Local PR market shows firsts signs of real maturity

Newsroom 28/04/2015 | 10:15

From international names to medium agencies and nimble Romanian players, from market innovation and global awards to a lack of transparency, local PR professionals told BR how their companies are growing and developing in a volatile market and shared their take on the year ahead.

By Romanita Oprea

It’s a market that dominates the regional and continental industry’s awards, proud of the talents it borrowed to the international scene. For instance, only MSLGROUP The Practice, former known as The Practice, is famous for having received local, regional and global recognition, with over 160 awards and nominations. More than 50 of its campaigns were acclaimed in competitions such as Cannes Lions, the Global and EMEA Sabre Awards, IPRA Golden World Awards, European Excellence Awards and the Romanian PR Awards.

According to market research conducted by Biz at the end of 2014, the value of the local PR market is still growing, having not yet reached its total potential, and was estimated at around EUR 30 million last year.

“It’s a growing market, although budgets and business figures haven’t proved it in recent years. When I say growing, I mean accountability and self-confidence, with professionals that are better equipped now than 15-20 years ago to successfully accomplish the coveted role of business consultants. Some people complain about size, expertise, lack of outstanding campaigns, procedures and so on. Let’s not forget it’s a market that emerged almost from scratch 20 years ago with a couple of enthusiasts that started learning by doing. And some of them did it quite well given that now, 20 years later, they are still on the market and still competitive,” said Loredana Sandulescu, a veteran media, advertising & marketing journalist.

It is also a young industry – the average age of a Romanian PR professional is 30, with most having around 7.5 years of experience in the communication industry, according to research by Biz last year. “The age dimension can definitely be an asset. As one of the most dynamic professions, with much impact from the internet and the way people communicate, having young professionals on board, who are digitally native and trained to handle new technologies, represents major leverage,” Sandulescu added.

Romanian PR agency DC Communication, which has recently turned 20, was launched by Teodor Frolu and Crenguta Rosu in a one-room apartment in Bucharest. Its first clients were ING Bank and the European Commission’s Delegation in Bucharest, and the first projects were the launch of Multibanking by ING – the first electronic banking service in Romania – in March 1995 and “Townsquares of Europe,” a travelling exhibition by the delegation. The firm says it has since developed over 2,000 projects for 120 clients in 20 industries and sectors.

In February 1995, when DC launched, there was only one other PR agency on the Romanian market, but by the end of the same year another two had appeared. In 20 years, this number has increased 32 fold, to 128 PR agencies in 2015. In total, the Romanian market is home to 939 entities – companies and independent contractors – that offer PR services, according to official data from the Commerce Registry.

DC Communication has also evolved from a financial point of view: from a turnover of EUR 90,000 in 1995 to almost EUR 850,000 last year, with a peak of over EUR 2 million in 2005. The peak coincided with the Romanian PR market’s boom period, 2005-2008, when the average turnover for big and medium agencies was EUR 1.8 to 2.2 million. DC assisted with the birth of an entire industry and has worked, since the beginning, on big projects, positioning on the market demanding clients, mostly international companies that had already decided to invest in expanding on the Romanian market, for which the agency provided such services as internal and external communication, advocacy, CSR and institutional communication.

Over time, DC has modified its structure and operational methods five times in order to anticipate market transformations and client needs. From internal monitoring services to analyze and work with providers, a social media services department to increase the skills of the entire team to make it social media ready, and account teams, to working with specialized departments and then adding new competencies – those were all internal transformations, not obvious, but essential to the team’s capacity to adapt.

“The same amount of years – 20 – are celebrated this year by BDR Associates, as well. When they started the business, entrepreneurship was an adventure which they chose to live bringing exceptional people along on board. The dawn of BDR was in the full light. Few know that the name BDR comes from the Good Morning, Romania/Buna dimineata, Romania campaign which Catalina Rousseau, president and CEO at BDR Associates Strategic Communication Romania & Republic of Moldova, managed during a three-year assignment for US Deloitte Emerging Markets. “It was in the mid ‘90s. They were tumultuous years marked by major achievements in the agency’s life, building a solid basis for our business. In early 2000 we opened an office in Moldova, where we formed the first team of PR professionals. The business has grown over the years, with BDR being a market leader in a competitive environment, especially since European aspirations have become an option,” Rousseau said.

2014 – challenging, but better than 2013

“2014 was a year in which we didn’t get bored at all – full of energy, ideas and many hours of work, and faced with tight budgets. A year of visible readjustments and integrations of services and regrouping. We gained six new clients and kept the ones we already had – Agricover, Certinvest, the European Parliament, which were long-term clients, and Temad, Dumagas and Sandoz for which we worked on a project basis. We have a constant team of 22 people and the honorary fees are the same,” said Crenguta Rosu, co-founder of DC Communication.

“We have diversified our portfolio a lot and we can say now that we have clients from all domains of activity. This is something that has shown in all our team’s work – from the diversity of solutions offered to current clients to the pitch proposals and new business strategy,” said Sorina Mihai, managing partner at Porter Novelli.

For BDR Associates, 2014 had a promising start, but the pace was slowing down in the second part of the year. “The lack of economic measures to encourage business investments impacted the communication projects. Our industry faced budget cuts. Overall, we oriented our activity towards pragmatic results expected by the clients, using innovation and creativity to generate results,” said Alexandra Mihailescu, Partner & Senior Consultant Strategic Communication Romania & Republic of Moldova, BDR Associates Strategic Communication.

