MOSCOW — A new survey of corporate communications directors and agency leaders in Russia has found that many are facing significant cuts in budgets, retainers and clients as a result of the pandemic.

Buman Media has carried out annual research into the shape of the communications market in Russia since 2014. This year, surveying 100 comms leaders from across sectors including FMCG, IT, retail, finance and industry in partnership with Russian online recruitment platform, it focused on how things have changed during Covid-19.

Of the PR agencies who responded to the survey (undertaken from April 30 to May 25), 34% reported budget cuts by clients and 37% had lost clients altogether. In addition, 11% of clients have frozen their retainers, and another 11% have reduced them.

As a result, 16% of agencies have had to impose salary cuts and 5% said they had made employees redundant so far.

However, agencies are also responding to the challenges by innovating: 33% say they have started developing new offers, and 25% have added new services as a result of the pandemic.

Natalia Buchelnikova, CEO of Buman Media, said: "The PR specialist’s goal remains the same: to be able to adapt as quickly as possible. This is the only way to stay on top. It also applies to agencies that suffered the most, but were able to leave the comfort zone, launching new services and increasing the value of existing ones. At the same time, we do not see any strategic changes – social media and online media are still the headliners.”

There has been similar upheaval in-house, with a third of respondents saying their internal structures have changed; those working in smaller companies of less than 50 employees reported the most instability. The majority (61%) of in-house respondents said they had revised their PR strategy.

Irina Gushchina, KFC’s PR director for Russia, CIS, Central and Eastern Europe said: “No one knows how the situation will develop even in the next couple of months, let alone the end of the year and beyond. This is the first time we are in the situation where long-term planning is not possible, and it inevitably affects our strategies. But it is not clear yet how to adapt them to the new reality. Transformation is inevitable, even if it is not yet clear to everyone."

In terms of the skills that are now most required, 70% said crisis communications was the most important, compared with just 15% last year. An ability to get on the top of the news agenda was cited by 60% of respondents, and social media skills were mentioned by 55%.

Tools and channel selection has been the biggest priority for Russian practitioners (61%), followed by creating clear, engaging content (52%), crisis communications management (47%) and messaging and tone of content to reflect the current situation (31%).

Regarding the most effective communication channels during this time, respondents gave the top places to social media (76%) and online media (56%), followed by opinion leaders and bloggers (40%). A new tool named this year, in the absence of physical events, is webinars, named by 35% of respondents as one of the most effective channels.

Olga Mets, PR and marketing director at said: "The whole situation with the pandemic has had a very serious impact on PR and marketing communications: most companies have had to adjust their communications, key messages and projects, taking into account the new reality. It’s no surprise that this stress test brought forth such skills as anti-crisis, situational and digital communications.

“This spring we saw cases of how successful PR and communications can be in broadcasting the well-being of companies and entire industries, as well as in creativity and implementation of initiatives to support those who have suffered most from the pandemic. Ppenness to collaborate and partnerships have played a key role in communications during the crisis: the market has probably never seen so many great joint projects in PR and marketing.”

Mets confirmed the pandemic had had a negative impact on the Russian PR job market, with the number of vacancies in April and May decreasing by 41% compared to last year, while 15% more CVs were submitted to the recruitment agency.