2021 Russia/CIS PR Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke

2021 Russia/CIS Consultancies of the Year

The 2021 EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 200 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the UK, Europe the Middle East and Africa. Analysis of each of the finalists across 20 geographic and specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners were unveiled at the 2021 EMEA SABRE Awards on 9 June.

You can find the 2021 SABRE Awards EMEA winners here.

Winner: Grayling (Huntsworth)

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Grayling owns more offices in Central and Eastern Europe than any other agency group and its operation in Russia and Ukraine goes from strength to strength. From its inception with just three staff members, to now a team of 54, Grayling Russia has almost doubled in size over the past 10 years. Originally specialising in corporate and financial PR, the team now provides a fully integrated offering spanning corporate comms, public affairs & GR, consumer & lifestyle brand PR, events, marketing communications and digital. Grayling’s efforts to strengthen connections between all its offices included elevating Ben Petter, previously head of Central and Eastern Europe, to European COO in 2020, which has already had a dramatic impact on the way the entire business is run. 

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Grayling has 26 wholly-owned offices across Europe, including in Moscow and Kyiv. 

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Grayling Russia achieved 8% revenue growth and 31% operating profit margin in 2020. The team has a particularly strong healthcare offer, working for Roche and AstraZeneca, as well as Mars and Pernod Ricard on the consumer side. And despite the many challenges of the past year, the retention of both clients and staff was successfully secured. Overall, Grayling achieved 4.8% growth in EMEA-wide income in 2020 and maintained a staff network of more than 400 people throughout the pandemic, 

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In 2020, Grayling made its biggest-ever commitment to agency-wide cultural initiatives to ensure that Grayling staff worldwide feel more connected to each other and the business, and that best practice and local understanding is shared seamlessly across markets. Grayling's global D&I policy is localised and tailored to suit each office’s culture and needs. For the Russian team, staff wellbeing and mutual support became the major business objective for 2020. The Moscow office received the highest score (5.74 on a scale of 1-6 vs a European average of 5.43) in Grayling’s employee survey which addressed the culture of the business and whether staff are perceived as friendly and accepting of everyone, regardless of gender, marital status, sexual orientation, age, ethnic origin, religion or disability. In Russia, 90% of Grayling's senior management team is female, so the agency plays a key role in promoting female leadership and educating on gender inequality and the gender pay gap in the communications industry – with Grayling’s own Eugenia Skobeleva one of the co-founders of GWPR (Global Women in PR) in Russia.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Over the past three years Grayling Russia has established a flourishing healthcare practice, and also has its own brands and arts practice, advising international and local brands on how collaborations with art and culture can significantly impact their reputation and brand image. The turbulent Russian landscape means communications for brands can be challenging - the Grayling team continuously develops its creative offering, going beyond client briefs to find new ways to offer culturally meaningful solutions, as well as business results.


Maja Pawinska Sims



Finalists

H+K Strategies (WPP)

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PBN was one of the first western firms to establish a foothold in Russia 29 years ago, building a solid portfolio of business that revolved around market access and public affairs work, primarily for western companies—expanding to Ukraine (24 years) and then Kazakhstan (20 years). Now known as H+K Strategies Russia/CIS, the operation employs 71 people under CEO Maria Kuzkina and has diversified successfully to include consumer, healthcare and technology. 

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Headquartered in Moscow, H+K also runs significant operations in Kiev and Almaty.

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Coming at a time of difficult economic conditions, Covid-19 hit Russia hard, with many businesses declining by 20-30%. H+K weathered the storm without redundancies or departures, with overall diversification (particularly its strong corporate and PA capabilities) and growth in Kazakhstan (+5%) ensuring that the overall sub-region was flat in 2020. More than 40% of revenue is driven by integrated assignments, helping power single-digit revenue growth for five consecutive years. In 2020, there was significant new business from Google, Sanofi, Indian Embassy, Ciklum, Sony Music, Pepsico, AliExpress, and McDonald’s. 