It was a stable year for Premium Communication as well, an agency with a long tradition on the Romanian PR market and which has extended its team to support an increasing workload from its existing clients. “Our best clients are those that allowed us to build together – we are looking for clients who really value communication, who have complex needs that cover both corporate and marketing communication and who understand communication as a long-term commitment to their stakeholders. To them we offer a team of very experienced consultants, with a diverse range of skills and a broad vision about PR – people who have firsthand experience in media and social media relations, internal communication, consultancy, digital and corporate communication and are able to provide informed advice to discerning clients. Planets don’t align very often, but they sometimes do,” said Sorana Savu, managing partner at Premium Communication.

And if 2014 was better than 2013, some expect 2015 to be even better. “After a period when we experienced a downturn, 2014 proved to be a year of growth. We had many pitches, we organized a larger number of events and 2015 is looking even better. In the first trimester GMP PR had the honor of receiving ten pitch invitations. We have invested a great deal in digital department, we doubled the team, gained five new clients and underwent a strategic process of establishing our vision for the next ten years,” said Ioana Manoiu, managing partner at GMP PR.

Pundits say 2014 was a more mature year, with better targeted PR activates. “Pitches, briefs and creativity had more substance and fees started to reward real strategic expertise more and tactical activities less. For us it was a very intense year, when almost all proposals presented in the first half found a place within clients’ plans in the second half of the year – a year when more companies placed greater importance on dialogue with local communities and the media, so we also traveled more,” said Alina Damaschin, creative leader and head of consumer PR at Rogalski Damaschin Public Relations. Apart from its prizes at the Romanian PR Awards, the agency also added to its portfolio a SABRE Gold Award for Public Affairs.

“Every PR agency has started to be a true contender for the advertising, digital and social media agencies. The competition has changed and agencies are starting to align their services according to those changes. I think this trend was very much in effect last year on the creativity of the campaigns. Unfortunately, the fees continue to remain the lowest in the communication industry,” said Imola Zoltan, owner at McCann PR. For the agency it was a difficult 2014, especially during the first part of the year, but things had balanced themselves by the end of the year. “The team remains mostly unchanged, mainly at senior level. We took part in more pitches, we won important contracts, but there were also some clients who didn’t renew their contract for the next year. We are proud of our campaigns for Coca-Cola Romania, Enel, GDF and HTC, just to name a few,” Zoltan added.

The PR market is in a continuing transformation and some major players are pessimistic about its future. “Traditional PR is nearly dead, with the industry struggling to reinvent itself after failing to prove that it adds value to a business. The PR function has declined in importance and, in some cases, no longer reports to the head of the company. The fees for traditional PR assignments have slipped to historic lows, with most of the business being taken by boutique agencies that have had a meteoric existence. Procurement’s financial-driven logic dictates the selection of PR partners rather than the quality of their proposals,” said Cristi Cretan, general manager at Grayling Romania.

He states a point by adding that in this context, some major PR players have gone for dumping prices in order to grab or maintain market share. Consultancy fees were reduced to a minimum, with the revenue gap being filled by the mark-ups related to intermediating the acquisition of products and services on behalf of the client. Cretan predicts that those pursuing this line of business will be forced to close down, sooner or later.

“Others have tried to reinvent themselves, by specialization or approaching niche sectors, or by embracing the fashionable social media approach. We continued our transformation towards a business consultancy with communication services at its core. Our strengths allow us to engage in complex positioning, regulatory affairs and advocacy projects, or in integrated corporate communication and public affairs assignments, that aim for a tangible impact on business results. We have expanded the team with two senior consultants, one in the public affairs team and one to lead our digital communication team. We have worked on complex PR & PA assignments in the areas of financial services, energy and pharmaceuticals,” said the Grayling Romania representative.

For MSLGROUP The Practice it was a year with new clients, that had never requested communication services. The agency grew its teams of consultants and collaborating specialists. MSLGROUP The Practice become the most awarded agency at the Romanian PR Award competition and the campaign “Preparing today for the jobs of tomorrow” was considered the PR Innovator of the Year. “2014 marked our entrance into the MSLGROUP family, the biggest communication and PR network in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa), a new chapter that comes with new ambitions, complex know-how and new communication tools. Taking a broader view, 2014 also brought many pitches in the market, not necessarily for big or long-term projects,” said Oana Bulexa, managing director at MSLGROUP The Practice.

When it comes to creativity, Golin representatives say that last year was one of the best for the agency. It celebrated Christmas in July at AFI Palace Cotroceni, brought the summer to Casa Lupu, made Varu (The Cousin) one of the most famous and viral characters for the website tocmai.ro, launched the Bancpost-Wizz co-branded card at high altitude on a Bucharest-Rome flight and filmed the first video with a mobile phone for the Kruger & Matz Romanian launch. All these campaigns were multi-awarded and helped Golin receive first place in Biz magazine’s list of the best PR agencies, and the title of Agency of the Year at the Romanian PR Awards.

“Fees were at the same level as 2013. Golin’s turnover rose organically, the specialized digital communication services being an important driver from this point of view. The growth rhythm generated by the acquisition of new clients was also at the same level as 2013,” said Monica Botez, managing partner at Golin.

When asked, Bogdan Tomoiaga, executive director at Graffiti PR, an exclusive affiliate of Ketchum, said that 2014 was a typical year for the PR industry, if such a thing exists. That means that it was full of challenges: a lot of pressure on budgets and on the results/KPI, which had a strong impact on campaigns. The pressures of short-term results were never so immense, and the demands of the long-term so critical. “2014 was the year of effectiveness; every client was interested mainly in the outcomes and the outputs of the campaigns. It was a year of big anniversaries. It was interesting to observe how an anniversary can mean a new commitment for the future. I think that the greatest impact was seen in the media landscape with the changes at ProTV, the incarceration of Dan Voiculescu and the insolvencies in the print media. All these had and will have a great impact on the communication industry in the years to follow,” added Tomoiaga.

