR education in Russia,” continues Dmitry Gusev from Bakster Group.

Despite the number of negative opinions, there are also people who hold the opposite point of view. On the whole, they are people who have been lucky with students and trainees or those directors who in the past and/or present have participated in the difficult task of nurturing potential PR specialists in universities or at professional forums as lecturers. They even have a special list of universities with graduates who are not only robots with commonplace facts in their heads, but also young specialists. The leaders include the most prestigious universities of the country: the Higher School of Economics State University, the Moscow State Institute for International Relations and Moscow State University.

In regard to education, the first and second groups share the same opinion: for a future PR specialist, the most important things are basic knowledge of humanities, attending training sessions and lectures based on the analysis of real cases, and of course, practice. It would also be a good idea to find an experienced mentor.

PR Business Consultant Marina Gorkina compares PR education to driving lessons: “the most important thing is to be fortunate with theory teachers. And you also need to have good driving instructors, i.e. practice under the guidance of experienced specialists. This, however, is only 20% of success,” says Marina, “The remaining 80% comes from constant independent practice in various conditions (rain, snow, traffic jams, other drivers etc.) and increasing your level of driver training. Of course, certain natural talents for driving may help you to become a better driver.”

It is estimated that approximately 35% of specialists came in to PR with a journalist education and many of them did this for financial reasons. Second place in the rating of university courses among today’s directors goes to psychology. And after that, the whole range, from lawyers to historians and from sociologists to philosophers and even technology students and traditional economists. Some PR leaders tell absolutely fantastic stories about rising to professional heights.

The General Director of Dukhovnoe Nasledie PR agency, Anton Vuyma, planned to become a musician, but in order to avoid army service he had to finish his studies as a candidate of cultural sciences. Now, on top of everything else, he gives lectures and admits that it is “the strictest PR school, when the teachers themselves study even harder than the students.”

Aleksey Sitnikov, CEO of ICCG had a completely different, but no less fascinating career path: “I practice yoga, self-training and hypnosis. Quite by chance I came across a publication by the founders of NLP. I wrote a letter to one of them, John Grinder, and he invited me and another two of my colleagues to visit him in California. That’s how I became his pupil. Shortly after I returned from America, IMAGE Contact was set up.”

But can you learn PR or is it not worth trying this business segment if you do not have the talent? The opinions of the higher tier of the profession are divided on this point. It was clear that many people understand this word in different ways. It we assume that a talent is something you do well, then, as rightly pointed out by Elena Fadeeva, General Director of the PR agency Fleishman-Hillard Vanguard “If you are not a die-hard fan of what you do, then you may simply and rather quickly grow cold towards the profession or ‘burn out’.”

Not many people agree with the words talent or calling in the sense of “duty” or “destiny”. “Our profession is like a good whisky or brandy. The longer you mature it, the richer your knowledge and value will be. Connections, experience and employment history all help a career. In two years, you will understand how much you have grown and in five years you will understand how naïve you have been, because growth in our profession is infinite,” says Anatoly Nikolaevich Sautin, Project Media. “God works in mysterious ways, which may bring anybody into PR,” concludes Anton Vuyma with optimism.


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).