Gvantsa Kikalishvili: Strategic Storyteller Navigating the Evolving PR Landscape

17 mins read

At PRNEWS.IO, we are continuing our “Her PR Journey” project, publishing inspiring interviews with remarkable women in the public relations field. Our latest featured guest is Gvantsa Kikalishvili, an accomplished strategic communications professional with a passion for art. 

With over a decade of experience across various sectors like government, banking, and startups, Gvantsa has developed expertise in strategic communication, media relations, and building sustainable information systems aligned with business goals. Combining her PR prowess with her love for artistic expression, she offers a unique perspective on storytelling, reputation management, and the evolving PR landscape.

In this candid interview, Gvantsa shares insights from her journey, highlighting the role of women in PR, navigating cultural differences, executing successful campaigns, and imparting wisdom for aspiring communicators. Get ready to be inspired by her authentic voice and forward-thinking approach to the world of public relations.

Contacts:

Photo: Leli Blagonravova

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your professional experience in the field of public relations (PR).

My career began as a radio journalist in Georgia, where I worked for eight years. In 2012, I decided to shift to PR and started as a PR coordinator at Open Society Georgia. This international organization operated with high standards, allowing me to learn the best practices in the field.

Since then, I’ve worked in various sectors, including government institutions, financial banking, and startups. These diverse experiences have shaped my professional identity, giving me a deep understanding of how different industries operate, make decisions, and set and achieve goals.

Over time, I’ve expanded my expertise beyond PR to include strategic communication, covering external and internal comms, media relations, and more. I now create and execute strategic communication plans, focusing on building sustainable systems for gathering and distributing information to achieve organizational business goals. I value the ability to craft effective strategies that align with both business objectives and audience needs.

2. You are originally from Georgia but are now based in Estonia. Does the PR landscape differ in these two countries, and if so, how?

Over my career, I’ve worked not only in Georgia but also in Estonia and the Netherlands, and for USA-based companies. Each country’s landscape differs, making communication both challenging and fascinating. Despite the numerous cultural and social differences, humans are humans and share similar needs, desires, feelings, and fairs. I strongly believe that one can effectively work in diverse environments by understanding human behavior in general and mastering PR and communication tools. I am grateful for all these international experiences that have shaped who I am today, both as a professional and as a person.

3. As a successful woman in the PR industry, what do you think is the role of women in this field today? Did you face any obstacles or biases?

This is a fundamental question, and I appreciate you bringing this topic to my attention. Women, by their nature, are multitaskers and brilliant mediators. These two skills make them excellent PR leaders.

I see that our role today is to demonstrate the complexity of the PR and communication field – advocating PR and communications not as a support field for business, but as essential and foundational. I often say that it does not matter how good your product or service is if people, customers, or stakeholders do not know about it and do not have a connection with it. Humans connect with stories, and telling an engaging story is what differentiates brands.

I have personally experienced situations where my male colleagues were trusted more simply because they were men. I remember always trying to sit next to men to get management’s attention, often finding myself next to the sales director, who was a man. Yes, it is a biased world full of stereotypes, but we have to change it. So, I accept the bias and work on changing it in my everyday professional and personal life.

I would be very happy if business schools included PR and strategic communication in their curriculum, not just marketing. Understanding the strategic importance of PR can transform how businesses communicate and connect with their audiences. 

Photo: Leli Blagonravova

4. You have worked in PR and communications for several organizations across different industries. Could you share some experiences of successful or interesting campaigns?

It is hard to choose, but in 2019 at FINCA Bank Georgia, we created a campaign that I still love today. At that time, we had low interest rates on loans and needed to communicate this message effectively. Together with our creative team, we came up with the idea to compare high and low concepts – ranging from high penthouses and high heels to low sounds in an orchestra. The message was: “Some things are better when they are low, like interest rates.”

To visualize this concept, we used creativity. In a video, we featured musicians, tango dancers, cute children, and solid architecture without any direct reference to the bank or money.

For distributing the message, we used an omnichannel approach. However, we decided to “talk over ads” and explain our concept rather than just placing ads on TV or social media.

At that time, I was in charge of a FINCA Bank newspaper (free for everyone, with 50,000 copies every quarter), and we dedicated a significant part of the newspaper to explaining and showing the importance of comparing offers and interest rates when making loan decisions.

The campaign was truly successful. People repeated our message along with the movements from the video. They liked the characters from the video and, importantly, they joined discussions on social media and at our offices.

We stood out from the crowd because it was so different from a bank and had a beautiful, interesting concept. Of course, we reached our business goals, but it also showcased our creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, which increased loyalty and enhanced our reputation.

Photo: Aysha Gasanova 

5. How do you evaluate the importance of publications and media presence as a PR tool? What advice could you give on working effectively with the media?

I believe that in our crowded world, trust and credibility are what make the difference. To gain and maintain them, we need supporters and mediators. The media is one of the most important tools in this regard. As the gatekeepers of society, media outlets bring attention to important topics and companies. That’s why it is essential to collaborate with them and be part of the conversations and discussions.

