Interview with Oksana Kononova, co-founder and CEO of Looqme, a media intelligence company in Ukraine.
Hi Oksana, what is your background and what is included in your current role at Looqme?
My background is in communications and analytics. I've been working in this area for us for about 16 years. I'm leading teams and projects. At Looqme, most of my tasks are about strategic management and leadership. I need to decide what we're going to do next, how to find our partners et cetera.
Of course, things are different now with the war. During the last four to five months, it has been a lot of small tasks like talking to all our employees daily to check in how they are and how they are controlling the finances. I never had to do these things before, and I hope very much that it will be over soon.
What distinguishes Looqme from other media intelligence companies?
In general, we show our consumers how to merge social media and mainstream media. We focus on showing the impact of these types of communication. This way we try to grow our customers’ results. We use traditional ways, like reports and different indicators that a lot of companies have, but we also have a great data science team that deals with huge amounts of mentions to develop new things. They are able to find insights that are not visible with the manual approach.
Can you describe how the recent Russian invasion affected the company’s operations?
It's very stressful: for the country, the people, for me personally and my team. The first months were very scary. I didn't know if we would survive or not. There was the real threat of Russian occupations in the big cities, so people started to move quickly without knowing where they were going. They were just moving from place to place, and nobody knew when it was going to stop. I had to figure out how to ground all these people somewhere and ensure online internet access, so we could still work together. The same with our customers; for a while, I actually didn't know how many customers we still had, because we couldn't contact anyone. Now we do know, and the new questions evolve around what is going on and how to move on.
I think that we more or less reflect the whole economy right now. We had to cut the team with around 10% which was very difficult, but it had to be done to survive. We lost 30% percent of revenue compared to February, and I think that is a great result. Other companies have lost much more. And we have new customers as well. Our major clients are from Ukraine, but we now face a lot of requests outside of Ukraine, globally. This is great. It means that we all are trying to find new ways to do business, make money and stay here.
All people working in media monitoring and analytics know that their product is not a life-or-death question. And usually when it comes to cutting costs, marketing, PR, and communications are the first to go. It was the same during covid times. For me these times prove that we do something important, because even in times of war – when it is difficult to find money to pay for your company’s needs, our customers try not to cancel all contracts and stay with us.
Congratulations, that is amazing. And concerning your consumers, how have you seen their needs shift because of the invasion?
Many people think it is about anti-crisis campaigns, but I don’t see them much. I do see more requests for analytical support for strategic communications. Companies and government ask how specific topics and brands are presented in Ukraine, Europe or globally. The situation changes constantly – basically every hour, and we see that Governmental offices try to cope with this and try to understand how to communicate their messages. They ask us for research to grasp what the difference is between before the war and now, because all strategies ought to be changed.
How have your clients changed their communication towards their customers since the invasion started?
Social media is now extremely popular because we didn’t have much content from traditional mainstream media for a few months. It was obviously all about the war and TV channels were all broadcasting the same content. So, except for social, there were not so many channels companies could communicate through.
There is also the fact that you can't communicate something funny now because these are not the times to entertain people. Companies must balance between what they have to say to sell their products and keeping it polite, without hurting anyone.
What has surprised you the most in Ukrainians reaction to the invasion?
The courage and bravery of ordinary people. I'm proud of my team members that try to support each other and their relatives and friends through the different communities and people. It is people that gave shelter to people, like I have never seen before. It is something that really amazes me and motivates me to keep going.
What are some of the greatest challenges you experienced with Looqme before, and what challenge of the future will bring the company to the next level?
One of the biggest challenges we had within the company in the very beginning was merging two companies together. I have a degree in management, so I read about the difficulties around different corporate cultures, but only when I finally faced it my own, I understood how important it is to have shared values and translate them into real actions. If you do the same business with a different approach, it is difficult to create a great new team. Also, we made a change in business model from traditional media agency to B2B. We had to create a new design from scratch, develop the product itself from the IT point of view, create a data science team and another type of customer support. Each step of the work has a big story behind it and now, we have really good team.
The future challenges are more about how to choose the things that you should and should not do with your IT and data science team. For example, around 10 years ago people started to talk about integrated marketing and now I think it's coming back. And we are working on the kind of analytical communications support that can translate numbers into actionable insights – to find something more than just a quantity. But bottom line is that it is difficult to plan anything at the moment.
Will the invasion have any long-lasting affect in media intelligence for the coming years?
No, I don't think so. Because we don't see anything new in communications because of this war. We do see a lot of propaganda from Russia and Ukraine that is forced into the European and American media landscape and how China and other countries react. It is certainly interesting to see how that develops but it is not something absolutely new.
What are the challenges ahead related to media intelligence?
Firstly, I believe that media intelligence needs to move faster to keep up with artificial intelligence and machine learning. I think that we suffer a lot from conservative ways of thinking because public relations is not so used to Big Data as marketing. They often expect data to be perfectly clear and precise, which makes us slower because we have to spend time and effort to clean everything up. We need a new approach to data and how to use it so we can move faster and develop modules, because I do believe – as this war proved again – that media is important.
Secondly, that reputation is important, also as a small business. Reputation is built through mainstream media and your actions, and we have to find new ways to communicate it. It is the only thing that now helps Ukrainian businesses to move on. Reputation makes people forgive your mistakes and it keeps you alive when you don’t have any other tools to promote yourself with.
By Anna Roos van Wijngaarden