Recent developments such as Russia’s WTO accession and hosting the influential APEC forum for this first time this year are just two markers of the country’s continued integration into the global economy. Russia is a key player in the BRICs, with huge natural resources, a highly educated workforce and an enviable industrial base.
But for all its promise, investors and business leaders can still find Russia a challenging place to do business. It is ranked 112th in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business league table, a ranking that President Putin has committed to raise to the top twenty.
It is against this backdrop that Russia’s leading financial and commercial institutions must lead the charge in changing perceptions and presenting the modern and progressive face of Russian business.
This is a significant communications challenge and one that my organization, VTB Capital, takes very seriously. While communications executives in Western Europe still struggle to secure that all important voice on the board, VTB Capital has recognized that the Russian investment banking sector faces significant reputational challenges. My role on the management board enables a strategic voice for communications to be heard loud and clear.
One of the most important ways we have started to help shift the dialogue and change perceptions is through the Russia Calling Investment Forum which was first staged in 2009. That first event, despite fierce competition, attracted a remarkable 1,500 leading business and policy figures. The Moscow event now attracts about 2,000 delegates including 400 investors from across Russia, Europe, the United States, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. For global investors, the Forum has been a vital way of helping them understand Russia’s positive business and economic story.
But the Forum has never just been about cutting deals and securing investment. It acts as the gateway to doing business in Russia. The inaugural London event was held in 2009 and in April last year the first New York session took place. Together, these events are at the nexus of the global financial community, linking the world’s leading financial centers and connecting investors to businesses and policy makers with interests in Russia and the CIS region.
Following this year’s Moscow Forum in October, Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation who has attended consecutive forums, said: “The Forum has become a significant event in the economic life of our country and in the international calendar. It serves as a useful platform for open discussions on complex economic issues and elaborating new approaches to the investment policy.”
Russia Calling brings together a wide host of political and business stakeholders to address the most pressing issues of the day. But its goal has always been broader; to change the dialogue and to shift perceptions as part of a wider discourse on the development and progress of Russia’s economy.
This is only possible by engaging in progressive communication strategies - being fully integrated, fully digital and multi-stakeholder focused. An organization such as ours is at the forefront of Russia’s changing perception in the international business and financial community. Events and communication strategies that take an open and engaged approach, such as Russia Calling have demonstrated time and again to be one of the most effective ways of creating a positive discourse about Russia’s economy and investment landscape.
Communications strategies should be led by the business and commercial needs of an organization. However, in Russia Calling we have demonstrated that the converse is true: Communications strategies can lead a business as well. For a prominent Russian financial institution, this is a significant change and one that should be embraced.
If Russia is to achieve the top twenty goal for ease of doing business this lesson has never been more important.
Olga Podoinitsyna is a board member and global head of communications and marketing at VTB Capital.