The tool I used was to be fast and provide everything the media needed. While working at FINCA Bank, we were the top bank with free media coverage for three years. The trick is simple: I always picked up the phone, knew the context and our company’s perspective, and was always ready for an interview (I even kept several suits in the office). This made me the top choice for journalists—I was always available for them.

By being proactive and responsive, you can build strong relationships with the media, which is vital for maintaining trust and credibility.

5. Your company Triangle Strategic Communications provides strategic communications consulting. What are your typical recommendations and plans aimed at for your clients?

I am part of the team of PR, marketing, and digital communication professionals that founded Triangle Strategic Communication, with the primary aim of supporting businesses with their strategic communication. We recognize that approaching problems strategically is essential.

The very first recommendation we give to our clients is to understand the importance of communication and start taking action. Even small steps need to be planned and executed. Ad hoc actions take time and resources and yield very little results, if any at all.

Our second recommendation is to manage expectations regarding PR plans. They won’t deliver results immediately; PR is a long-term game that takes time. Building relationships is a gradual process that requires patience and consistency.

6. You also teach a public relations course at the university. What is your approach to training future PR professionals?

Before coming to Estonia, I had the opportunity to share my experience as a lecturer at two universities in Georgia. I deeply admire my students and constantly learn from them. My approach to teaching was to create deep foundations – emphasizing critical thinking, strategic vision, and understanding the role of PR in business as a whole. I was showcasing best practices, teaching tools, and tactics, not solutions to the problems. Instead of assigning extensive reading, I encouraged them to observe reality and analyze the reasons behind companies’ communication strategies and their public actions. 

I am a constant learner and feel a profound responsibility to share my knowledge. I am happy I had that opportunity. 

7. In addition to your main career, you are involved in the Art Inception Georgia art project. Could you tell us more about this initiative?

For me, art is a way of thinking and experiencing the world around me. I love this quote from the renowned artist Marina Abramović: “Art is not just something we create; it’s a way of life. It shapes our identity, influences our perspectives, and colors every aspect of our existence.” My love for art has helped me find my strength as a professional—being flexible and fast, going the extra mile when needed, being empathetic toward people, and creating rather than only consuming.

My interest in art led me to Erasmus University, where I completed a master’s program in Arts and Management. The program focused on art perception and its influence on humans. I loved the program, and it enhanced my understanding that storytelling and relationship-building are the foundations for any successful business. All PR and communication strategies should be built on these two aspects. 

As I mentioned before, I am a constant learner and sharer of knowledge. This drive led me to establish Art Inception Georgia, an initiative I wrote as my final assignment for one of my classes. It aims to help artists worldwide learn more and use this knowledge for career success. By fostering knowledge and education, I hope to contribute to the growth and success of artists everywhere.

8. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges and trends in the PR and communications industry at the moment?

Based on my professional knowledge and what I am facing every day, I can talk about three big challenges:

  • Economic Influence: we see that budgets for PR activities are often the first to be cut. This demands that we be more creative and do more with less money.  The lack of extensive resources​​ is a real challenge happening now.  
  • Getting media attention: the decrease in media resources and the shrinking number of traditional media outlets make securing media coverage increasingly challenging. I see the only opportunity in this tight media environment to get media attention is to be part of the conversations and discussions and always be there so they know about you and, if needed, reach you. 
  • Maintaining Reputation: In today’s crazy digital world, maintaining a positive reputation is more challenging than ever. We have to be proactive in managing the brand’s image, responding to crises, and engaging consistently with our audience to build and maintain trust. This involves continuous monitoring and a strategic approach to communication​

Regarding the trends, I am sure it will not surprise anyone that we have to learn how to live with AI and get the most out of it. Combating misinformation and maintaining public trust​​ challenges us to be strategic thinkers and have risk management action plans ready. And based on my experience, we reached the point where success is based on an effective mix of face to face and digital communication. We have to have a comprehensive approach to communication, leveraging the personal touch of in-person meetings and the broad reach of digital platforms​​.

9. What are the key qualities and skills a successful PR professional should possess today?

I strongly believe that PR professionals are key players in any company’s success. They must be strategic thinkers, capable of developing and implementing long-term strategies that align with business goals. Modern PR professionals require a high level of adaptability—flexibility and openness to change are essential qualities.

My professional experience has taught me that good PR managers are also good crisis managers. The ability to handle stressful situations effectively and promptly is critical. Emotional resilience and stress management are skills we all need every day. Besides these, relationship-building is fundamental. Maintaining strong relationships with media, stakeholders, and influencers is key to successful PR.

Lastly, the ability to tell compelling stories is incredibly important. Authentic storytelling differentiates brands and creates emotional connections with the audience. This human touch in communication helps build trust and loyalty.

Thank you very much for inviting me and allowing me to share my knowledge with a broad audience. 

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