Russia’s international PR problems are well-documented, particularly its reputation as an investment destination. One of the key banks charged with changing this is VTB Capital, whose Russia Calling investment forum has become one of the main gateways for investing in Russia and the CIS region.

VTB Capital’s member of the board and global head of communications and marketing is Olga Podoinitsyna, who recently penned an op-ed for the Holmes Report on how Russia is reshaping its financial communications. With investment levels in the country rising, she sat down with the Holmes Report at VTB Capital’s London office to discuss how the bank’s ‘soft power’ approach is changing perceptions of Russia.

Russia’s reputation as an investment destination has some problems. How do you deal with the issues this causes for VTB Capital’s own reputation?"

The most difficult thing, four and a half years ago when we started, was to present the new brand and confirm that a newly-developed Russian company could speak the same language as the international financial community. Because it’s operating to the same standards as the developed market. The situation in the markets is difficult and competition is quite strong. And we should use our soft power tools, to strengthen brand positioning and to achieve our goals and targets.

What are these ‘soft power tools’ that you are using?

One example is the Russia Calling investment forum, which is typical for an investment business. These have worked. Why? We targeted the exact investors and companies to attend the forum, and all of the invited companies took part and attended one-to-one meetings, which is the most important part of an investment forum.

After this first forum, the results were impressive. Since that time, we have held several, in London, Moscow and New York. These soft power tools enable direct dialogue of Russian companies with international investors and direct access to the decision makers in Russia, who provide information to the investors firsthand. It is one of the most important resources to influence investor decisions. The most recent event in October showed increasing investor interest in the event and, at the same time, in the development of the Russian economy and Russian investment opportunities.

We start from the point that Russia is part of the EU market but is in the global investment community. During our forum in October, it was confirmed by both parties (including President Putin) that, in comparison with European markets, the situation in Russia is quite sustainable.

How do you want VTB to be perceived?

I want them to think it is a Russian company with well-developed, efficient, international business, opening opportunities for international investors to new markets.

Do you think that you achieved that positioning?

I do. Because we keep our top three position in key international ratings. For example, we are number one in bond market for Eastern Europe. That is proof of the expertise, and of the promotion as well. This year, for the first time in investment banking, a Russian company is top 20 as M&A advisor (according to Dealogic).

Do you use agencies to understand stakeholder expectations or or do you handle this internally?

We have in-house services doing it, but we are open to using external agencies when we are doing big projects. In UK, US, MENA and Asia, it is very much important to have support of local experts, to create the most clear messages for the regional community.

What do you look for in an agency and what do they need to understand about how VTB works?

It is the same as for any business, we are looking for high-level expertise and efficiency. Our team is in the international market for many years. We can create strategy and campaigns but if we would like to speak one language with the regions, we need high-expertise from communications agencies.

Do you think agencies are able to do that for you? Do you see enough expertise out there?

You probably know how difficiult it is to find an agency which can work with a professional team (like ours). It is possible. Each time, it is a matter of very careful and detailed negotiation and relationship-building, before you sign off the contract. In most cases, the best period of cooperation with an agency is complete before you sign the contract. Sorry about this, but there are not a lot of high-level of professionals in the market. There has to be real teamwork

Comms is quite a tough business, and when we speak about the agency market, it is well-developed, but it needs more development and a further focus on clients.

Are there any perceptions of Russia or VTB, that are troubling or need to be addressed?

New markets have quite a complicated range of issues, which need further development to achieve the position of a well-developed market. For the communications, we always try to stress, within our comms projects or our messages, that we already are at international standards. But the country may still need to create more confidence among the international community and investors. For these we need further administration, infrastructure and communications development at a government level. That’s why the investment forum is so important, because it covers both business and government-level understanding of Russia and its investment climate opportunities.