His opinion is shared by Alexandru Paius, senior partner at Image PR, who also believes that nevertheless, consultancy agencies found ways to cope with this, by means of: efficient solutions, creative ideas, successful campaigns and more business know-how gained, which was smartly employed.

For Graffiti PR it meant a time of transformations, for better organizing the company and a more attentive look at the interior of the agency. After six years of sustainable growth, the firm came to understand that further growth at the same pace can only come from superior specialization. “This is why we took a leap of faith and did an unprecedented shift for the PR industry: we introduced a new management team. Graffiti PR is now led by six managers, each with expertise and passion in one of the key development areas for our clients: corporate citizenship (including CSR, sustainability, shared value), corporate comms, brand strategy, integrated technology and branded entertainment,” said the Graffiti PR representative. “Another interesting thing about 2014 was the ‘back to the roots’ feeling. We were really happy to see that most of our partners put a strong focus on their most valuable asset: employees. This is why some of our favorite projects of 2014 are internal communication campaigns: from Maggi – Recipes with feelings (a lunch designed to match the feelings of the employees) to Renault Day – a one-day event where Renault Group employees get to know their second family better. We felt really lucky to be part of creating a new story for our clients and their colleagues.”

For Image PR, 2014 was a busy year at the end of which the agency’s members felt satisfied with the results, given the economic climate. After a couple of years’ break from IT&C, they were happy to have won an account in this industry. Moreover, the firm has expanded its portfolio of clients in healthcare communication, in which Image PR has grown a lot in the past few years. “One of the campaigns with outstanding results is the one we are running for the Romanian Association of International Drug Manufacturers which led to the Ministry of Health’s undertaking the opening of the reimbursed medicines list,” said Paius.

As for Sorina Mihai, managing partner at Porter Novelli Romania, 2014 was a time for consolidation and a better shaping of the “game space,” after a series of atypical years from the point of view of performance and professional growth. That proved to be a year of challenges for all the market. “We succeeded in evolving the line of communication services offered, the portfolio of clients and also the super-specialization of the team. We now have expertise in health and pharma, financial services. FMCG, retail, fashion and IT. We have all understood that the role of an agency is no longer about offering specific PR consultancy, but more about the development of the business through coherent and efficient communication solutions. It’s a change of paradigm that had started to manifest itself several years ago, but it fully materialized last year,” added Mihai.

Other firms were also positive. “I think 2014 was definitely more generous than the preceding two years. Fees were fair, not too many pitches, a good number of campaigns running both for international and local brands. For us as an agency, 2014 was a good year, especially because it gave us the confirmation that the way the MakeSense business was built starting from 2010 was good. Our engineering approach to the briefs and results-oriented attitude were nicely rewarded,” said Raluca Bailescu, managing partner at MakeSense. 2014 led to a repositioning of her agency, which was communicated in February. The firm has been offering content marketing solutions for some years, especially for clients with B2B needs. “The end of 2013 and the entire 2014 generously offered us the opportunity to put into practice our knowledge in the content marketing field for B2C briefs too. Since creating news and content, distributing them and measuring results became our second nature and main source of fees, we’ve made the changes official,” added Bailescu. Founded in 2010, MakeSense posted a business turnover of EUR 220,000 in 2014, of which 83.4 percent is agency fees. Also, 60 percent of the agency’s business turnover is from content creation services, implemented mainly within B2B campaigns. The main business verticals for the agency are healthcare & pharma, IT, FMCG and financial. MakeSense offers services such as content creation for own channels (white papers, case studies, newsletters) and third channels, management of online communities and traditional communication services (media and influencers communication, internal communication, events organization and management). Its portfolio of clients includes multinational brands and companies and entrepreneurial businesses such as: Autovit, Blue Point Call Center, Ceragon, Clotier, Essilor Romania, Gazduire Web, Lactacyd, LaDORNA, MediaIQ, Okazii.ro, Paranix, Pick N Dazzle, Ponderas, Metrici, Omega Pharma, R/GA Bucharest, Sameday Courier, Sarantis (B.U., C-Thru and Str8), Tradeville, Unilever (Dove and Rexona) and Viile Metamorfosis. Over time, the agency has been awarded three times at the Romanian PR Awards for client campaigns.

“Otherwise, in 2014 we’ve shared a couple of good news stories and success fees with our clients, we have recruited one person for our team and kept our good habit of winning at least one award for a campaign that really made a difference for our clients (an internal communication campaign for Blue Point Telecom),” Bailescu concluded.

Another young agency that is growing and proving to be successful and creative is Conan PR, named Small Consultancy of the year at the Romanian PR Awards 2013. “The industry felt an energy boost at the end of last year, after a rather dull and steady first half of the year. It was probably a teaser for 2015, a year with far better perspectives than 2014. We planted some good seeds last year, so we are reaping what we sowed. We are now crafting and planning projects for clients in education & business consultancy, art & architecture, fashion, construction, postal services, HoReCa, and, very soon, we will start implementing projects in two new areas – medical services and tourism,” said Elena Bululete, managing partner at Conan PR.

From her neutral viewpoint, journalist Loredana Sandulescu says she has noticed a change in agencies’ approach: more and more PR professionals seem to understand the mechanisms of online journalism. Many of them answer faster, meet deadlines better and only a few still try to delete bad comments posted online. “Many PR professionals have already learned a major lesson: one cannot take control over the internet. You can control what you’re saying, not what other people have understood and how they have chosen to disseminate,” concluded the journalist.

The beginning of an interesting year

“In our industry the beginning of the year is always very strong and stormy. Plans begin to take shape in the first trimester and they involve, along with the existing clients, new projects and pitches. I don’t want to predict anything as the last seven years have been extremely unpredictable and with a difference between what we projected and what we finally executed,” said Crenguta Rosu. Since the beginning of 2015 DC Communication has taken part in several pitches and gained two new clients: Piraeus Bank and World Vision, with annual projects.

