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About Success Builder

How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features HSE University graduates who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences and lessons learnt and talk about how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.

Polina Lomonosova, a graduate of the master’s programme in Integrated Communications at HSE University, is not only the head of PR projects at Yandex Music, but also teaches at HSE where she introduces students to the hottest business cases in the industry. In this interview with Success Builder, she talked about how studying at HSE University helped her find a job and friends, what PR specialists do in the coolest companies, and why people go into PR in the first place.

Why did you choose the Integrated Communications programme? Did you have a specific career goal in mind?

My first degree was a bachelor’s in psychology. The main thing that I liked about that major was the opportunity to communicate a lot with different people. I then worked as a manager training staff and I was pretty good at it, despite my youth. I wanted to continue my studies after earning a bachelor’s, but I didn’t get a scholarship. On the one hand, that upset me, but on the other, I decided to use that year to figure out what type of career I really wanted and whether I needed psychology at all.

At the time, I was already working in the Moscow government on a project developing student media. I really liked the project and my role in it. That was when I began thinking about going into PR and media relations. I began looking at master’s programmes. Acquaintances working in PR and communications strongly recommended HSE University, saying that the people teaching media communications there were top industry practitioners. I began preparing for admission as early as the fall. I gradually collected letters of recommendation, delved deeper into the selection criteria, and in general, significantly strengthened my portfolio and letter of intent. In the end, I got in. By the way, I was the first psychologist in the programme.

What did you want to get from this master’s programme? How did it improve your professional status?

When I came to study at the program, the phrase ‘integrated communications’ sounded like hocus-pocus, and everyone was trying to understand what exactly we would study. I originally came with the intention of working with journalists and making big headlines, but how that related to integrated communications remained a mystery to me and many of my classmates. Based on the results of our studies, I can say that the programme provides many specific tools and that it helps you begin to better understand what a communicator does and what the latest PR tools are. I liked the fact that our curriculum was built on the effective use of specific cases studies and stories from the business world. An added benefit is the excellent networking that results because you communicate a lot with classmates and teachers from different companies and fields.

I connected with a huge number of people at HSE with whom I still stay in touch

The programme also helped me find a job: I met Nastya Zhbanova, who teaches there. She was then the director of product and media communications at the Mail.ru Group and now works at Ali Express Russia. After I finished her class, she offered me an internship. I was already working at an agency at the time, so I decided to give it a try during my vacation. During my internship, I was inspired by the work there and the atmosphere that then reigned on the 26th floor. I met a lot of people and eventually received an offer to work at City-Mobil, in which Mail.ru Group then invested. After I finished the programme, my career really took off: I quickly acclimated to City-Mobil and eventually rose to the position of PR director.

Did your previous education, combined with PR, have an interesting effect of some sort? Was it a useful foundation?

I never specifically tried to combine the two because university-level psychology includes a huge volume of theoretical knowledge that is not very applicable in practice. But what psychology really provides is an understanding of how individuals perceive events, other people and information of all types in general. It also helps you better understand emotions and experiences—both yours and those of the people close to you.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

In fact, before entering the Pedagogical University, I was still studying to be an elementary school teacher of remedial, developmental and compensatory education. Communication with children gave me very useful experience; it taught me how to properly present information, resolve conflicts among children (which often resemble those that occur in a business environment), and to negotiate with children. Otherwise, it would not be possible to create a proper learning environment for them. It seems to me that in the course of all my studies and work experience, I have developed an important quality as a communicator—the ability to establish contact, to not be afraid to write, get acquainted, call, negotiate, and resolve any conflict using words and without delay or difficulties.

How did your career take off after studying at the programme, and why?

After completing my internship, City-Mobil invited me to try my hand there. The offer came just as I was finishing my studies. At first, I was responsible for regional PR. It was important for the company to expand into Russia’s regions by doing interesting projects with regional media. At the time, they were flourishing and so there were lots of them. It was a time of rapid activity and growth at City-Mobil, so PR within the company played an important role. In addition to covering all in-house events, including product launches, support for marketing campaigns, and reporting on business growth, we created a large number of our own newsbreaks and special projects. Our team had carte blanche, since one of the company’s objectives was to increase recognition of the brand and company. Newsjacking became a favorite tool (this is when the company quickly integrates breaking world events into its messaging). Of course, this is rather inappropriate now, but at the time, it helped us to stay noticed. However, once the pandemic began in 2020, COVID-19 dominated the agenda and the company’s entire staff was sent home to work remotely. In my case, though, it brought me even more responsibilities and helped me grow professionally.

Although we were in quarantine, we were simply overwhelmed with work, because in 2020, taxis suddenly became the main means of logistics and communication

The company was carrying out numerous initiatives at the time, including social initiatives, and we supported all that work and tried to explain that during a pandemic, taxis remained one of the safest ways to travel. As a result, in addition to regional PR, I began doing general PR and taking on all the major newsbreaks. Some time later, my manager moved to another company and I was offered to apply for this position, which I eventually received.

