Andrey Barannikov: How PR affects your business – a new role after the pandemic
Article by Andrey Barannikov, CEO of SPN Communications (an independent communication agency), Russia.
In 1990, SPN Communications was founded in St. Petersburg. Since then, it has expanded into 6 main offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar, Almaty, Kyiv and Istanbul. The agency’s main goal is to come up with unique and creative solutions for our clients in the fields of PR, advertising, event-management, digital influence, and analytics.
SPN Communications plays an integral part in developing communication services in Russia, as it has been one of the TOP-5 agencies in the market since 2012 and at the end of 2019, winning numerous awards, e.g., SABRE Awards (20 times), IABC Gold Quill Awards (26 times), IPRA Golden World Awards (14 times).
PANDEMIC: THE BEGINNING
As the lockdown came, the rules of the game that we all were used to have changed dramatically.
During the crisis, many companies had to leave the market. Some have drastically reduced their budgets for various events: this includes not only the cancellation of live events, but also the budget for communication projects, brand promotion, and a range of media services.
The financial status of a company, including its monetary turnover and client portfolio can be estimated through the National rating of communication agencies that is held yearly in Russia. The latest rating consists of only 75 companies. However, they do not all focus mainly on PR activities. Plus, many of the featured companies have yearly revenue of under 6 million rubles, which is comparable to the level of income of one freelancer. SPN Communications was placed in the 5th place of the rating for a reason – our agency is known to almost every brand in Russia because of our working experience and expertise.
Out of the 75 companies listed, even if PR isn’t their main specialization or their revenue isn’t quite big, some discontinued their work and that loss has affected the market.
The spread of Covid has paused the work of the event industry globally. In 2018, the global market was predicted to grow from $1,1 billion to $2,3 billion by the year 2026. Moreover, in 2019 the Moscow segment alone was estimated at 36,1 billion rubles. As the event industry suffered by nearly 70%, all optimistic forecasts had to be revised.
Now, what is the reason that some companies managed to overcome the crisis, while others couldn’t keep up?
The answer is right there – they successfully followed the trends. 2021 dictates new rules for the event industry, the trends are mainly focused on moving forward in the Covid era:
- Everything digital. That is certainly the most visible change not only in the event market but in almost every other field as well. Companies had to find safe measures to organize the workflow and still manage to effectively communicate with the outside world, and the online format was the perfect solution.
Events that we could never imagine without a live audience or a big crew backstage were completely transformed: fashion brands used flying drones instead of models; shows, plays, games were streamed online; B2B events went online as well.
Online platforms offer more possibilities: events can now become much larger: organizers will be able reduce their operating costs and as for visitors, this format will remove any logistical and financial barriers. In 2020, about 70% of event organizers were able to successfully turn their events virtual.
- Expanding the possibilities of online events. That means not only using the standard video format but bringing the ability to customize the “place” that people are staying at by changing the background of the video, customizing different functions, using VR technologies or even holding events in a format of a Minecraft game – something that has never been thought of before.
There is not only an increase in the integration of offline and online, but also, as a result, the removal of the boundaries between real and virtual world. It is important for companies to learn how to competently use the emotions of the audience to personify the event for each guest and partner.
- Hybrid format. It can be predicted that in the future we will be seeing more and more of so-called hybrid-format events, meaning that they will perceive all of the main concepts of offline events, but at the same time bring new audiences and advanced technologies to familiar experiences.
As a company, we were able to quickly respond to all the new obstacles brought by the crisis by transforming all of our work processes online.
In a very short period of time, we were forced to come up with several anti-crisis solutions for our clients so that they could continue communicating with their customers while all the live communication was being shut down. We became leaders in the field of personalized communications for brands, developing Digital PR. We managed to make use of the online format to satisfy all of our clients’ needs and continue to cooperate with them by making a number of events digital. Our annual Baltic Weekend and Proba Awards industry events were held in a hybrid format as well. We were able to install the platforms and everything else in preparation for the forum right after obtaining permission from Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare).
By taking quick actions, completely transforming the work process, and going digital, we demonstrated our willingness to adapt to the challenges of time and to think strategically in order not to lose our clients.
It is impossible to imagine a successful business that does not have an in-house PR team or does not cooperate with an outsourced communication agency. The role of PR in Russia is actively changing – it is becoming more strategically important for companies to have a well-functioning internal department to contribute to effective corporate and GR communications, as well as an overall company’s development. The crisis brought by the global pandemic only strengthens that point. Handling PR communications competently during this time was, and still is a key factor for a company to stay afloat.
"Building effective public relations is about delivering messages that reflect the goals of the organization, and are aimed at increasing profits, but also meet the needs of the audience." - Andrey Barannikov
During the lockdown, it was crucial for businesses to come across as more “human”. So, the message that the company is translating has to be both aimed at gaining profit and answering the audience’s insights.
The role of PR increased dramatically as the solutions that companies were coming up with were critical in relation to whether or not the audience would stay loyal to them. Communications had to target both inner and external issues.
As for external communications targeted at larger audiences, it was important to launch social projects and advertising. E.g., many companies used their resources to help local communities to fight the crisis together, which made their company seem more empathetic and conscious in the eye of potential clients.
Internal communications needed to be targeted at employees, showing that the employers care about their health and wellbeing by satisfying all the accompanying needs.
About the author:
Andrey Barannikov is the CEO of SPN Communications, a head of the organizing committee of the Baltic Weekend International Communications Forum. He is the Deputy Chairman of the organizing committee of the Public Relations award - PROBA Awards. In his 28-year long career, Mr. Barannikov has won numerous awards: IABC Gold Quill Awards, SABRE Awards, Global SABRE Awards, Cannes Corporate TV& Media Awards, IPRA Golden World Awards, Silver Archer. In 2018 for the six time, he entered the Top-100 Russian managers and Top-10 best General Managers in Russia in the field of Professional services.