The agency’s plans include providing services for clients such as: Raiffeisen, Western Union, E&Y, Dell, Certinvest, Verida, Microsoft Mobile, Agricover, Novartis/Sandoz, Reprezentanta Comisiei Europene, Spatiul Public European, Teva and Asociatia “Ivan Patzaikin”/Rowmania.

Since the beginning of the year, Golin has taken part in many pitches, became the agency for all Unilever margarine brands, won the MasterCard communication account and hopes that the good news will continue. “We’re seeing a significant difference compared to this time last year, from this point of view and we hope that these first three months will be a good indicator of what is next to come in 2015,” said Botez.

In this new digital era, of speed and fast solutions, PR consultants have to be ready to seize opportunities fast, to generate conversation and to handle unseen situations. “There is a lot of talk about digital skills, but beyond that, the PR consultant of today has to prove instant creativity, big synthesis and decision making capabilities. The times of planning that lasted for whole weeks have long passed. Clients need immediate solutions, without compromising on quality,” said Bulexa.

It was a good start to the year for Grayling Romania as well, with several major new assignments in the energy, consumer brands and internet sectors, almost all of them integrating corporate communication, public relations and public affairs projects.

For BDR Associates, 2015 continues the ‘costs sensitive’ trend for clients in most sectors, and first months were under a sort of stagnation. “It’s hard to predict future in an unpredictable environment. We do not expect spectacular changes,” commented Mihailescu.

“It started with a lot of pitches, more than the usual amount. This is partly because for every project, no matter how small, almost every client makes a pitch, and because the acquisition department gets involved in the selection process. As a result, the pressure of costs and fees is very big and in many cases the winners of the pitches are the ones that offer the smallest price. This causes difficulties for big agencies, with major overheads, but helps the small agencies with two or three people to win the client,” Zoltan said.

On the long run though, in many cases, the McCann PR representative points out, this is not a sustainable strategy. Small agencies aren’t able to implement or to sustain a big account, from many points of view – cash flow, human resources – and the result are all kinds of wired events, implemented on a small budget, that fail to bring any value to the company or the brand.

The market is undergoing a “mental” re-opening towards communication. The first months of 2015 have brought 12 pitches, over six brand integrated campaigns and many courageous plans for Porter Novelli. “The reality is a fast and complex understanding of clients’ requests, very strict daily communication and a functional creativity of the proposed communication solutions. It’s not easy, but agencies that want to be competitive have to adhere to this,” said Mihai.

Still, things couldn’t be more different from some agencies than others, from GMP PR, which foresees 10 percent growth this year, to MakeSense which sees 2015 as more restrained than 2014. “Communications budgets are hardly growing. The year began with fewer campaigns and more challenging and complex briefs. I think that this is the year of agile businesses, of those who want and have the ability to adapt. It’s a good year for those who can manage partnerships, for entrepreneurial, specialized firms working in tandem with each other,” said Bailescu.

There are also some good and inspirational trends happening at the moment in the market, which bring hope of an even better year. “We’re seeing many more pitches coming from companies that never used anything other than traditional PR, starting to ask for real content strategies and ideas, while knowing that PR will always focus on the public. While the last year was about HOW we communicate, this one we’re speaking more about WHAT we communicate,” Damaschin added.

Turning to the clients that started the pitches, DC Communication has a 60-40 split in favor of entrepreneurs. “There is a rise in the entrepreneurial sector and we believe it to be a natural process. Their interest in constant strategic communication is the result of the maturing of their business,” Rosu said.

Most of Conan PR’s clients are also Romanian entrepreneurs, a proportion that is up in the last couple of years, partly due to the increased competition and need to engage audiences in relevant ways.

“Entrepreneurs can generate very big business, at the same level as multinationals. We work for example with Transavia, the biggest player on the Romanian poultry market. The difference is not in the turnover, but in the type of collaboration. The multinationals have a formal system and most of the time a pre-established flow of PR activities, while in the case of the Romanian entrepreneurs this format is built from zero from the beginning of the partnership,” said Botez.

Contrary to general opinion, she doesn’t believe that there is a difference in attitude towards communication: many top managers in Romania think like an entrepreneur, they are active and believe in the value and individuality of the communication. Also, many entrepreneurs have been taught business at multinationals, so they have the structure and standards in their professional DNA. “As a proportion, the balance is inclined towards multinationals in the pitching level and the portfolio of clients. But this means only one thing: there is an opportunity for growth in businesses development by local entrepreneurs,” added Botez.

A total different perspective comes from Grayling Romania, which has not received many invitations to pitch from local entrepreneurs, probably because its services cost more than entrepreneurs would like to pay for what they consider a mere reputation building service. Still, Cretan is expecting this trend to change.

“Our client portfolio mainly includes large, multinational companies. One of the main reasons lies in our principles, namely having long-term contracts, running complex communication campaigns and, last but not least, the principle of building constant communication, usually on a retainer fee. We have to take into consideration the financial capacities and communication needs, which are not that high among entrepreneurs, in order to accurately account for the services of a communication consultancy firm,” said Paius.

The current ratio is 10% entrepreneurs to 90% big companies, at BDR Associates, as well. “What differentiates them is the communication culture, more oriented towards communication in the case of multinational companies, strict corporate policies and level of resources invested in communication projects,” commented Mihailescu.