What drives you in your PR work?

It seems to me that people often go into PR for the money and fame, like performers do. For me, the most important thing in my work is to do projects that I would not be ashamed of, that help people and change the world at least a little.

I am driven by the desire to do good work that gets noticed both in the company and beyond

Another important motivation for me is to help businesses. The PR professional acts partly as a business consultant, but from the side of external and internal communications and in close cooperation with marketing. I like that you can have such a clear influence on a company’s business processes and play an important role in them, especially in times of crisis.

Of course, the tools you acquire through education are very important for professional growth, but it is equally important that your eyes light up and that you are truly interested in your work. This is metaphysics, but your employer sees it and feels it.

PR people often complain that there is no work/life balance in this job because you’re on the job around the clock; something is happening all the time and you and your team have to respond quickly. Such situations are what drive me. Yes, at first it seems like everything is lost, but composure in such situations comes with experience. You have to get a real buzz from the team, the company, and the field you work in. Fortunately, that’s how it is for me.

Why do PR specialists find it more interesting to work in large, fast-growing companies than in agencies?

When, for example, I went to work in business after the agency, many processes became much more understandable because I implemented tasks quickly and with precision, generating very definite profits. In a company, you get a global understanding of how business processes work and how you can influence them, and, most importantly, you surround yourself with people with whom you not only work, but also communicate with as friends. This greatly strengthens teamwork and communication between departments across a variety of tasks.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

When a business is growing rapidly, there is a lot going on in the company, so there are many opportunities to prove yourself and do something that stands out. You constantly work with a dozen projects that you accompany or lead at a rapid pace, and there isn’t time to think about what you will be doing in a month or six months. Also in large companies and dynamic projects, you develop the skill of delegating and assigning roles within a team and between departments. A PR person works with SEO, marketing, support, lawyers, GR, HR, and a product that is constantly changing. You need to build a well-organised and effective chain of communication within the company so that colleagues understand what value you bring and when they should turn to you. And you, in turn, must be able to tell the world about what is happening in the company.

When you work in an agency, you are responsible for your client and you have a small team involved in the process that receives ready-made tasks. There is no deep immersion in the business and the team is divorced from the company’s key processes. Now I work with two agencies, and this necessarily entails meetings, talks and discussions. When you delve into the situation together, you get better results. The speed and organisation of work processes is what distinguishes working in agencies or small businesses from working in large companies.

Also, in a large and dynamic business, it is important to be flexible and respond quickly, without delaying the approval process. You have to be able to make decisions on the spot and bring the idea to life. Accordingly, in such conditions, you quickly gain the necessary experience and develop as a specialist at the maximum speed, so for me, working with market leaders has become a very important motivating force in my profession and in life.

How did you come to work at Yandex Music? What makes this job and this company interesting?

There are lots of myths about how it is impossible to land a job at Yandex. To be honest, I had never given any thought to working at Yandex, but former colleagues of mine who work there recommended me. I have always found great positions through colleagues and friends, rather than through resources, so personal connections immediately helped me determine whether this job was right for me or not. Yandex has a rigorous selection process because its employees make decisions that involve a large circle of people who then have to work with each other. Here they are very attentive to the composition of the team, but since many of the employees already knew me, the interviews were very easy.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

I joined Yandex Music only recently. For now, I’m focusing on interacting with teams and working hard to create more positive outreach to different audiences. In the last year, many things have changed in every sense of the word. But such challenges (only on a smaller scale) arise every year, and when they tell me that this is a difficult year, I remember all the previous ones: I can’t recall a single easy year since 2014. Something happens all the time, and you need to adapt to these changes, but for me this is an incentive to work harder, because a crisis is always an occasion for new ideas.

With so much on your plate already, what prompted you to add teaching at your former HSE programme?

To be honest, it was HSE University that invited me back, which came as a pleasant surprise. The first session was very exciting. I compared today’s students with how I was at the university: the current students are more active and constantly set the tone for the discussion. I think it’s really cool because it pushes everyone to develop a lot, including the teacher. When you teach, you feel like you know everything, but you’re just treading a familiar path. As soon as you start discussing things that had seemed obvious to you with new people who have a fresh perspective, you take a fresh look at things yourself. And in the process of conveying information, you structure your own knowledge, converting it into an algorithm that is understandable to others.

I also like that you can share different case studies because they show what makes good or bad PR. Each class begins with a discussion of some of the latest news. We look at why events were covered in a particular way and how that can be used in terms of PR.

It seems to me that the main result of my teaching activity is that students want to go to work in communications and enthusiastically choose PR as a profession

I am happy to be among people who sincerely have something to say, who are interested, ask questions, try to make sense of everything and want to try new things. The fact that I was able to inspire some people to work in PR means that it hasn’t all been in vain.