Valentina Gurova is the head of the PR-Aliyans agency. She has been working in PR since 1999, when this field was only starting to find its footing in Russia, with politics being the most popular area of activity for PR specialists. In the early 2000s, Valentina decided to start her own agency, changing her course a little: her field of interest included social activism, charity, culture, art, and, of course, show business. This is how PR-Aliyans came to be in 2002. Today, the team of PR-Aliyans develops PR programmes for individuals and organisations, including large industrial and investment companies.
Valentina, you were at the forefront of PR in Russia back when the profession of a PR agent seemed to be something mysterious. How did you get started in this field?
When I first started, almost no one knew what the job of a PR agent was, there were only 15 agencies in Russia. Back when I was still a university student, I visited an exhibition featuring books on advertising and PR, lectures and, of course, professionals who were willing to share their experience: and right at the exhibition I applied for an internship at one of those agencies. The new job took over my life to the point that I was practically drowning in it: during the day I was torn between lectures at the university and trips to the office; at night, I studied copywriting and read anything I could find on PR in Russia. I was fortunate enough to almost immediately become part of the team of a major political project: the gubernatorial elections. I had to work around the clock in order to find time for everything, but since this was my calling, I forgot about sleep. I still look back at those times with fondness!
Today, PR no longer seems as incomprehensible, but still, what trivial or funny questions do you get asked about your work by the ‘uninitiated’, people who are not related to this field?
Most of the strange and provocative questions I get asked concern not myself or my work, but rather my clients, especially TV stars and stars of show business: what they are like in real life, the latest gossip, scandals… But a good PR agent should have the nobility of an English gentleman – to be silent about juicy details and reveal only what the clients themselves would be ready to make public. And since the boundaries of taboo topics are different for everyone, you need to be a sensitive psychologist in order to understand what exactly the client is ready to reveal to the general public. Sometimes scandalous topics can be a great PR move, even if they do not do credit to the client: public scandals, explicit photos, candid confessions and divorce proceedings. Just imagine the willpower you need to possess in order to impartially work with all this!
Have you ever had to work for someone you disliked? Is it even possible?
It’s just easier to make others fall in love with someone whom you personally find appealing. But, just like in any other business, you get all sorts of jobs — some easy, some difficult. In most cases, I try to connect with the client and build a trusting relationship for many years of fruitful cooperation. If there happens to be a sudden creative disconnect between us, we sit down at the negotiating table and discuss the work process. Sometimes clients themselves do not know what they want from their PR team or do not trust us as specialists: in cases like these we simply part our ways. Time is the most valuable resource, you can’t spend it on someone who does not understand this.
Could you name your most memorable project? Perhaps the most difficult or your favourite one?
Our agency is actively engaged in the field of fashion, I am especially proud of our cooperation with such giants as Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire and Vogue. Over the past 12 years, we have significantly expanded our areas of activity and now we not only cooperate with the European media, but also work closely with such countries as the USA, China, Vietnam, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. At the same time, each client and each publication is a real challenge and joy. But perhaps the most memorable project was and still is the international beauty contest Miss Earth, where our client, despite her modest achievements, managed to impress everyone with her emotional speech about Russia written under the guidance of our copywriter. Just imagine, a contestant who didn’t even get into the top 10 finalists, was followed day and night by dozens of reporters wishing to interview her. The girl was predicted to have a successful political career in her home country, but she saw her calling in social and charitable projects, so she did not take this opportunity. Well, there are different ways to influence the fate of your country, but for our part, we have done everything to make the name of our client known throughout the world.
5. How do you feel about self-promotion through social media: for example, via Instagram?
Not only does self-promotion through social media and YouTube have the right to exist, but it is the future of PR. Of course, as long as it is not organised in a frantic way with the sole goal of quickly making money on any hype. The print media is getting replaced by online publications, and during the pandemic, all aspects of our lives have moved to the Internet: communication, healthcare, shopping, work, studying, training. Naturally, content should be original and, generally, there is entire team of professionals behind it: from the writer to the creative producer. We help to fill channels and blogs with high-quality material and do it quickly and efficiently, with knowledge and experience. Where others need inspiration, we just work.
Over more than 20 years of working in PR, you are probably already familiar with all the distinguished directors, photographers, stylists, make-up artists and you prefer to work with them. What does, for example, a young photographer need to do for you to notice them and invite them for a shoot? Would it be a risk to you?
We are always in search of young talents with fresh views and ideas: photographers, stylists, make-up artists and decorators submit their work to us all the time. I keep an eye on the work of my colleagues in the top glossy magazines and enjoy discovering new names for myself. You don’t need much to be able to collaborate with our agency: talent, initiative, readiness to work with irregular scheduling and high stress resistance – sometimes it happens that we need to organise a high-quality shooting in just a couple of days or need to film everything in a single take between the client’s tours with no room for mistakes, so as not to make the client miss their flight. Shooting on the street at night and in bad weather is not unusual for us. And, of course, the clients themselves are not always in a good mood: they can be tired, moody, indecisive – you need to be able to deal with all this and keep working. So, we invite many, but only the best stay!
What are the three top qualities without which you would not have been able to become a successful PR agent?
I try to be the best at everything, I always keep learning and never look down on beginners. More specifically, these qualities are perfectionism, thirst for knowledge and the lack of a superiority complex.
What is the most inspiring part of your job?
The most inspiring part of my job, just like of any other, is to see happiness in my clients’ eyes and to hear their appreciative ‘thank you’. Needless to say, such emotions act as a very powerful fuel in our difficult but exciting profession!