Alpo Räinä is Managing Director at Mailand Communications, Finland and belonged to the Jury of Golden Hammer 2015 with the interviewed.

When the Soviet Union dissolved, it was a humiliating ”geopolitical disaster” for Vladimir Putin. However, even though nearly all its neighbours are EU or even NATO members today, it still affects their daily life, including advertising and communications.

Many companies in Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic countries operate in the same markets as in the Soviet days. What makes business complicated is that goods are sold across several borders, and many of these countries have substantial Russian-speaking communities.

Last summer, the Golden Hammer competition in Riga awarded the year’s best advertising and communications. Work had been sent from more than 20 countries, mostly from Eastern Europe. There were some signs of heated political situation to be seen. Some Ukrainian advertisers presented national symbols and pointed to their threatened sovereignty. A Golden Hammer was awarded for the launch of the Ukrainian film The Guide. It describes the country’s bitter pursuit for independence after the October revolution. The campaign encouraged listening to your heart when you’re blinded by propaganda.

Often, however, the resentment is hidden. Latvia launched a popular campaign to support the sales of domestic foodstuffs, when Russia closed its borders. Latvian export companies suffered but still the neighbour was presented as a smiling teddy bear.

Agencies face strong tensions in their daily work particularly in Latvia, where Russian-speakers represent one third of the population. Bilingualism must always be taken into account. Even the EU Commission's campaigns are carried out in both languages, although Brussels pays only for the Latvian. The Russian-language press refuses to use the Latvian-language material. Communications consultants recommend patience to their customers when it comes to politics, because the balance of languages is so sensitive. In social media you mustn’t provoke even in your own name, explained Olga Kazaka, Partner at the Riga-based communications agency A.W.Olsen.

Janno Toots, earlier the Communications Director of the Estonian Central Bank and today Partner at Corpore PR agency, said that Estonian business leaders now and then take political stand. On one hand, some of them question the sanctions against Russia, mostly because of the counter sanctions against Estonia rather than for geopolitical reasons. On the other hand, when there was a support campaign for Ukrainian goods in March 2014, some retail chains labelled the products to help recognise them better.

Creative Director at Lithuania’s advertising agency Adell Taivas Ogilvy, Dominykas Zilenas commented that major advertisers are extremely careful not to step on Russian toes. For example, the large meat processer Samsonas quietly discontinues the production of Tarybiniai brand (Lithuanian for ”Soviet”), which had been advertised in a retro style imitating socialist realism.

Risk avoidance is key for Western brands as well. Partner at the Berlin-based agency dieckertschmidt, Stefan Schmidt believes that German brands don’t want to lose their stake in Russian, Ukrainian or Baltic markets because of politics. Instead, what makes companies talk is the current influx of refugees. Stefan mailed that companies and brand owners have the courage to oppose extreme right groups. They see the refugees as a solution to both workforce needs and helping the aging country’s demographic problem. So, in a way, neonazis are a smaller evil than Putin.

Originally published on the leading marketing weekly in Finland M&M website.