– I graduated in law, but I thought it would be a boring field to specialise in. I was attracted by advertising, with its bright creative solutions. As it turned out, in one instant I changed not only my field of activity but my country too. It was a real New Year’s story. I met a Russian girl, and on the eve of 2002, she invited me to Russia. Finding myself in Moscow, I assessed the great scope of this country and felt that there were opportunities here unlike any that existed in Europe. To start with, I found a job in ‘RIA-novosti’ (the State Information Agency of the Russian Federation). I worked in the foreign department, speaking mostly English and French (though I can also speak Italian and German).
The Moscow digital marketing agency BuzzFactory was founded by Thierry Cellerin in 2009. It specialises in marketing goods and services on the internet, and helps brands communicate with their customers by attracting the most popular bloggers and other prestigious internet celebrities to cooperate with them. The company has developed its own technology to carry out its marketing campaigns: Buzzfactor Influencer Platform. The company also offers services in SEO and PR.
– Why, you’re a real polyglot! No wonder they took you on at once in ‘RIA-novosti’!
– On the other hand, I knew no Russian at all then. I didn’t study the language as such, I picked it up in conversation with my girlfriend, colleagues and friends, and I was soon able to understand what people were saying. What I particularly liked about Moscow was the fact that here you can find the very job you like and find interesting. In Western Europe you usually work at what you are offered rather than at what you really want to do. In Moscow I knew very well that if the agency closed for some reason, I could find another job straight away. That’s what the market is like here.
Finding myself in Moscow, I assessed the great scope of this country and felt that there were opportunities here unlike any that existed in Europe.
– However, you left paid employment and set up your own business. Tell me how that came about.
– Before opening my own business, I worked in real estate for a time. In 2006 I was working in advertising, and two years after that I had this idea of a digital agency, offering services for marketing goods and services on the internet. I had two French partners, but I had to do most of the work myself. By that time I already had a company, dealing with legal matters and bookkeeping. Those who worked there spoke excellent French, so there was no problem with filling in the necessary forms. My Russian acquaintances helped me too. And to this day, before taking an important decision, I consult two or three specialists and ask them “What would you do in this situation?”
Gleb Shuklin, Russian Association of Electronic Communications:
— Today’s SMM market in Russia is at the stage of rapid growth in connection with the wide proliferation of new advertising tools and the variety of relationships between advertisement providers, agencies and the social networks, and the owners of popular groups and apps. There are more and more medium and small businesses among the clients of SMM agencies, which make the market more dynamic, flexible and interesting.The new possibilities of the social networks, the increased search functions for example, are also influencing the development of SMM services. The term Social Media Optimisation is coming back – businesses are beginning to order promotional services both on Facebook and on VK.
The picture of the advertising niche is also being radically changed by more and more people using mobile apps. Companies keep having to adjust to the changing conditions of delivering their content to users, because here activity, sensitivity to the situation and passion are the keys to success. In Russia, on top of all this, account must be taken of the fact that the social networks are vulnerable to laws being passed without the participation of the internet industry. Constant attacks on rights holders and the risk of resources being blocked due to the actions of users considerably raise costs.
– How many people work in your agency?
– A digital agency works mainly with small self-contained teams of independent co-operators. Our main tools are social media monitoring systems. Actually on the books, I have five people, not counting two freelance bloggers. We have spent a considerable amount of money and a good deal of time on creating our own technology. Companies working with bloggers do not usually know how many people have actually seen their message. Our technology makes it possible to obtained highly detailed information about this in real time, without surprises or deceptions. Everything is very transparent.
We have spent a considerable amount of money and a good deal of time on creating our own technology.
– How do you select the specialists you need?
– By recommendation. Apart from professionalism, it is important to me that a person should be responsible and not let me down. I don’t expect my staff to come to the office every day. The main thing for me is that they should do a good job and do it on time. How they organise their work is their own affair.
– How much do specialists in your line of work earn in Russia?
– It varies. It can be 30,000 roubles, or it can be more than 100,000.
– What difficulties have you come across?
– There’s a problem with the bank. In Europe a bank is always a partner in business, in Russia not always. It is very difficult to make contact with the administration of a bank. Fortunately I have good partners who are accountants. But to this day, the bank takes up a lot of my time.
In Europe a bank is always a partner in business, in Russia, not always.
