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It was a year on innovation and creativity for Russian firm CROS, which built on its success as our 2019 Russia/CIS Consultancy of the Year with a major award-winning (and SABRE nominated) campaign for the Gulag History Museum: Survivors, a series of graphic novels based on the true stories of former Gulag prisoners. The firm also developed its own research tool, the National Index of Anxieties, taking a fresh approach to public opinion and sentiment monitoring.
CROS is one Russia’s longest-standing communications firms, founded in 1995 by Sergey Zverev, whose career includes notable work including co-founding NTV, the television channel, and serving as one of the architects of the post-Soviet 500 Days economic reform program. Zverev has leveraged his deep-seated experience and wherewithal navigating the Russian business environment to build the CROS group of companies, each with expertise in a particular sector—CROS, CROS Marketing, CrosDigital and APR—all of which also work in sync, collaborating and sharing expertise that breed results.
Revenues declined slightly in 2019, but the firm still ended the year with fee income of more than $10 million and a team of more than 130. Clients include Citibank, CSKA Danone, KIA, Novartis, Pfizer, Gedeon Richter, Hasbro, KFC, Nornickel and more.—PH
Ketchum Moscow (Omnicom PR Group)
One of the few international PR firms that has continued to prosper despite Russia’s geopolitical tensions and sanctions, Ketchum Moscow remains in strong shape 11 years after its acquisition by Omnicom. Despite difficult market conditions, and faced with the challenge of replacing World Cup 2018 budgets, the firm has maintained a 3% level of growth over the past three years, with headcount up to 95 across a regional network of eight markets — under the leadership of general director, partner and founder Michael Maslov.
Ketchum continues to demonstrate that international ownership need not hamper the agency’s ability to compete with other Russian players. In 2019 the firm specifically stepped up its new business activity, with a focus on diversifying its portfolio — helping drive growth in influencer marketing, government relations and change/internal comms. New clients included World Gold Council, Kraft Heinz, Brainly.com, Zoetis, Magnit, Bi-Zone and Honeywell, joining the client roster that already features Google, Mastercard, UFC, Emirates, Hyatt International, Booking.com, Royal Philips, Signify, Whirlpool, Boeing, Western Union and Skoda.
Ketchum’s evolution has not necessarily been easy, but the firm has invested in numerous training initiatives and products/services (including a major influencer survey) to support the new business drive. For example, the firm tested out new creative concepts for Sveza’s corporate, product and HR brands — helping to deliver 34 new business wins and underpinning Ketchum’s expansion into influencer relations, public affairs, content production and visual storytelling for a client roster that spans corporate, product, technology, automotive and sports.
Unsurprisingly, the work bears out Ketchum’s evolution, demonstrated by campaigns for Google (a free learning platform entrepreneurs, and educational work for YouTube); and Oppo (raising awareness among regional consumers). — AS
Mikhailov & Partners (Russia/Independent)
Founded in 1993 as one of Russia’s first PR firms, Mikhailov & Partners now stands as the highest-ranked of the country’s PR agencies in our Global Top 250, after growing 9% in 2019 to $19m in fee income. Mikhailov is best known for its corporate communications prowess, supported by specific capabilities in international and digital PR and a new sports marketing firm called A&A Sports. It employs 192 people under the leadership of president Marianna Maksimovskaya, managing partner Aleksey Ryabinkin and deputy CEO Ellen Pinchuk.