The situation is similar at McCann PR, which has only 10 percent entrepreneurial clients in its portfolio. Still, the agency’s representatives are open to start-ups, because they can offer more independence and flexibility. The same percentage applies at Graffiti PR as well. “Besides the more structural aspects, this ‘gap’ also comes from us, the PR industry: for years, we’ve targeted strictly multinationals, talked about yearly plans, briefing, re-briefing, key message structure and complicated SOWs. Our ‘maturity’ exam is to be able to come back to our main task: solving a business problem through a reputation management solution, no matter the scale. It is with this type of philosophy that we took on some very interesting projects in 2014, such as launching two HoReCa start-ups and assisting a software consultancy company in its growth process,” noted Tomoiaga.

A change has also been seen at GMP PR. “While some years ago pitch invitations were 90 percent from big companies and only 10 percent from entrepreneurial companies, things have changed lately. Today we have in our portfolio around 30 percent entrepreneurial companies,” Manoiu said.

“We work with small businesses as well as bigger companies. What brings us together is mostly a common philosophy related to the role of PR in business and in society, in general, how actions should be done and a similarity of entrepreneurial spirit, that we’ve always shared,” Damaschin commented.

Effervescence all the way

While some years ago there was definitely a trend of seasonality, even in PR activities and marketers’ business plan, nowadays, looking at the ever changing industry and the amount of projects and after hours involvement, it seems those days have passed. There is no time for slowing down and taking a deeper breath of fresh air. Meetings and pitches come every day, with no trend of taking it easy.

New opportunities arrive every day and keep the fire burning and the work at a high level of attention and expectancy.

“As of two or three years ago there is no more seasonality in PR, especially if you are working on a monthly fee. On the other hand, the target of several campaigns – given a smartphone or a connection to the internet – is reachable in every season, regardless of whether it’s the press, the consumer, the authority, etc,” said Imola Zoltan.

The same lack of seasonality is also felt by Oana Bulexa. She believes that some years ago, in the pre-digital era, it was easy to predict or even plan the peaks of activity during the year, because the brands and companies were the ones in control of the communication flow. They had the power. Today the need for communication and interaction is permanent. “There are no more waves of communication, but a continuous stream. Today we have a continuous effervescence and it should be this way. The brands no longer have control; it has shifted to the consumer. Today’s consumer is more active and more talkative, generating a permanent conversation with the brands. And companies expect an instant response. They expect good and interesting discussions and reactions,” Bulexa noted.

Consumers who are always awake and have at least one channel to express themselves no longer allow the company to sleep. “If a company can afford to sleep, it’s almost certain that it’s losing money without knowing,” said Bailescu.

At Golin, a year has never been made up of extremely busy months and quiet periods. “The last six years were a continuous seasonality peak for us. There is seasonality only when it comes to a focus level: traditionally, the beginning of the year is dedicated to strategies, summer is a preparing season and spring and autumn is when the majority of the campaigns take place,” said Monica Botez.

“There are two hot periods in PR – spring (March-May) and the end of the year (October-December). Those are the months when all the clients are active and we work 24 hours, 7 days a week. Still, there is never a quiet time, maybe just a slower rhythm in August,” admitted Manoiu.

On her part, Crenguta Rosu believes that it depends a lot on the industry and type of activity. For example in FMCG, in spring, there are more and bigger projects than during summer, when there is less activity for B2B and corporate communication. Depending on the portfolio of clients and their activity there are times of maximum intensity of work combined with calmer periods. “The effervescence is the result of the desire of all players in the market to change the existing prudence into strong and decisive steps towards transformation, community activation, the reinstatement of partnerships and more,” commented Rosu.

New business & strategy

Many agencies in Romania are chosen by referrals from happy current or former clients and by the reputation they have on the market. Some work on building and maintaining their corporate PR to really good standards. This strategy works best for new business and pitch invitations.

“Most clients come directly to us, without a pitch process. Only 30 percent of our new clients are gained via a pitch and our success rate is about 70-80 percent. We select very carefully every pitch we enter, mostly depending on how strong the agency’s competence for the problem / opportunity that the client has, but also on the transparency of the pitching process and the budget,” said Bulexa.

At BRD Associates, the new business strategy follows the local market developments and opportunities occurred in various sectors. They need to be permanently informed on the business and economic environment in order to be able to adjust, and to quickly put together professional competences that fully respond to market new needs. “Our strategy in new business extends to the Republic of Moldova and other markets, from Lithuania to Central Asia, where the demand for professional communication is now growing, as we believe in long term vision, continuous learning and innovation, in order to be successful.  It is always important for us to align our business objectives and financial estimates set for each business year,” added Mihailescu.

Strategy and planning are crucial. “Moreover, clients have become more open to investing in research, which is the best approach. Research, strategy and planning make the gold triad for a successful project,” Bululete argued.

In its turn, DC Communication is looking for projects that permit strategic integration and, at the same time, developing its own communication segments, for example, community development projects that involve collaboration, the management of the interests of many entities for the benefit of common development.

Last year, McCann PR launched a new business model, PR content – selling the client the concept that “the right content at the right time is the new currency in the interaction with the stakeholders”. “We all want to create content, from advertising and digital to social media and PR agencies. And when we succeed in creating relevant content, the majority of the campaigns are short term – from three to six months maximum – so the outcome is not a sustainable one. Content distribution is another problem: no matter how relevant or creative the story is, if it doesn’t reach the right person, at the right time, all the effort is in vain,” the McCann PR representative stated.

The agency has remodeled its organizational design in order to be able to offer complete, integrated services in the new communicational landscape. First, McCann PR chose to do outsourcing for research and digital, both from the cost efficiency perspective and for a fast knowledge infusion. The two partnerships, with digital 648 and the research agency Nielsen, are not simple services providing contracts. All three agencies work together, in a team, and have joint responsibility for the outcome. “We have also strengthened the in-house design department, which we involve in the first stage of the campaign. We continue to outsource to professionals from the creative industries for content that can illustrate the attributes or the story of the brand, but that is firstly useful and relevant to the stakeholders. We have a team in place that functions like a newsroom; they identify in real time the communication opportunities for our clients,” Zoltan said.