I never pay anyone “back-handers”. This means there are some clients I simply can’t work with. The way I think of it is that if someone is willing to take a bribe to give me an order today, another contractor might come along tomorrow, offer a bigger sum and take my order away. Unfortunately, there are dishonest contractors in our market. They simply deceive their clients, showing them any number of hits. Customers still don’t know their way around our field of activity, monitoring social networks. But we, I repeat, are totally transparent.
– How much does it cost to rent a small office like yours in the centre of Moscow?
– From 50,000 to 100,000 roubles a month.
– Is it hard to find clients?
– It’s easy now, because the company has already won a good reputation. Apart from that, I am actively engaged in the CCIFR (Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry). I head the Marketing and PR Committee. We organise a lot of conferences. I have no difficulty finding new clients from among those who attend them.
Dmitri Chistov, Media Director of Internet Media Holding:
— Social Media Marketing is a quite unique segment of the communications market. According to a study by ‘Ekonomika Runeta’, in 2012 the size of the social media promotion market was about three billion roubles, and from the results of 2013, will increase by about a third. But you have to understand that this is a quite non-transparent segment, There is no way of assessing the real effectiveness of SMM. Sites (the social networks themselves) are struggling specifically against automatic promotion systems and the creation of ‘dead souls’ – accounts of non-existent people. On the other hand, the activities of brands and companies in the struggle for people’s attention create quite a considerable information flow in the social media. According to several studies, more than 60% of users no longer pay attention to brand messages in the social networks.
Nevertheless, the millions of people who use the social networks every day and the wish, backed by money, of companies to establish communication with them have their effect. The development of tools and increasing transparency will enable this segment to evolve and reach a new level.
The cost of a startup in the SMM field is from 10 million roubles. The figure is made up of the costs of creating the organisation, renting office space and the salaries of qualified SMM specialists coordinating the work of cheap freelancers. It is also highly desirable to have a professional designer and a professional copywriter on the payroll.
– How do Western clients differ from Russian ones?
– There are two factors here: the company itself and the people who work for it. The companies here differ considerably. Some are no different from Western companies, others are for more specific purposes. As for specialists, on the Russian market there are both super-professionals and total idiots.
– What impresses you and what irritates you about the Russian national character?
– I like the kindness of Russians. I am often invited to celebrations as a guest and accepted as a member of the family. People open up completely, they open their souls to you, as the Russians say. There is such a high level of trust. But if we are talking about business, I am somewhat dismayed by the fact that Russians do not like to look into the future. After doing something once, they intend to carry on doing the same for the rest of their lives. This is very different from the Western market. There, businessmen think this way: “OK, done that, what shall I do next? Could the process be improved?”
– What do you think is behind this?
– I believe it is just the present level of the local business culture. Russians do not make long-term plans. Sometimes they open their business, and if it doesn’t bring in a profit after a year or so, the business closes, the cash is taken out, they buy a big car, and that’s it. They are a success in life! The French have the opposite problem. They sometimes look too far into the future. I was shocked when a 24-year-old Frenchman said to me one day: “When I retire on pension, I’ll…” But that won’t be for 40 years!
– What have you to say about your competitors?
– There is one “Begun” – a system of placing media advertisements on the internet. This is quite a big platform, which aims not for quality but for quantity. But we work in the blogosphere with those who have nothing to do with “Begun”. So in effect, we have no competitors.
– Is it essential to know Russian to do business in Moscow?
– I speak Russian quite well, but I have difficulties if I have to write it. Of course you should learn the language of the country in which you work; it makes it easier to understand the local mentality and adapt to it. I know several foreign companies which have opened in Moscow and then suddenly closed down. Russia is not Europe, here many surprises await you. You have to go with the flow, and a knowledge of Russian is a great help in doing so.
Russia is not Europe, here many surprises await you. You have to go with the flow, and a knowledge of Russian is a great help in doing so.
– Is it worthwhile for a Western person to come to Moscow to open a business?
– It depends what business idea you have, in which sphere you intend to operate. But there are many successful examples. For instance, two Frenchmen came here, opened pancake stalls from scratch, without any help, and now they are prospering. And an acquaintance of mine started an internet store selling socks; he is now doing very well. You can certainly make money from small projects here.
– Are Western preconceptions of Russia changing?
– Previously, foreigners were sure that Russia was a big country with a lot of drunken people. Now they consider that Russia is a big country with a lot of rich people.
– Do you intend to stay long in Moscow?
– Russia still has a lot of economic potential. I have a company here which I intend to expand, many business ties, friends and plans. And I have a Russian girlfriend here too. What more do you need for happiness?