City & Corporate: Gloom over Russian markets lifts

First signs of economic recovery in Russia fuel optimism among London's financial PR companies.

The dire economic conditions of the past 12 months saw business opportunities for City PR in Russia plummet, but signs are emerging that the Russian market could finally be recovering.

International business has been the primary driver of City PR growth in recent years, with firms from emerging Europe - as well as the Middle East and India - providing a raft of financial PR opportunities for London-based agencies.

These new business opportunities shuddered to a halt as the global recession hit the Russian market harder than most, but a number of agency sources now say opportunities are emerging with internationally focused companies strong enough to have survived the downturn.

One such brief with Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russian gas giant Gazprom, has been picked up by Hudson Sandler. The agency has been brought in on a project basis to advise the firm on its online strategy for corporate and financial communications.

Russian flotations in London, a profitable staple of the financial PR industry in the recent past, are still rare but supporters of the country say blue chip international firms based in Russia are looking to differentiate themselves from those with poor records of corporate governance or financial performance.

Andrew Hayes, chief executive of Hudson Sandler, which has clients across several sectors in the Commonwealth of Independent States, said: 'We have built a market-leading practice in recent years by focusing on high level, value-added strategic consulting. We are committed to the Russian market and 2009 is proving a very active year.'

Certainly economic indicators in the country are improving. Gross domestic product collapsed by 10.1 per cent in the first half of the year, but the Federal Statistics Agency this week said capital investment jumped 11.8 per cent in June compared with the previous month, and unemployment fell to 8.3 per cent.

Last year the Russian stock market fell by 75 per cent over six months, but has clawed back more than 25 per cent of those losses in recent months. The country remains rich in natural resources and, importantly, oil prices are back to around $70 a barrel.

Stuart Leasor, partner at M: Communications, agreed that business was picking up, but felt the market was 'much quieter' than previously. He said: 'People seem to be sitting back and waiting to see what happens next.'

How I see it

Tom Blackwell, Senior vice-president & MD - Moscow, The PBN Company

The financial crisis hit Russian corporates harder than most imagined possible. The previously credible notion of 'Russia as a safe haven' became farcical almost overnight.

But today there is a growing number of progressive and visionary companies that are starting to realise where the opportunity in crisis lies.

They are willing to engage the media and financial world, empowered by their confidence to acknowledge that they don't have all the answers. These companies will come out on top after the crisis.

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