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Russia: Between Symbol and Brand

By Julia Stonogina,Vice President, International
Association of Business Communications, Russia

Julia Stonogina,Vice President,
International Association of Business Communications, Russia
A country’s image and branding is the pinnacle and a very exclusive product of the public relations’ fussy job. In the modern geopolitical system, countries have desperately competed at the image level, maintaining state PR programs in order to promote their advantages in the spheres of trade, education or tourism. However image is a fragile product too: the valiant efforts of sophisticated PR teams can be broken instantly by a politician’s careless remark.

Russia is experiencing a period of uncertain image - it is no longer a frightening communist monster, but is not yet a country fully integrated into the world’s economic systems. On the one hand, Russia attempts to take advantage of belonging to the emerging markets, to the BRICs club - on the other hand, leaving oil prices aside, the country has not progressed in the same impressive way as China or India. Or, at least, its progress is not that visible to the rest of the world. For instance I’m sure it was a revelation to the many participants of this first Horasis Global Russia Business Meeting - to learn about Russia’s program for innovation support, presented by Igor Agamirzyan, Chairman, Russian Venture Company. Foreigners living and working in Russia admire its dynamism, its large variety of opportunities, and its European style of life: while the perception of the million others outside Russia is still based on their prejudices of the Cold War period.The reason might be that Russia is not, as the panelist Tony Cowling, Chairman,TNS, United Kingdom, said,‘a strong marketing nation’. Here we understand marketing in a broader sense, as the country’ and particular players’ ability to speak and act in a marketing way, maintaining the image of an integrated economic and communication policy.

As a moderator of the session ‘Creating Russian Brands,’ I had a chance to observe how Russia’s realities are perceived by its European and American counterparts. In a session reviewing the smaller national brands we were able to see the reflection of the big ‘brand Russia’ and thus its strong and weak points.

First of all, it was an amazing discovery to find that many of the Soviet Union’s distinctive labels still have their place in the westerners’ memory - and hearts.Talking of Russia, they still name the symbols from the country’ Soviet past: Pravda and the Bolshoy ballet, Sputnik and Kalashnikov, Fabergé and vodka. Indeed, those symbols were of the two ‘usual’ kinds - of culture and aggression.

Regretfully, there were few economic or business efforts mentioned.This showed that the West remains in ignorance of the new economics and its branding processes in Russia. It would seem that Russian companies, even trying to penetrate developed markets do not possess the proper communication and promotion programs which might smoothly promote their business. Being developed in basic economic sense the western markets are also advanced ‘branded’ territories. one must respect that field.Without implementation of the proper promotion policy Russia still operates the old symbolic on the world stage, not the wished-for new branded presentation.

‘The need to generate a positive image of Russia’s symbols and a new awareness of Russia’s brands is of prime importance’ 
Julia Stonogina,Vice President, International Association of Business Communications, Russia
Even those companies like Aeroflot, Lukoil, Gazprom, with which the Europeans are mostly familiar through media introductions, are still considered as older symbols: of the Russian air transport with its poor service; of Russia’s abundance built on fuel wells; or Russia’s bullying smaller neighbours by cutting off the gas supplies. How about the other thousands of Russian companies with shorter or longer market life? Even being well known on the domestic market, Russian brands have no global impact which means it’s still a long way from being fully integrated into the global economy. The need to generate a positive image of Russia’s symbols and a new awareness of Russia’s brands is of prime importance.
Tony Cowling, Chairman,TNS, United Kingdom makes a point as Julia Stonogina
and Janez ňáSkrabec listen

This is the current situation that must be given a proper and beneficial balance: similar to Lenovo not destroying the Great Wall but complementing it.

Symbols and brands belong to different economic systems and different human consciousness. For instance, we might think the distance between symbols and brands is just the same length as it is between propaganda and marketing. Symbols talk to us about the politics, brands about economy.

Symbols do not need to compete for the people’s emotional appreciation but brands do. Russia’s symbols belong to the time of the industrial economy, controlled market and totalitarian society. Russian brands should demonstrate the country’s economic transformation, post-industrial thinking and a new type of communication with the world.

Re-evaluating Russia is a mutual process for both Russians and the Europeans alike. It is not as if we are going to jump from zero to the sky.What I’m trying to say is that the present economic processes in Russia are ahead of the laggardly informational policy - whether conducted by private companies or the State.

Horasis has voluntarily undertaken a difficult mission to consider Russia’s promotion to its potential world partners.The Global Russia Business Meeting was a great opportunity for the public relations of the Russian business elite to open up to the international community. Hopefully they might be stimulated, and be propelled from the domestic level to the higher levels of the world’s economic processes.

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