Graduated in 2008 from the HSE Political Science Faculty and the Business Journalism Division, now the Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design.
In her first year at the university, Irina Sosnovaya started interning for the show The Nation and the World on the TV channel NTV. She then became the show’s producer and the chief editor of NTV’s Today, working in this position until 2011.
Later, in 2013, Sosnovaya joined CTC Media as the head of the transmedia project department. She has been working as the creative director for marketing at CTC since December 2015.
«I chose entertainment television to bring something good to people’s lives»
About the project
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 graduates from the Higher School of Economics who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences, and talk about the big shots they’ve schmoozed and how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
In March 2016, the CTC team took home the gold and silver medals at the 2016 Promax BDA Europe Awards, one of the largest competitions in the field of telepromotion, design, and marketing. Below, CTC Media’s Creative Director of Marketing, Irina Sosnovaya, tells Success Builder how much creativity a marketing specialist needs, how she came to intern for one of the country’s largest TV channels in just her first year of undergrad, and how to learn something new everyday on the job.
Can you debunk the myth that television is a lousy business that is mentally difficult to work in and a business impossible to build a career in without harming your health? How did you come to work in the business and establish yourself?
Anything is realistic, and determination is key to being able to come in ‘off the street’ and build a career. I came to Moscow from Almaty, Kazakhstan. In other words, I didn’t know anyone in the right places. But I was absolutely certain that I wanted to work in journalism.
It wasn’t easy for me to get into HSE. Since I’m from Kazakhstan, we never had, for example, classes in Russian history. Plus, I was one point shy of getting a state-funded spot in the business and political journalism division of the Faculty of Political Science. I went to an additional interview and was admitted under the condition that I score nine points in my first semester. Then I was guaranteed a full ride.
I studied like crazy and ended up being ranked third in my class. The people who were at the top of the class were able to pick where they wanted to intern, so I went to NTV my first year. I had always dreamed of working on the show Lately; for me, this was a benchmark in journalism. But this was exactly when they took the show off the air, which is why I ended up interning for the daily show The Nation and the World. The show was similar to Lately and featured Alexey Pivovarov, Aset Vatsueva, Anton Khrekov, and Yulia Bordovskih.
The show’s editors worked really hard, like with any news project, and no one paid attention to the interns. They just didn’t have time to. This is when I realised I needed to stand out somehow. Something came up related to the military, and at a meeting I suggested asking the Pentagon for commentary on the matter. They took me to the producers and editors for a laugh, but I ended up finding the number to the Pentagon’s press service online and giving them a call. A bigwig at the Pentagon gave me, an 18-year-old intern, detailed commentary on the situation. That’s when the head of the show, Alexey Pivovarov, decided that I had something special and they needed to hire me.
The news is unique in that your day starts at 10 a.m. and ends with the last evening broadcast at midnight; that is, you practically live at work
I started going to tapings, but I really liked working in the field of production, organisation, and planning. I liked being responsible for the overall picture. After this, they asked me to stay, and at first it was for a laughable amount of money, but for me – a student living in a dormitory – this was my first real win.
How did you have time to combine work and school? After all, TV is a lot of work...
I always liked a frantic pace of life, and HSE always encouraged active students. Of course, I had to write a lot of papers and essays at night, but I was young and passionate. Journalism started to change gradually, and I eventually got a good understanding of what the news was like, which made it a less interesting process for me. I became the executive producer of the news – the one in charge of everyone else. The news is unique in that your day starts at 10 a.m. and ends with the last evening broadcast at midnight; that is, you practically live at work, though I did work every other week. I worked at the channel one week and went to school the next. Then I was finished with the university, and I wanted something to do so I started producing several documentaries.
Is that when your relationship with the channel ended?
They transitioned into a new format. At the time, Alexey Pivovarov was starting to film a documentary. He and I made an honest film about the Rzhev Operation called Rzhev: Unknown Battle of Georgy Zhukov. In it, war wasn’t like the war discussed in Soviet textbooks. It was real, and we got the Nika Award for it. I was the producer and props assistant, and I had a lot of other different roles. I dove head first into the production realm.
Then a close friend and I teamed up with NTV correspondent Vadim Glusker to create our own production. We did several tourism-related projects, as well as countless documentaries on a lot of different topics. I organised the filming and launch of the product as the executive producer and production co-founder.
My life has always been split up into chapters. It had an interesting chapter about the news that ended with the blossoming of journalism in Russia in my opinion. Then there was an interesting chapter about content production, which is still on-going. But I’m interested in discovering new pages and new chapters.
How was the ‘student adaptation period’ during which you transitioned from theory to practice?
Everything happened in parallel for me. I’m glad that I had a job related to my major during my first year. Then in my second, third, and fourth year, I already knew something about the profession and had a sense of what kind of knowledge I needed. And HSE is awesome because when someone who took part in writing laws on mass media teaches you, you feel more confident when you actually work in the industry. We had a lot of really great instructors like Olga Romanova and Alexander Arkhangelsky, who worked in the field and taught us about their own experiences, thereby giving us applicable knowledge.
Journalism is more of a craft that you learn about from experience. But this craft requires a strong 'cushion' in the humanities, a cushion you can only get from the university
It was probably fairly easy for you to write papers and take tests thanks to your background, right?
That’s true. My thesis was even called, ‘A Comparative Analysis of Russia’s Federal News Channels.’ Of course, I had experience working in the field I was writing on, but another plus was the fundamental knowledge I had of the humanities. Konstantin Polivanov, for example, instilled in us an unbelievable love for Russian literature, and economics even came in handy when I started heading production and estimating costs.
How important is it to have a subspecialty in the television sphere?
People often say that journalists only skim the surface of issues, and this is true sometimes. Journalism is more of a craft that you learn about from experience. But this craft requires a strong ‘cushion’ in the humanities, a cushion you can only get from the university.’