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In common with H+K offices elsewhere, the shift to hybrid working was rapid, supported by psychological and medical consulting, along with cultural initiatives and a typically robust professional development offering. In terms of major arrivals, Pavel Steshin joined to lead government and public affairs in Russia.

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The firm plays a very visible role in industry initiatives across Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, while it has also invested in a new podcast, products to support digital transformation and a partnership with the Russian chapter of the Directors’ Climate Forum. 

Arun Sudhaman

Ketchum Moscow (Omnicom PR Group)

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As one of the few international PR firms that has continued to prosper despite Russia’s geopolitical tensions and sanctions, Ketchum Moscow remains in good shape 11 years after its acquisition by Omnicom and 27 years after it was founded by Michael Maslov as one of the pioneers of the Russian communications industry. A top-five agency in the market, it continues to demonstrate that international ownership need not hamper the agency’s ability to compete with other Russian players. Ketchum Moscow is equally strong in corporate and brand communications, and has strength in sports comms and technology. Since sanctions remain the biggest challenge for large and medium sized international businesses in Russia, the firm has significantly grown its work in public affairs, policy monitoring, reputation management, and government relations. In 2020, the agency also increased its focus on social media, digital, influencer engagement and content development.

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Geographically, Ketchum Moscow has expanded to other countries of the former Soviet Union and now coordinates a regional network in eight CIS markets: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

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The agency has a team of 85 bilingual or trilingual employees based in Moscow; 47% of employees have a tenure of more than three years, which is uncommon for agencies in Russia. Despite the turmoil of Covid, the agency grew by 1.7% in 2020 and ended the year with no Coivid-related redundancies or salary cuts. New work came from international brands such as BASF and Schneider Electric, as well as domestic firms such as Russian online classified ad platform Avito and the Volleyball World Championship 2022 Russia Organising Committee. New clients joined a roster which features Google, Mastercard, Emirates, Booking.com, Kraft Heinz, World Gold Council, Royal Philips, Western Union and Skoda.

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Under the enduring leadership of founder, partner and general director Michael Maslov, the agency aimed to run ‘business as usual’ as much as possible, and to maintain morale and its distinctive agency culture during lockdown. The process of switching to remote working was helped by a revamped IT system the agency had put in place in 2019, obsessive communications with the teams and exploring new formats such as weekly townhalls and fun mailings to employees’ homes. The team was also supported through the pressure of lockdown with coaching on resilience and stress management. Its employee engagement survey found that one of the highest scores was for agreement that leaders demonstrated a commitment to diversity.

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Stand-out work during the year included the ‘School of Life’ project for YouTube Russia to help young people prepare for adulthood and independence, with a week-long educational programme on self-development topics that garnered 2.6 million livestream views. The agency also went into a completely new area with three international projects focused on developing market positioning for Russia’s agro products in China and India, working at the intersection of consumer and market research and analytics, marketing and communications strategy, as well as branding.

Maja Pawinska Sims

One Philosophy (Ukraine/Independent)

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Last year’s Russia/CIS Consultancy of the Year, One Philosophy’s 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 market. The company has since expanded, and now comprises five thriving brands. In addition to lead PR operation The Be-It Agency, there is change consultancy Changers, 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. 

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One Philosophy is headquartered in Ukraine and focuses primarily on that one market, although its senior people have experience working throughout the former CIS markets.

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The pandemic hit Ukraine just as it did every other market, and as a result there was a single-digit decline in fee income at OnePhilosophy—although the firms’ expertise in consulting areas such as leadership, employee engagement and corporate culture were in high demand. There was new business from Energy Efficiency Fund, Wärtsilä, and Boryspil International Airport, while the firm continues to work with market leaders such as McDonald's, MasterCard, Coca-Cola, HMD (Nokia), Sanofi, Philips, UNICEF, The World Bank, Reckitt Benckiser. And with a team of around 75, it remains a market leader.