McCann PR is not the only international agency based in Romania that puts a great emphasis on news and pieces of information dealt with properly. In 2012 and 2013 the star of the tools used at Golin was The Bridge™, a newsroom of the digital era, for listening and reaction in real time. “Since 2014 we have used Relevance, a tool developed by Golin for analyzing the positioning of the brand, which is very useful for prioritizing the key messages and the target audiences. Also, since last year we have been focusing on research and big data, with support from our communication group, through a dedicated resource, but also through a strategic partnership with the research company Isense,” said Botez.

The agency is not stopping here. For 2015, Golin has planned to launch a new digital tool that will help the agency remain one of the top players on the local market.

“Clients need to be advised on a variety of topics and PR has to act as an integrated advisor for the client’s business. As long as clients are ready and able to share their business needs, PR is able to solve them strategically and shape the best initiative,” Damaschin added.

In his turn, Cretan says that the strategy depends on the client’s business interests. Most projects undertaken by Grayling Romania are long-term projects, where strategy is key to success. “Those not interested in complex, long-term projects with real business impact don’t even come to us – they normally prefer a smaller and cheaper alternative,” said Cretan.

New tools, new powers

“We have used extensively the digital communication tools developed at group level (monitoring, sentiment tracking, social media crisis training, etc),” said Cretan.

While GMP PR uses many new monitoring and evaluation tools and has expanded outside Romanian borders, working closely with suppliers from the US and UK, McCann PR has chosen to do outsourcing for the type of services that aren’t usually part of a traditional PR

agency – research and digital. “We receive more and more briefs for corporate communication strategies and social responsibility campaigns. Facebook apps are very trendy as well, but most of the time the PR just comes up with the idea, while the implementation (design, programming, etc.) goes to the client’s digital agency. Also, the press release is a frequently requested instrument, although we try to make it as visual as possible using infographics and animations, for online and social media,” Zoltan said.

The teams at BDR Associates are also paying a lot of attention at social media and new trends available in the market. “We have introduced a lot of social listening, research and SWOT-ing brands, as regular tools. One new tool is the crisis communication simulator in social media, that we could use for specialized trainings in issue/crisis management,” said Mihailescu.

MSLGROUP The Practice has a different strategy. The agency is developing new tools while clients’ communication needs are expending. The two areas where the agency has invested the most in last couple of years are research and measurement, with “unique instruments for identifying the trends and understanding the customer, but also for measuring the real impact of companies and the communicational actions realized by the agency,” said Bulexa.

“We try to think of innovation in terms of solutions, rather than tools. The innovation areas that we’ve put effort into in the last period have been: CSR & sustainability, stakeholder engagement, brand strategy and advocacy. For the advocacy and media training we are developing some tools that are unique on the market, and we think that they will bring a new approach. At Graffiti PR, we prefer not to have a ‘list of services’ but a collection of case studies that demonstrate we’re walking the talk. Moreover, as always happens when you push for growth and innovation, we have come to the situation where projects need competencies that are outside our area of expertise. This is when we act as a hub of resources and aggregate solutions from the BBDO group, from the Ketchum network or from other partners in the market. We strive to bring solutions, not a ‘menu’ of services,” said Tomoiaga.

When it comes to what clients want, representatives of Graffiti PR think more in terms of business solutions that need to be addressed than in terms of services that are requested from them. In the area of reputation management, media engagement, branded entertainment and brand strategy were the most common services in the agency’s projects last year. In terms of stakeholder engagement, more and more clients are focusing on employee engagement and corporate citizenship – ranging from sponsorship to CSR and sustainability. “We put a strong focus on developing skills in these areas, some of them a first for the PR industry,” added Tomoiaga.

With the increasing role of social media and its potential reputational influence, crisis communication expertise, its preventive part especially, has often been sought by clients. “On

the other hand, while storytelling has always been a strength of PR, the last years have put a greater emphasis on how a story has been told and from which angles. Visual content production became a new power for influence and we have adjusted to respond to these new requirements too,” said Damaschin.

Sorina Mihai prefers to see it more as an investment in the development of important competences in terms of strategic thinking, new business aptitudes, digital communication and social media, rather than tools. “It’s mandatory to be permanently up to speed with everything that is new in the industry, with everything that is a step ahead from what we used to know. And that is not only because the client’s expectations are rising, but also because of the level of product and service sophistication that he or she offers the consumer,” Mihai noted.

Meanwhile, Alexandru Paius believes that clients demand solutions and results, not services. Most communication briefs and requirements submitted to the agency do not explicitly call for a specific service. Clients simply state their issues, situations and business objectives and most frequently, their proposal comes in the form of an integrated communication campaign, reaching multiple stakeholders and employing a variety of communication tools.

Paius’s statement is supported by Crenguta Rosu who says that clients want solutions for different themes, from positioning and reputation to launches. The associated services vary based on the selected solution from generating content (text, visuals), to events, media relations, managing social networks accounts, etc. There is also an important shift from mass media and social media to owned media,that will change the way people see and approach communication – a trend that is here to stay.

“There is also high demand for creative services. Seldom it happens for us not to receive briefs for creative declinations such as concepts and visuals,” added Zoltan.

Cretan added, “We’re seeing more demand for integrated public affairs and public relation projects, with a focus on regulatory changes that expand the client’s market share for the benefit of the entire Romanian economy.”

Integration above all

As the industry and digital power are growing and evolving, the lines between PR, advertising and digital are getting slimmer and more blurred. Clients want results and integrated strategies and communication and agencies have to be ready to offer just that. By their own statements, GMP PR has developed resources in house, from digital, to creative copywriting and even to BTL. The firm is trying to meet clients’ needs, using its own resources, but there are also situations when it draws on the group’s knowledge, expertise and resources.

