How the Romanian PR industry has evolved in the last two decades

Mihai-Alexandru Cristea 01/11/2022 | 10:04

Romanian PR’s top accolade, Romanian PR Award, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year as a daring and stubborn project that has managed to bring top communicators, valuable competitors, enthusiasts, and hundreds of PR professionals under the same roof.

By Romanita Oprea


“20 years of my life have been linked to Romanian PR Award. A space and a time during which I’ve reached professional maturity and that has given me the pleasure of having come across many remarkable figures and wonderful people. A privileged position that has allowed me to closely watch the issues and debates of the industry, see the emergence of the most diverse talents, and observe the ways in which the industry has been able to maintain its relevance even in difficult times. If I were to summarise our entire experience in a handful of words and ideas, I would mention: focus on the target, trust, patience, tenacity, coupling to the opposite pole, failure is part of the economy of success, and success needs joy and… flight,” said Dana Oancea, President of the Forum for International Communication, the event’s organiser.

The competition’s judging panel brings together skills from 15 countries, featuring communication directors from Telekom Romania Mobile, Raiffeisen Bank, Coca Cola HBC, Banca Transilvania, Ursus Breweries, IKEA, Honeywell, JTI, Sphera Franchise Group, Mondelez, Penny, MedLife, L’Oréal, Samsung, Sanofi, Unicredit, Enel, Dacia, Globalworth, DiDi, Zentiva, BCR, Ericsson, Mastercard, Thales, representatives of global networks (Ketchum, Ogilvy, GOLIN, Spoon, FleishmanHillard Fishburn, Brunswick, Heritage House, Wings), executives of local PR agencies (MSL The Practice, GRF+, Rogalski Damaschin PR, McCann PR, GMP PR, DC Communication, SmartPoint, GOLIN, Oxygen PR, 2activePR, Ogilvy, Daescu Bortun Olteanu, Jam Session, OMA Vision, Axios, Conan PR, Minio, Image PR, The Public Advisors, Free Communication, Chapter 4, Pastel, PR & More, The House PR Agency, Tudor Communication, Confident Communications, BMagency, WefflerMark, Line, Crafters, Porter Novelli, Zaga Brand, Media Pozitiv), as well as independent consultants, representatives of academia, and representatives of professional organisations Arthur W. Page Society, CIPR, PROI Worldwide, AMEC, ARRP, and Legeion.

The special “PR Innovator of the Year” award is granted by Telekom Romania Mobile and provides visibility to projects that, through the innovation of the concept and the excellence of the execution, go beyond the boundaries of ordinary communication and challenge the current limits of practice and acceptance.

Raiffeisen Bank continues to award the “Best of PR Measurement & Evaluation” distinction, which recognises the excellence of evaluation practices in the industry.

Submissions are open until October 5, inviting projects that have been run during the last 2 years. The awards gala is scheduled for November 24 at JW Marriott Bucharest.

Talking about the event’s development over time, Dana Oancea said that the programmes registered at the Romanian PR Award are living testimony of the evolution of the local communication industry’s and that they largely reflect the hopes and struggles of the wider Romanian society over the past two decades. They talk about the institution of partnership and the values ​​that sit at its core, about the rights of others and each person’s responsibilities, about communicators’ effort to understand their audiences, and about our talent to listen and integrate the expectations of different categories of stakeholders in organisational and business strategies.

Change and growth

How has the industry changed during these past 20 years according to representatives of agencies that operate in Romania? Alina Bratu, managing partner at WefflerMark, says that PR in Romania has grown tenaciously and enriched the media landscape with campaigns that were full of meaning, purpose, and impact. It has evolved with the pace of the consumer’s lifestyle and needs; now audiences are moving away from the classic and embracing things that are different, unique, digitally connected or technology-driven.

“Each year brought its own lessons. And the most valuable were probably the hard ones, which had to be overcome using great precision, soft skills, and bold decisions. I believe that years like 2020 brought back solidarity in PR, as well as purpose; 2008 was the year when CSR became part of the PR definition, and even though the economic crisis diminished its impact, it was still a time of great, meaningful, and innovative campaigns,” Bratu said.

Raluca Rotaru, managing director at Chapter 4 Romania, notes that since the local industry is relatively young compared to traditional PR markets, and since the people working in this industry are part of a generation that makes and lives through history every day, they are extremely fortunate to have actually created and developed the Romanian PR industry.

