Michael Killeen reflects on his recent visit to Moscow


Russia is currently riding the BRIC wave, while Ireland attempts to depart its PIGS status.

Dialogue has been working successfully with our partner Itella Connexions in Russia for close to three years. Current CRM wins include Philips, Renault and Philip Morris. We generally deliver the CRM strategy and creative, while Itella focus on strategic support, production, campaign delivery and analysis.

I recently returned on a new business development trip to meet current clients and new prospects. With the help of our existing clients, and the Enterprise Ireland’s Moscow team, we opened specific project discussions with Rosneft Oil Group, Megafon Telcom, Nissan and Nokia and had exploratory meetings with a number of other prospects, influencers and potential advocates.

Hats off to the Enterprise Ireland team of Gerard MacCarthy and Olesya Chaplynska, who played their part in setting up a superior meeting with one of the largest oil groups in the world, which proved to be very encouraging. We even got a slot with one of Irelands leading business people in Europe, the dynamic Avril Conroy, Rosneft Regional Director, who flew in to meet us for 30 minutes and sped off for a meeting in Central Europe. In the course of an intense session, we were invited to develop a plan for a significant strategic programme with our partners in Russia and India. During the week we also received tender invitations for two briefs and are speaking with three other prospects about 2013 and 2014 programs.

The investment in face to face meetings with key decision makers is the advised way to go. A lot of pre-correspondence is required to set these up so that each meeting is highly productive. All meetings and correspondence are carried out in English as these companies are global players who conduct their business in English, predominantly. One needs to make sure that your LinkedIn profile and other references are up to date and tell a great story about you. Like all security conscious cultures, its common practice to have a large file on you prior to any meeting.

Marketing in Russia has its challenges. The larger cities are seeing tremendous growth while the regional ‘Bear’ areas are slowly coming to terms with the early 1990 economy collapse.

Internet and smart phone penetration grows at tremendous pace in urban areas, while rural populations are using land line and direct mail as a main means of direct communication. Irelands experience with similar growth is invaluable to marketers there and gives them great confidence in our ability to deliver.

Like other foreign markets we enter, the Irish brand continues to punch above its weight. The respect for the quality of our work, professionalism, honesty, energy and our respect for their local cultures is fascinating to all. We excel by leveraging these positions of strength to gain immediate trust and clarify exactly what it is we can do that is currently not available in their home market. In one case, we declined a piece of work because it wasn’t our core area of expertise. When questioned further whether we could do it with one of our partners the contract came our way. They have great respect for honesty, as local companies seem to claim to be expert in everything possible.

Authority is still king in Russia; nothing gets done unless the main decision makers say so. Middle- tier managers, while hugely talented, must do their time in order to move up the pecking order. It reminded the culture of Ireland in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. No matter how good, you had to do your time. I find it rewarding to take the time to understand how Russians history has developed these cultural hurdles. No one challenges authority, no one delivers bad news, and no one will move an inch off brief unless it comes from above. So if you ask a colleague to get you a ham sandwich and two hours later you go looking for him with a ‘’where’s my sandwich?’’ It will most likely be answered by, “they only had chicken!’’So the scope for thinking for oneself and acting decisively is massive. It will come in time as the youth movement is gaining confidence and starting to challenge authority. And remember this youth movement is well aware of past failure. They too, had to stand in queues in the early 90’s and have no intention of going back to those days again.

While full of opportunity, one has to be very careful in engaging in contract negotiations. Clarity is so important. What is agreed in one meeting will change overnight without any recourse. You are always on your guard to make sure everyone is absolutely clear on what is being agreed and who is responsible for what. Those who write the check expect the supplier to do all the work. In some cases we are expected to read the mind of authority as the inputs can be incredibly vague. So when you get the chance to meet the decision makers, it’s wise to seek out all forms of preferences for future time savings. It’s also critical to meet with the procurement teams as they have a better handle on contract agreements. They can be very useful friends to have on your side if tasks and responsibilities go astray. Something Irish procurement departments could learn from.

The people are incredibly friendly once the right introductions are made.  There is a great hunger from Russians in learning and working with world class professionals.

On a final note, I met with our past client Jonnie Cahill (ex O2), who is the new Marketing Director for Heineken Russia. Jonnie has some incredible challenges on his hands balanced with amazing opportunities that most marketing directors might only dream of.  Jonnie is a stalwart of team success and is making great headway in getting his people to feel more confident in making decisions for themselves rather than relying on top- down activation. In the short period he has been there, he has enough ammunition for a classic book on the dos and don’ts of international business development.

So, is Russia an avenue for other Irish service companies? I would certainly believe so. The pros and cons take digesting. There is a certain pioneering feeling about making progress there. But I would back it for the longer term. They are deservedly coined a BRIC country and the Irish are respected while other developed nations are less so. They have very long memories and would be far more inclined to work with those who have the necessary skills without the baggage. Dialogue are backing the Bear!

Michael Killeen

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