Since its launch in 2000, the Baltic PR Weekend has grown into the largest public relations conference in Eastern Europe. In the wake of this year’s event, we spoke with founder Andrey Barannikov, CEO of SPN Communications, who recently became the first Russian public relation expert having entered the ICCO Hall of Fame. We talked with him about Baltic PR Weekend, and the continued development of the PR industry in Russia.

The Holmes Report: When did you launch ‘Baltic Weekend’ and why? Who was it aimed at? And what were the issues you were looking to address?

Andrey Barannikov: The idea to create The Baltic Weekend came to me in the year 2000. Back in those days the industry we have today, as well as the discussion platform, simply did not exist. All the work was done intuitively, and Russian clients were immature. We decided to create a platform, where PR specialists, representing both clients and PR agencies, could gather. The first Baltic Weekend was a big success and attracted a great interest. So we decided to establish it as a good tradition. Since then, the industry has taken a great leap forward in terms of how communication is organized.

THR: Over the years since the launch of the Baltic Weekend, how many people have attended the events? And what do you think has the impact on the market been?

AB: The Baltic Weekend gathers more than 500 communication experts every year. This year we have broken the record yet again: 570 participants from 14 different countries registered for the forum. To maintain the standard, every year we are searching for new faces, new cases and new trends in the industry. Our speakers are not only representatives of the foreign and Russian businesses, but also authorities. Such wide range of opinions allows us to consider the problems in the PR industry from different sides, solve them thoroughly and find common ground.

THR: In that time, how has the PR market in your region changed? What’s different now in terms of size, sophisticationand professionalism?

AB: The Russian market is progressing fast. In these conditions we, as the market operators, should respond to the various changes in good time and make the right strategic decisions — especially if it has something to do with the ‘fake news,’ which you have to be able to deal with.

But in general, Russian businesses are keeping pace with other big international companies. For example, it’s not only IBM, but Yandex as well, who use artificial intelligence in their marketing. The first documentary series for the smartphones 1968 DIGITAL, was made by a Russian team of Mikhail Zygar and Karen Shainyan from the studio History of the Future in collaboration with the famous producer Timur Bekmambetov. The project was launched in Russia, the USA and France in April 2018 and has already been watched by 15 million people around the world. It is clear that communications develop rapidly in Russia and the level of the specialists’ professionalism is growing with them.  

THR: In some ways, the Russian market seems to be somewhat isolated from the west, and from markets like the US and the UK, developing at its own pace and with its own rules. Is that an accurate perception? How has that helped or hurt the development of PR in Russia?

AB: No, that is not true. Our industry is always open and interacts with other markets a lot. For example, SPN Communications, as well as many other big Russian agencies, regularly takes part in international competitions where we present projects and win prestigious awards. Over the years, we have cooperated with many international organizations and profile associations. Today our first and foremost partners are ICCO and PROI Worldwide.

Besides, for a long time SPN Communications was a part of a global network Ogilvy PR, representing their interests in Russia and Ukraine. In 2014 we left the chain by mutual agreement and stopped being their affiliate. That year we entered the global chain of PR agencies PROI Worldwide, whose interests we now represent in Russia and Kazakhstan.

THR: What is the talent situation like in Russia? Are you seeing good young people coming through and seeking careers in PR? Is there a shortage of senior counselling talent?

AB: Most of the young people who come to us for training or to take part in different projects can be taught and “brought up”. Basically, they are the senior undergraduate or graduate students from public relations programs. My generation of experts does not have a specialized education because PR simply wasn’t taught in Russia back then, whereas today almost every university in the country has such program.

To have a diploma and know a foreign language is undoubtedly a great advantage, but that is not enough. The sooner the students start any activity outside of the university — take part in competitions and conferences, launch different projects — the better their chances of attracting employers’ attention. Speaking about mature employees, there is no staff deficit there. The market is rather small and competition is very high. But there are very few actually talented PR specialists.

THR: Where are you seeing growth in the market right now? What practice areas or industry sectors are “hot”?

AB: The most popular specialties right now are integrated communications, digital and event-management. Content plays a decisive role today. The thing is, many functions, for which agencies were previously responsible, have moved to the in-house sector. Clients are not interested in ordinary event management anymore, they can do it themselves. They need creative content and high-quality consulting instead. So they ask agencies for help. If an agency can do it, it will be in demand. That is why we plan to turn SPN Communications into an efficient content factory.

THR: What is your outlook on the PR market in Russia in general? Are you optimistic about the future?

AB: I am very optimistic about the future of our industry. The most important thing is to create high-quality, bright and conceptual projects. This is true for agencies as well as for the in-house sector. Each participant should bring benefits for the business and should not be afraid of bold decisions.