The World: Insider's View - Russia

The financial pressure brought about by the recession could 'be just what Russia needs to make creativity the priority it should be'.

From New York to New Zealand, agencies are feeling the crunch of the inevitable budget cuts that occur when economies turn sour.

And ad executives everywhere are pulling out their "why you should continue to advertise during a recession" facts and figures, to fight the good fight for continued spend - and losing.

Russia is no different. Some thought we might be spared, what with our exceptional economic growth over the past several years and the Kremlin's deep pockets.

But one-hundred-dollar-a-barrel drop in oil prices took care of that. Like the rouble, the position of marketing directors and their agencies has weakened as companies look to marketing budgets for cost cuts.

Not a great time to be making ads. Or is it? There may be a bright side to all of this in Russia - the work may get better. And it needs to.

Despite the ad industry's tremendous growth here, Russia's creative output is disappointing. No agency in Russia ranks in the top 50 in The Gunn Report and, as a country, Russia doesn't make it into the top 25.

At Epica, a pan-European award show, Russian agencies combined for a total of four awards, one more than agencies from Slovakia and Lebanon. Cannes? Cannot.

And it's not for lack of talent. Sadly, it appears to be for a lack of trying. Let's be fair, it takes a daring client to buy truly breakthrough creative work and, until recently, there wasn't much incentive to be daring in Russia.

The economy was booming and growth was everywhere. Why stick your neck out for something innovative or risque when a 30-second pack shot, or a four-year-old adaptation from Poland, will do the trick? The agencies appear to be guilty as well - a recent press conference in Moscow to announce the final 2008 agency creative rankings was attended by three times as many agency executives as reporters.

But if the argument that spending less on advertising when sales are down seems flawed, then running advertising that's less creative in the face of tough times is downright absurd. The pressure to reverse declining sales may be just what Russia needs to make creativity the priority it should be.

After all, it was the proliferation of brand choice and media, and the challenges this created for marketers, that led to the creative revolution in the West.

Our personal experience suggests that times are changing. We're being asked by clients to find "creative" solutions in the face of low, sometimes almost no, budgets. And suddenly "viral" is being bandied around as the desperate measure for desperate times.

So perhaps it's not such a bad time to be making ads. Maybe Russia's recessionary cloud has a silver Lion (sorry).

- Shannon Cullum is the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi Russia.