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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

American-Style Politicking Comes to Russia

"Forget the substance, it's the style that counts", is the credo of Alexei Blinnikov, 25, who runs Moscow's ADA advertising agency which offers its services to candidates wishing to hold a seat in the lower house of Russia's new parliament.


His one-line advertisement on the cover of a major newspaper said it all: "If you want to have a seat in the State Duma - we can help you".


Doing work which is completely new to him, Blinnikov says that he has learned everything he needs to know by watching American videos of presidential campaigns.


"What matters is how well you get on with kids and pets", said the general director of the agency. "Most Russians can't tell the difference between all the political parties, so it's the individual who matters".


Blinnikov's ideas of Western campaigning, like portraying candidates as caring people who hug babies are not new. But whether his ideas can become reality in the short time span left before voters cast their ballots is unlikely.


With fewer than six weeks left, his agency has still not started campaigning although he says two major parties have applied for his services. Unable to take up both offers, Blinnikov is still waiting to see who the highest bidder will be.


Although Blinnikov would not reveal the names of the candidates who have asked for his services, he did say that there is definitely a need for his company's help.


"One candidate walked into our office and said he wanted to be elected to the Duma", said the former radio engineer. "When we asked which ticket he was planning to run on, he said that it was up to us to decide such questions".


Dmitry Petrov, who studied organizational development and nonprofit lobbying at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has set up a business as well. Together with seven other employees, Petrov offers image-building and strategic planning of campaigns.


"Politicians never cared about their image in the Soviet Union", said Petrov, whose group has no name. "Many politicians still don't understand how important it is. Often we just tell candidates what to tell the electorate and what to keep to themselves".


So far, the group is working with two candidates in the autonomous republics and with one party in Moscow. Refusing to say how much the group charges for its consulting, Petrov added that it "was considerably less than in the United States".


ADA, however appears to be one of the few agencies which is taking full advantage of the new void in the market. Most Russian companies who were asked if they were doing any similar work, reacted with bewilderment, saying that the idea had never even crossed their minds.


Operating out of an apartment in northern Moscow with 30 employees, ADA offers everything from drumming up volunteers to distribute buttons to writing scripts for commercials.


The company, which previously only specialized in advertising and publishing, said it has three clients who are vying for a seat in the State Duma and it is currently considering whether to go into business with Sergei Shakhrai's Party of Unity and Accord or the Democratic Party of Russia, the leading oppositional bloc, led by centrist Nikolai Travkin.


Shakhrai's spokesman, Sergei Surov said, "We plan to do most of the work ourselves, but we'll probably get them to do our posters".


Lyudmila Stepankova, a member of the coordinating unit of Democratic Russia which is aligned with the Russia's Choice bloc said that her colleagues were too busy to worry about advertising.


"All we care about is getting the necessary amount of signatures", she said, referring to the Sunday deadline for parties to have 100, 000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. After that goal had been achieved, she said, they would start advertising, without any outside help.


Blinnikov expects that his clientele will grow to at least 10 candidates, after they have officially registered.


The time limit imposed on campaigning and the restrictions on money each party is permitted to spend is causing difficulties however. A spokesman at an advertising agency, which did not wish to be identified, said they would not do any campaign work because the sum each party is allowed to spend is too little.


Officials at the Central Electoral Committee said an official document detailing election financing had not been signed yet.


But for the time being, most Muscovites are still confused about who to vote for, having heard, read or seen very little from potential candidates.


"I don't understand which party is red, white or brown", said Yury Lyubimov, 42, a Moscow engineer, referring to the different political orientations of pro-communist, democratic and fascist.


"Anyway I only care who sits behind the wheel. I'm planning to vote for honest men whoever they may be. I don't care which party they belong to".