What brought you to marketing? Do you find it to be a rather aggressive field based mostly on being calculated?
When I came to CTC Media from NTV, Alexey Pivovarov asked me to be his assistant, and we worked for two years on various transmedia projects. This was a new area for me that I had to learn about very quickly.
Transmedia is a field that focuses on using various platforms and formats to tell a story. This includes television, internet, mobile devices, etc. It’s the future of television. We came to the channel with ideas for projects that initially had digital potential, and they suggested that Alexey head the digital department; that is, he was to handle distribution and content monetisation, as well as manage all of the holding’s internet resources.
I had to quickly get up to speed on what exactly ‘digital’ meant. As for successful cases in the Russian market, I can remember a unique story involving something called second screen. This is when you watch TV and turn on a second screen – your phone – that syncs with the audio of whatever’s on the air and provides you with additional content. The application reminds you about things that were in the previous season, for example, and it tells you about the actors, allows you to vote and make predictions, and shows you what’s going on backstage during commercial breaks. This offers a ton of bonuses for the channel. It keeps the audience’s attention, as it’s completely focused on the content and not on social networks. It also offers the channel more information about the viewers, as well as an additional tool for monetisation.
We were constantly thinking up new and interesting things in digital marketing, and when the channel was looking for people who had experience in marketing, I was offered the position of creative director. I’ve been the creative director of marketing at CTC since December 1, 2015, and I’m currently managing outdoor, off-air promotions and digital marketing. I also think of new promotion methods and am responsible for non-standard on-air marketing.
I intentionally decided not to work in the news, and I went into entertainment television in order to bring something good and pleasant to people’s lives.
It seems to me that marketing isn’t a very creative field. What are your thoughts?
Marketing is an abyss of everything interesting. For example, the task of making a super cool 30-second clip that will make a viewer look at the channel’s content is a very creative endeavor. Or making a banner that someone can’t not click on… And this is all in an age of ‘banner blindness’ when people have developed a strong immunity against advertising.
When we were promoting the show Quest, for example, we made it look like the ad was interrupting your standard television commercial mid-sentence. Actors from the show came on screen as if they were bursting onto the air, begging viewers to get them ‘out of here.’ You’ll stop what you’re doing and watch because it’s unique and attention grabbing. Our objective is to make promos unique and overcome viewers’ resistance against advertising. And our team is doing a great job at this; we got two Promax awards this year, which is the highest professional award that exists in marketing.
How is an idea generated?
In on-air marketing, you have a producer who thinks of the clips, and there are designers who see the big picture. Sometimes an idea pops into someone’s head and they’ll run with it to the planning meeting. We have collective brainstorming sessions, and people think about our objectives individually as well. Everything is very fluid in advertising. There aren’t any standard methods or approaches, and there are never enough people or hands to help out because marking is a 24-7 job. We even worked over the winter holidays. But after working in the news, I was ready for that.
What is the ultimate aim of the marketing department – to sell on-air advertising slots or to bring in new viewers?
The aim is to increase the proportion of on-air time compared with other channels. It’s a fight for viewers. Every channel has its own exclusive offer. CTC is a channel that’s safe for all members of the family, and the entire family can watch any of the shows we air. There’s nothing gory or violent, and nothing will make viewers uncomfortable. CTC is a bright and comfortable channel; the ‘first entertainment’ channel.
I’ll be honest – I could never tell the difference between TNT and CTC.
TNT is our number one competitor, but it’s a little different in terms of content. You probably won’t show your kids the shows Dom-2 or Izmeny. CTC is more pleasant. I really respect the people over at TNT because they’re great at what they do, and it is thanks to this competition that we are growing.
Television Viewer Rating (TVR) is the most important buying currency in the TV business. It is the percentage of the target audience that watches a specific programme during a commercial. The calculation is done using viewers aged 18 and up who live in cities with populations above 400,000. One TVR is equivalent to exactly 1% of the target audience, and each programme has its own rating. The higher this rate, the more expensive it is to advertise during the show. Each second, the number of individuals viewing a certain show is registered and divided by the overall length of the programme. The resulting number is then divided by the overall number of respondents. The ratings are an important part of the media planning stage for TV advertising. The cost of one TVR on the channel Russia 1, for example, costs 37,000 rubles.
Do TV channels have a specific corporate culture, office environment, and traditions like most large companies?
Only when I came to CTC, even after having worked 10 years in television, did I understand how the work of a TV channel is organised, and not only as concerns the news and other information services. Everything’s important here – from creativity to sales and rights. Television is a complex creature. As a public company, CTC is very transparent. It’s comfortable and safe working there, and the corporate environment is incredibly well developed. For example, last year we launched a weight-loss reality show called Vzveshennie Ludi [the Russian version of the Biggest Loser], and the employees also broke up into three teams and lost weight.
We are getting summer interns soon, and CTC Media is very gentle with them. These are children of CTC employees and university students who, depending on their interests, intern in the company’s various departments. This past summer, while I was still working in digital media, also trained two interns. I have a special relationship with them because I also started my career out as an intern, and my internship was how I got into the world of journalism and television.
What other areas of marketing would you like to go into?
I’d currently like to fully get a grasp on my current profession, not only the digital aspect of it, but everything connected with on-air TV and other marketing instruments. I’m still interested in the production of content, and I understand that the digital realm is where the future will be. I’m thankful to my own life experience because I’ve had the opportunity to try out different roles in the field of television.
In order to build a career and grow even further, possibly to the position of CEO or executive producer, it’s really important to understand the different areas of television. But overall, marketing is the most important and fundamental mechanism in television, and if you’re a marketing ace, then anything is possible. For now though, I just enjoy going to work everyday.