Postcard from Romania

PR is slowly emerging from under the ad agency shadow in Romania, as brands begin to invest in a growing local economy, says Mirela Meita, general manager of Chelgate Romania's Bucharest office

I have never known the PR industry to be as vibrant as it is today. Romania has become remarkably well-populated by PR firms. Well-established, home-grown Romanian agencies are scattered across the country, and new ones are opening. We are also seeing the arrival of the international ‘names’. It’s taken longer than many of us expected, and is still less advanced than it might first appear.

Yes, many big international networks are here. But often this has been via investment in a local firm or affiliate branding, with little change in the service provided. All are cashing in on Romania’s economic growth – 2.9 per cent in 2014, and one of the highest in Europe, in spite of instability to the east.

It’s an exciting time, made more exciting by two developments: fast-moving econo-mic liberalisation; and a new and effective anti-corruption campaign. We are thrilled to see this: it clears the way for proper government and media relations to develop. Meanwhile, Romania is becoming more tech-savvy and social media is booming.

But problems remain. Few agencies offer the sophistication clients can expect in London, Washington or New York. The reason is historical. Old-fashioned PR here tended to be a low-skilled discipline, very much advertising’s junior partner. Many ad agencies offered ‘free PR’. And that PR was largely restricted to editorial placements, negotiated as part of an advertising deal. Where fees were paid, they were small, salaries were low and professional calibre not the highest. Things are improving, but the legacy is an industry that is often crude.

At the same time, clients tend to undervalue PR, associating it with day-to-day comms, not with the work of shaping long-term reputations. Romanian PRs tend to be young – there are few senior players. Because the work undertaken by younger executives is less complex, the margins in this part of the industry are tight.

Then there’s corruption. Old-style government relations often involved ‘fixers’ operating in the shadows. They are still out there. Backhanders and private arrangements can still influence a deal. This holds Romania back. Honest firms, as well as those from countries with stringent anti-corruption laws, are wary of doing business here. Sadly, I couldn’t say this has disappeared altogether. But it is getting better.

These and other issues mean that Romania has been a tricky market for foreign firms to invest in. In 2007, for instance, Debenhams opened stores in Romania but in 2013, facing difficulties, it withdrew. But now it’s back, recognising that Romania is an important market, but also a unique one. For idiosyncrasies, look no further than Twitter. In the UK and US, it is a cornerstone of corporate PR, but not here where Facebook is the platform of choice. Kaufland, our largest retailer with around €2bn (£1.6bn) in sales, has no Twitter presence in Romania.

These differences create challenges, but also opportunities for PRs helping foreign clients. Romania is a modern marketand an open society – evidenced by manythings, from Romania’s tolerant attitudes towards its Muslim minority and incomingMiddle Eastern migrants to its widespreadembracing of IT and new media.

My colleagues and I are optimistic about PR’s future here. Everything is moving in the right direction – it just isn’t there yet.

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