“Our first role is PR advisor and strategist. We’re seeing at the same time a convergence between PR and marketing growing in importance. We bring the vision and offer an extended range of implementation services, mainly related to creative execution or digital. Other services, like events, for example, are implemented through strategic partners,” said Alina Damaschin.

The concept of integration has become “elastic,” Sorana Sau believes, as it sometimes tends to justify campaigns that go far beyond the realm and tools of PR, yet insist on still being called “PR campaigns”. “We believe PR as a communication specialty has a lot to offer in itself and do not look to ‘integrate’ other types of communication, such as BTL, media buying and digital development (we obviously do digital content management, which is within our areas of expertise). Therefore, we tend to work well with the other specialized communication agencies our clients employ and, in certain situations, we have a pool of freelancers we can call on, depending on the type of work needed by the client,” added Savu.

“We usually offer personalized solutions and not a menu of services. In order to do that we have tested on our skin the competences of several agencies and some freelancers and chosen to work with those that share our working values. We listen, we put questions, we observe and once we understand clients’ needs we start building custom solutions using our expertise and our partners’ knowledge,” said Bailescu.

Crenguta Rosu emphasizes that integration is essential at a strategic level, while conceptualizing communication and generating the content. When a concept is outlined, every agency has its own model and approach. “Some services and competences are found in-house; others are obtained via partnerships with other agencies and freelancers. It’s a model that we have been using on the market for a long time now. We have in-house the necessary basis for consultancy services and execution, for every segment, and if this exceeds our team’s capacity in volume we start partnerships,” the DC Communication representative added.

“We provide strategic communication, which integrates PR service along with crises communication, public affairs, research and other complex professional skills and capabilities in our field. We integrate various innovative tools, as part of the communication platform, which we usually develop in house, in support of clients. In some situations we involve collaborators with which we traditionally co-operate project based,” the BDR Associates representative said.

Sorina Mihai points out that some projects need very specific competences, from technical fields, that only specialist can have. “The best option is to have a tandem, combining our expertise with the insights offered by an expert, in order to be able to offer exactly the communication solution that our client needs,” said the Porter Novelli representative.

Grayling Romania also has the power to work in-house on extended projects, using its internal resources. For complex projects that include a legal component, it has a strategic partnership with Tuca, Zbarcea & Asociatii.

The power to adapt to new trends

Agencies cannot stay the same, but have to be the first to integrate new trends and convince the client to adopt them, say pundits. DC Communication was a pioneer on the Romanian PR digital world, in the times of e-PR. It had its first online campaigns in 2001 and proposed creating communities and sustaining them through dialogue. “We did this for forums and communities of 15-25 people for the European Commission Delegation, Extranet for Nokia and its partners, Intranet for internal communication and later on social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. We have always watched very carefully, paid lots of attention to new trends and integrated the new channels as was fit. Sometimes we were more ready for them than the clients were,” Rosu said.

Following the market demand and its evolution is always important for BDR. “In our PR projects we approach digital as a tool for disseminating quality content to the right audience, looking at results which are always translated in business success for the client.  Correlation between PR and digital comes natural, but let’s not forget that at the end of the day everything is quantified by the client in return of investment,” explained Mihailescu.

Digital was key for GMP PR as well. The agency has invested a lot during the last couple of years and today, the digital department is the biggest in the agency. GMP PR has more than 20 clients on social media and the team is involved in almost all the agency’s projects.

“The beginning of the digital era found us in a tight relationship with the digital agencies in our group, and in the last five years, our agency has created the first social media department in the PR market. During all this time we have invested in people with new skills and specialized tools and the digital component in our campaigns has always had the role it deserves, depending on the brand’s needs and the details of the target group,” said Bulexa.

What is more important than feeling the trends, understanding and implementing them in your own projects, is creating, seizing and anticipating the trends. And this is exactly what Golin says it is trying to do locally. It was one of the first PR agencies in Romania to have a dedicated person for digital communication. Raluca Duta is now chief of bridge at the firm and runs a six-person team. “We believe and have invested in training and exchanges in the Golin network and we could offer that know-how to our clients through integrated solutions, from the management of network pages such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn, to

blogger and vlogger management, apps and online media. For the second year in a row we are the Romanian bloggers’ favorite communication agency and last year we were the only PR agency awarded at Internetics, for the Facebook page for KFC Romania. Also, this is the third year we have released, with Hoinaru Social Media Recap, analysis of the media and digital trends,” concluded Botez.

Sorana Savu has a broader view on the subject, that if you are well versed in content management, whether it’s digital or print does not matter, you can adapt easily. Once you develop digital platforms for your clients, they are instantly included in any type of communication effort you develop. “Sometimes, if the communities are created carefully and you have managed to gather real fans of the brand, the digital platforms are excellent test platforms for national campaigns you want to roll out,” said Savu.

Digital stopped being a trend and became a necessity in communication long ago. “However, we must take into account that even today there are projects or communication campaigns in which the average digital component is not that extended; it all depends on the project you have to implement, on the communication campaign’s objectives and target audience,” added Paius.

“I think that we’re at the beginning of a new phase in the communication platform development, where the content and the medium are treated with equal importance. It’s true that we’ve been living the digital hype for a few years now, but my evaluation is that we still think too often that everything can and must go digital. We as an industry still need to gain maturity in developing content that is truly proprietary for online and integrated platforms that use each medium to its fullest. On the other side clients also need to understand this, and to have consistency when they want to approach this medium,” pointed out Tomoiaga.