“It might sound pretentious, but in fact it was and still is a huge learning opportunity for us all, as well as a way to catch up with the more experienced markets in basically no time. It has kept us on our toes from the very beginning and quickly improved our competitivity. There is amazing proof in all the international prizes the Romanian PR industry keeps winning every year, ever since its earliest days.” When it comes to crisis communication management, the agency Rotaru represents goes by the “never waste a good crisis” principle. PR professionals are the best at turning every challenge into an opportunity.

“That can also be said about the development of the Romanian industry—its best years, and the years with the highest growth, were the economic crisis years. As a communication tool, public relations are essential for every business, no matter its nature or size, acting as an endless connector between companies and their audiences. That’s why we reinvent ourselves and our trade with every crisis and every change in the way people use communication channels,” she added.

What the pandemic did

Andrei Alexandru, head of strategy at McCann PR, says we had a decade of outstanding growth that ended with the emergence of the pandemic. The industry as a whole developed in size and scope as the lines between PR, digital, ATL, and BTL started blurring, so it kept acquiring new capabilities at a breakneck speed—digital departments, creative departments, social media, and so on.

“Now that things have cooled down, we’re starting to see efforts to rearrange all these resources into new models that take into account the new market realities. But I think PR is still at the core of all communication, and we can securely anchor our future developments to that,” he argued.

Meanwhile, his colleague, Ruxandra Vasilescu, business director at McCann PR, believes that the current times are very interesting. As part of a regional “trend,” Romania has lost PR in translation in the past few years.

“This happened for two reasons: first, PR was mostly impacted by the expansion and diversification of communication channels and second, there was a budget fragmentation that came along with the expansion of channels. PR as an industry thought it could own and perform in any circumstance, in any medium. Of course that’s possible, but it takes time and effort to get people ready and keep up with all the transformation.”

Vasilescu also pointed out that when social media was starting to get budgets, it was PR agencies doing social media activities because that’s where those budgets were. “I remember when we had like 10-15 Facebook brand pages to manage daily, on top of the PR work.”

Creativity and strategy

One of the biggest challenges in PR is that of doing meaningful and creative work, especially when your audience is large and very diverse.

“We took on board creatives and challenged them to put content at the heart of any campaign, to build narratives, and to forget about the Key Visual as the main campaign asset. We changed our business models and agencies to accommodate creatives, which is costly and takes time. Clients love it—but most of the time they cannot afford it. So, in 2022, we’re living through fascinating times and hopefully our mission gets clearer. We have had lots of experiences and we can treasure the pure and honest value of what PR means and the way it can bring light into a room that’s more packed than ever before,” Ruxandra Vasilescu added.

According to Tereza Tranakas, founder & CEO at Oxygen, PR has evolved in terms of the strategic role it plays in the communication mix. We’re seeing more and more PR-driven campaigns, because brands and companies choose it over advertising in engaging and building relationships with various audiences.

“Technology has also advanced the industry, allowing it to expand into new territories and reach out to a wider array of stakeholders in real time. The field now encompasses traditional and social media, influencer relationships, internal engagement, and much more. I am really thrilled with the possibilities that lie in front of us in the PR industry, blurring the lines between communication fields and opening up new opportunities,” Tranakas said, adding that PR professionals thrive in challenging environments. “That’s probably why the most interesting years have been the difficult ones, when we’ve had to deal with the economic crisis, the pandemic or all the challenges—and opportunities—presented by the current socio-economic context.”

“We could all be nostalgic about the years that we believe had the biggest impact on us, maybe when we were younger and we had so many dreams, which made us think we were invincible. However, I think this is just an ‘error’ of our memories, as the most interesting years are the ones we are living in now. Because the present is the best time, the time when we can act, and PR works towards creating positive action,” said Simona Dan, managing partner at Public Advisors. For example, we’re living in a digital era, when the rise of social media platforms gives greater chance to interconnectivity. The growing influence of the public brings up issues around free speech, while other considerations such as user privacy and data security continue to raise concerns for people and institutions alike.

“While in the beginning the focus was more on the written word and people had more time and patience to read, now video content and the ability to deliver complex messages within a few seconds has become the standard. On top of this, generation Z and millennials increasingly make their choices based on their values and not on the buzz generated by a company or campaign. This trend is boosted by the growing number of content creators, who can amplify your message but also make it harder to control,” Simona Dan said.

In support of Dan’s viewpoint, her business partner Raluca Mihalachioiu added that the early years of the economic crisis provided an excellent lesson for the growth of the industry in terms of business results.

“This made us confident that we were in the right place and doing the right things. Now, on a positive note, the multi-layered crisis generated by the pandemic increased the share of remote working and the flexibility of work schedules. This has led to an adaption in communication, with messages being crafted in terms of personal preferences, resulting in an increasing individualisation of communication.”

