Not Finding Enough Good PR to Go Around

Russian companies have reached the phase of development where their image has become an important ingredient for their prosperity. Companies desperately need PR specialists, but suddenly, there are almost none to be had.

Not Enough to Go Round

Demand for PR specialists is growing on average by about 17.6 percent a month, according to ANKOR recruitment-company data. And their earnings have risen by 17.7 percent since the end of 1999.

The abrupt surge in demand began in mid-2000 when the market started picking up after the 1998 crisis, said Mikhail Bogdanov, general director of the BLM Konsort recruitment company.

"Our major clients are ready to pay big money for PR specialists," said Svetlana Golovatyuk, head of the media industry recruitment department with the Agentstva Kontrakt firm. "But they want the most qualified people."

The most widespread requirement is no less than three years experience in PR and independent project work. Ideally, all this experience should be with foreign companies. There are only about 300 specialists meeting such criteria in Moscow today, Golovatyuk said. Of them, only 50 would be prepared to consider recruiters' offers, and only 10 might satisfy the requirements of a particular client. Ultimately, only three might agree to actually come in for an interview. In other words, demand outstrips supply by a long stretch.

"In my opinion, Russian PR agencies must cultivate their own personnel, take on young assistants, let them prove themselves over the next six months, then select the best and fire the rest," Golovatyuk said.

A recruiter's work is complicated by the absence of a unified management structure within PR agencies. Each director sets things up as it suits him or her. It can be particularly difficult to match the specialist with the job, Golovatyuk said.

"The only clear assessment criteria for a specialist is that he or she has specific experience working on particular projects," she said.

The Specialists

The requirements of specialists in PR agencies and in other companies are quite different. While PR personnel from agencies must know how to earn money, their corporate brethren should know how to spend it.

The requirements of corporate PR specialists can be varied.

"In my experience, there are two types of PR people Ч namely those with experience working in media, and so-called 'lobbyists,' or those who know how to work with the authorities or the public," Bogdanov said.

Of the media specialists, there are no more than 100 or 200 in Moscow, and there are only about a dozen lobbyists who have experience working in foreign companies, he said.

A manager for the corporate relations and PR department at the Sun Interbrew company must have the following skills, for example: fluent English, solid knowledge of the company's market sector, a solid understanding of political and economic processes in Russia, six years' management experience in a federal or regional body or the mass media, successful implementation of several PR projects, an ability to manage a group and strong team skills.

PR work in a company like Sun Interbrew is conducted along several lines simultaneously: work with the media, the authorities, charity work, sponsorship programs as well as internal PR. A PR specialist at Sun Interbrew must combine the ability of a lobbyist and a media PR worker.

"You can find lobbyists and media specialists, but it is very hard to find people answering both profiles," said Mikhail Bogdanov at BLM Konsort.

The Education Issue

Due to the lack of ready PR professionals, people often come to the profession with experience that can be translated into PR activities; these include journalists, those with marketing experience and others. The main issue is that the person answers the specific PR requirements.

This is, first, knowledge of a foreign language. Second, they should be communicative. Third, they should know how to process large quantities of information, and extract and present the most important and salient details. Fourth, they should know how to write. And finally, they must have the right education.

"Currently, experience is being gathered in the area of PR education, including, shall we say, contradictory experience," said Sergei Belenkov, general secretary of the Russian PR Association.

Juliana Slascheva, a partner with the Mikhailov and Partners PR agency, said Russian PR education has two serious drawbacks Ч inconsistency and a dearth of teachers with experience in the field.

So a candidate with a specialized education has no particular advantage when applying for work.

"I have never seen a person chosen with a special PR education from some institute or other. Normally journalistic, linguistic or other humanities qualifications look more solid," said Natalya Kukalets from ANKOR.

Setting a Price

Based on associated data received from recruitment agencies, companies and PR agencies, the cost of a PR specialist can vary between $300 and several thousand dollars per month.

In the $300 to $600 bracket, an employer will get a young specialist, fresh out of university or with minimum experience of work and basic skills.

For $600 to $1,000, specialists can be hired with one year's experience and with all the basic skills.

At $1,000 to $1,500 specialists are capable of managing projects on their own. They would have work experience of between one to three years with a PR agency or a company where public relations is a sufficiently key aspect of the organization's activities.

And $1,500 to $3,000 gets a specialist with over three years' experience who can independently and successfully manage projects, and who has worked with a foreign company.

Slascheva from Mikhailov and Partners said she was once offered a position in a big firm with a salary of $100,000 per year, the salary bracket for directors of public relations companies or vice presidents of corporate relations.