Problems – transparency, research and evaluation

The Romanian PR market is not without flaws. It still lacks transparency, mainly when it comes to fees, which is one of the most relevant business indicators in the industry worldwide. According to Loredana Sandulescu, 26 out of 36 PR agencies that took part in research by Biz and Unlock Market Research last year agreed to publish their fees, which in total amounted to EUR 10 million, with percentages varying from 25 percent to 98 percent of net turnover. It was a huge step forward to have those figure published as one year before more firms refused. “However, I feel more steps need to be taken on the way to full transparency. Secondly, over

time I have noticed many PR agencies that are good at doing PR for clients, but have neglected to do PR for themselves,” noted Sandulescu.

Adding to the list, Elena Bululete cites the lack of evaluation tools and measurement indicators. And this concern is stronger “when we talk about entrepreneurs who mostly want a clear picture of the outcome of your campaign and how that relates to their business goals or sales targets,” agreed the Conan PR representative.

“The most pressing problem of the local PR industry is that it needs PR, more than ever. We are passing through a period when is very important to have more efforts at micro level, as in industry, in order to prove the real value of PR, to convince our clients that we are playing an essential role in their communication efforts, that we have the strategic and creative capacities they require,” said Bulexa. She also believes that because PR has failed to impose itself permanently and decisively on the communication table, it has perpetuated the idea that the industry brings little value to the communication mix and has brought very big pressure on budgets allocated to the PR component, also transforming some PR services into a commodity. “Keeping the market value at a constant rate in the last few years was not normal,” Bulexa argued.

With the market developing at a great pace with lower budgets, a lot of marketers are going to new areas rather than consolidating existing ones. This sometimes brings a seniority gap. “Although we are lucky to have a high retention of our senior colleagues, we are seeing this challenge in the market as well as inside our company. Other challenges come from the strain on budgets that not only puts pressure on results (because this can be constructive), but also a tendency to choose short-term plans that, although making some impact, might erode the brand equity on the longer run,” said Tomoiaga.

“The problems are pretty old and well known. ‘Traditional’ PR fails to demonstrate a tangible return on investment and is terrible at creating a reputation for itself. PR professionals, in some cases, are not able to contribute to the overall development of the business; they remain short sighted and focused on media relations and PR stunts. As long as PR professionals don’t prove themselves worthy of being elevated to C-level, the industry is doomed to decline,” said the Grayling Romania representative. More professionalism is what Sorina Mihai hopes for as well, with the efficiency level and proficiency in the “comfort zone” being the main challenges facing the industry, from her point of view.

Alex Paius cites some clients’ misunderstanding of the momentum, objective and organization procedures of a pitch. Besides some pitches for small projects, the incredibly short deadlines to deliver the proposal, the elaborate requests, and the “ready-to-implement” campaigns, there is an even more important aspect: the overloading of the same agencies, in the same market,

with new business projects. “While agencies are working for pitches, some of the portfolio clients will be neglected to a certain extent as there is absolutely no agency to afford a dedicated new business department. If one looks at the big picture of the market, one will see that, sooner or later, all clients are affected due to the wrong strategies of holding a pitch,” concluded Paius.

2015 hopes from the clients and the market

“I wish that clients were more stable and predictable in terms of the communication campaigns they plan and had a better understanding of the effects, impact and limitations of communication regarding their business. I would like some of the PR firms in the market to be more aware of the fact that an eventual downgrading in the professional standards as a consequence of the high pressure on costs can negatively impact our industry long-term,” said Paius.

Ioana Manoiu wishes that clients would seriously consider measuring the results of PR campaigns. Besides the awareness analysis, Manoiu thinks clients should earmark budgets to analyze the impact of their campaigns. “We, as an industry, will not be able to grow if we cannot prove our value. And our value is not measured by the number of likes or media articles, but the real impact on the business. This is the main reason GMP PR is organizing in May the first conference dedicated exclusively to measurement in PR. We have succeeded in convincing an internationally renowned expert, Katie Paine, also known as the PR Measurement Queen, to come to Romania,” Manoiu said.

While Cristi Cretan wants a successful agency, that will ensure happy clients and a wonderful future, Alina Damaschin says that Rogalski Damaschin will continue to focus on values and winning the public trust through storytelling, keeping in mind that storytelling without story doing would lead to skepticism. Being meaningful, on all sides, is all that she needs.

“We hope that 2015 will be an important year for the market, in which we are closer and tighter as an industry and in which we prove to be more mature and willing to make greater efforts for the raising of quality and ethical standards. As for the clients, we hope they will display more trust in PR and pay more attention to their reputation,” Bulexa said. Her opinion about trust is echoed by Imola Zoltan, who believes that most agencies know what they are doing and deserve clients’ support.

And while Sorina Mihai’s 2015 mantra is all about courage and enthusiasm in approach and doing a really cool job, Crenguta Rosu is a little more pragmatic and desires a normal economic background for clients, as she is sure that the whole services suppliers’ chain will create interesting projects for all the industry to benefit from.

The Graffiti PR representative hopes for “vitality and courage to take on long-term plans and avoid the ‘short term’ gap that the budget reduction sometimes brings.”

Sorana Savu wants fairness and integrity, while Elena Bululete hopes for clients that show more boldness and greater confidence in their PR partners, but also an increase in the research investments. Last, but not least, Raluca Bailescu says the industry could benefit from clients that keep their calm, act smart and try to add value to their businesses.

“We would like to celebrate our 20 years of BDR, this year, in a healthier and friendly business environment which would allow major investments in our country. Market prosperity means flourishing companies and industries, which brings high communication demand, and therefore growth for the creative industries in which we operate. Prosperity is our wish for both the market and our clients,” concluded Alexandra Mihailescu, Partner & Senior Consultant Strategic Communication Romania & Republic of Moldova, BDR Associates Strategic Communication.

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