She also highlighted another trend that has advanced along with the increase in the use of new technology: the blending together of marketing and PR activities. “Speaking about digitalization, the podcasting industry has bloomed, and this goes hand in hand with thought leadership, where an expert speaks for their industry. Now, in a hopefully post-pandemic era, I am very glad to notice a return to physical industry events, which feels like another rebirth of the industry,” Mihalachioiu concluded.


The best year for the Romanian PR industry

“Top of mind, I would say 2020. A hard year, but one when PR gained greater meaning and reached its rightful place in brand strategies across most industries.” – Alina Bratu, WefflerMark

“There’s no such thing as the best year in PR. There’s a general trend of PR taking the spotlight at local and international festivals, because it is a more direct and authentic way of engaging and building relationships with audiences. So, the focus on PR has grown over the past few years, both in Romania and abroad.” – Tereza Tranakas, Oxygen

“Well, there’s a saying that fits: the best year is always the next one. And it fits in more ways than one, to be honest. But all jokes aside, we have seen such significant evolution and change in the last decade that it is hard to compare one year to another, let alone measure any indicator that would make one ‘the best.’ And if a good year is one where we learn (by intent or by consequence) to be better at what we do, boy, have these last few years been good.” – Andrei Alexandru, McCann PR

“The years after the crisis in 2009, as paradoxical as it sounds. I remember that time as being the most prolific, creative, and challenging for our industry, as we had to find ways to help our clients overcome the harsh economic conditions, while also adapting to new technologies that were just starting to take over the world and basically reinvent a lot of the tools we were using. Those were amazing years of growth for the industry as a whole. The pandemic comes very close in terms of our industry’s power of transformation.” – Raluca Rotaru (Ene), Chapter4 Romania


My Best Year in PR

“There have been many milestones in the 20 years that I’ve been practicing this profession. I remember the years when I received local or international recognition for the campaigns I developed. Among those, the social campaigns that had a strong impact at the community level remain closest to my heart. But if I had to choose one year, 2020 most deserves the title of ‘my best year in PR,’ for two reasons: among communication disciplines, 2020 was the year of PR, the year when it became obvious that it was indispensable for society. It was during the pandemic when PR fully manifested its benefits and helped build trust, which was the most important and necessary value for society that year. On a personal level, it was the year in which I experienced leadership functions that I had previously only explored at a theoretical level.” – Simona Dan, managing partner at The Public Advisors

“The best year in PR for me was 2008, when I founded the agency, in the midst of a global economic crisis. We started to work right in the deep waters of the crisis; anyone can create and manage a PR campaign in calm waters, but it is much more difficult when you are forced to look for business solutions in unfamiliar territory and when you experience success and setback at the same time.” – Raluca Mihălăchioiu, managing partner at The Public Advisors

“There are two periods that I consider to have been the best for my development as a PR professional: the first 3-4 years, as that was when I was learning the tricks of the trade—and I was lucky enough to learn from some of the top professionals in the industry, true pioneers, at a time when the industry itself was very young. Then it was the year before my maternity leave (we are talking end-2020 and the first months of 2021), when the economy started to come back to life after the long pandemic months and all our experience as a team catalysed into many successful business opportunities, especially in the B2B area. Our current portfolio only built up from there, thanks to these amazing professionals.” – Raluca Rotaru (Ene), managing director at Chapter 4 Romania

“2019 wins fair and square. There’s nothing in this PR world more thrilling than winning at Cannes Lions. It was the best proof that we­—as a team, as a client-agency formula, and even as individuals—could do anything; there’s no limit in this industry but the one you choose to set for yourself. And that’s what I always say to my team: we are creative, we are strong and consistent, we need to fight for our ideas and celebrate our work.” – Ruxandra Vasilescu, business director at McCann PR

“Every year is a great year for PR. It’s never dull, especially during difficult years (pandemic, economic downturns, etc.), when PR takes centre stage. Furthermore, we’re seeing PR gaining a more strategic role in the communication mix and getting acknowledged for the importance of its contribution to a company and a brand’s reputation.” – Tereza Tranakas, founder & CEO at Oxygen

“My best time in PR was a long time ago, in 2004, when I was entrusted to manage the PR activity of a big multinational company, with no expertise in this area, just a belief that I could do it. It was the beginning of the rise of this profession in Romania and it was an amazing learning journey for me, but now, looking back, I see great achievements that have passed the test of time: innovative campaigns, coherent strategies, strong bonds created between journalists, clients, agencies, and PR professionals from all areas.” – Alina Bratu, managing partner at WefflerMark

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