In 2019 new business included KPMG, Abbyy, S7 Airlines, Nissan, MVideo and Stockmann, who joined an existing client roster that features Inter Rao, Rostech, Rosatom, Kaspersky Lab, Huawei, Alrosa, Castrol and Sibur. On the thought leadership front, the firm’s analytics unit launched a project that measures the national mood and attitudes, helping to attract new clients. — AS
One Philosophy Group (Ukraine/Independent)
2018’s Consultancy of the Year in Russia/CIS, One Philosophy has continued to grow both in size (it now boasts a team of more than 100 in its Kiev headquarters) and in stature — founder Natalya Popovych is a thought leader in the PR business regionally, as well as a prominent ambassador-activist for Ukraine internationally and co-founder of Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
The Be-it Agency, One Philosophy’s legacy company, severed ties with Russia’s PRP Group—Weber Shandwick’s longtime affiliate in the region—in 2014, after the start of the Ukrainian revolution, quickly establishing itself as a leader in the Ukrainian market. The company has since expanded, and now comprises five thriving brands. In addition to Be-It, which grew 18% in 2019, there is change consultancy Changers (+33%), creative shop Solutions for People, public affairs firm Republic and Be-It Health & Social Impact — which together form a network of multidisciplinary and highly entrepreneurial agencies united by the idea that fostering—and rallying stakeholders around—a shared purpose is key to driving success.
Indeed, almost 30% of the group’s 2019 business involved helping clients strengthen their leadership cultures, an offering that is only like to prove meaningful in the crucible of 2020, as is the 20% of revenue that now comes from international projects. The firm works for a host of multinational clients, including Mastercard, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Avon, UNICEF, Philips, HMD Nokia, and Sanofi, with key additions in 2019 such as Glovo, Dobrobut, Ministry of Economy of Ukraine, The World Bank, Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, Ukrainian Institute, Reckitt Benckiser and GFA Consulting.
President Natalya Popovych, a 20-year veteran of the agency business who also heads a One Philosophy outpost in Copenhagen, was joined in 2018 by CEO Yulia Gumenia, who brings 12 years of industry experience to the role. The firm also added Inga Vyshnevska as managing director of Solutions for People and has stepped up its change management focus through the expertise of Changers founding partner Oksana Semenyuk and former PBN MD Oksana Monastyrska.
In 2019, the firm showcased considerable investment in training and thought leadership, including its own annual event focused on global business insights, featuring high-profile speakers from across Ukraine’s political spectrum and one on employer leadership. The firm’s activist bent was further represented by a ‘quiet protest installation’ at its office on one of Kiev’s busiest pedestrian streets, which aimed to promote civility and respect for people. As for the firm’s work, its OneBlade campaign for Philips secured as SABRE nomination, and there were also notable efforts for the Ukranian Cultural Foundation, McDonald’s and Leaders for Health.—AS
PBN H+K Strategies (WPP)
PBN was one of the first western firms to establish a foothold in Russia 28 years ago, building a solid portfolio of business that revolved around market access and public affairs work, primarily for western companies—expanding to Ukraine (it celebrated its 21st anniversary IN 2018) and then Kazakhstan (20 years). But the firm has diversified its business considerably in the past five years, emphasizing its “trusted advisor” status and its ability to generate “big ideas,” with 30% of local revenues generated by integrated assignments.
Maria Kuzkina, a 16-year veteran of the firm, took over as CEO in September, taking the reins following the five-year tenure of Myron Wasylyk, who diversified the firm and built up consumer, healthcare and technology practices. In addition, Yuriy Prykhodko, who joined the firm in 2016, was promoted to managing director of the Ukraine operation. They preside over a team of 71 consultants working on 75 clients, the majority of them won and grown locally.
The firm has averaged close to 10% growth over the past four years, building up a client portfolio that includes names such as Activision, Avon, Barilla, Citi, GSK, Gilead, Huawei, IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, Lego, Lexus, Ritz-Carlton, Salym Petroleum, Sanofi, and Yandex. The firm’s work earned two SABRE Awards nominations: the first for the “Steps to Longevity” campaign for J&J; the second for IKEA’s “Sleep Better” initiative. The firm also handled a broad sustainability communications campaign for the Swedish retailer, helped to establish battery recycling infrastructure for Duracell, and established a press office for Facebook, and handled executive positioning for Alibaba Group in Russia.—PH
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