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With more than 20 years of experience working in Ukraine, the USA and Russia, founder Nataliya Popovych leads the One Philosophy team that includes CEO Yuliia Gumenyak, a Duke University MBA, supported by Kristina Nikolayeva, managing director at Be-it Agency; Natalia Olbert-Sinko, managing partner at Be-it Health & Social Impact; and Inga Vyshnevska, managing director at Solutions for People. A significant addition in 2020 was Luc Chenier, an entrepreneur and former CEO who joined Be-it Agency's team as a creative director.

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Be-it worked with Mastercard to help Ukrainians develop useful financial habits, and with McDonalds to inspire an eco-friendly mindset, while working to build people-friendly brands and support the reputations of clients such as Avon, Coca Cola, and more. The Health & Social Impact business continued its multi-year program “Mental Health for Ukraine” to combat the stigma of people with mental disorders and was also involved in campaigns to prevent and treat Covid-19. Solutions for People helped the McDonald's team reexamine the company's values, and revised the customer's journey map for the Energy Efficiency Fund. And One Philosophy itself, together with the Ukrainian Institute, conducted a study of 20th century history as portrayed in the European media, with the aim of informing the future direction of Ukrainian cultural diplomacy.

Paul Holmes

Pro-Vision (Russia/Independent)

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Ending 2020 on a high note, despite Covid, is a testament to the enduring strength of Pro-Vision which, having been founded in 1998, is one of Russia’s oldest communications firms. Founded by Vladimir Vinogradov, who now serves as president, Pro-Vision has a long history of staying ahead of the market. Last year, that included taking Pro-Vision deeper into Russia, growing its regional hub in Novosibirsk to serve new regions within Russia and CIS countries. Working with an impressive number of international clients (Lego, Nestlé, and History Channel among them), Pro-Vision continued to push clients’ stories across borders in 2020 regardless of travel restrictions, executing campaigns in Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine without leaving Russia. After years of building out its social media and influencer capabilities, Pro-Vision in 2020 repositioned itself as a digital leader. 

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Pro-Vision is based in Moscow and has a regional hub in Novosibirsk.

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Pro-Vision saw fee income rise to US$5.6 million 2020, a roughly 7% year-over-year lift. The agency’s 75-person staff supported new clients Pirelli, Parker, VTB6. Gazprombank and Extreme Sport, as well key partners Lego, Nestlé, History Channel, Nivea, EU Delegation to Russia and Coral Travel. Pro-Vision also pushed its geography and offerings in 2020, which included expanding its reach into far regions of Russia. After years of growing its social and digital practice, Pro-Vision ended 2020 with a curated base of 50,000 influencers and bloggers available to work.

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After 27 years in the industry, founder and president Vladimir Vinogradov is a champion of Pro-Vision and its people, as well as the industry. He was among the first five Russians to be accredited by the IABC and is on the board of AKOS (ICCO Russia). After four years with the firm, Kristina Bagiyan last year was promoted to head of business development last year. Natalya Semenikhina, a five-year veteran of the firm, was named head of digital. Pro-Vision promotes diversity. 80% of Pro-Vision’s senior leaders are women. 15% of its staff come from countries outside Russia, a relatively high percentage in the market. And, in an industry that values youth, Pro-Vision makes a concerted effort to hire older individuals who bring valuable experience and expertise. 

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With an eye on the future, Pro-Vision has invested in growing its digital capabilities, making the firm one of Russia’s leaders in the area. Pro-Vision has custom curated a base of 50,000 influencers and created a methodology for working with them. The agency last year also rolled out its own automated system for media analysis, What’s on Media. The year’s top work included integrated campaign for Nestle during Covid, which was geared toward turning Russian parents onto the company’s Healthier Kids offerings, which include online educational activities. BBC research showing Nivea is just as effective as premium skincare brands prompted an influencer campaign that led to 70 posts that reached more than 6 million people.

Diana Marszalek