Nataliia Kholod’s Journey in Crisis Communication and Strategic Leadership

19 mins read

Welcome to “Her PR Journey,” a compelling series dedicated to highlighting the exceptional women shaping the landscape of public relations. In this edition, we’re excited to delve into the dynamic career trajectory of Nataliia Kholod, a visionary strategist and pioneer in anti-crisis communications.

Join us as we explore the fascinating insights and pivotal moments that have defined Nataliia’s extraordinary path in the realms of external and internal strategic communications, alongside her role as the founder and CEO of WARTO Communications Agency.


Mastering the Art of Crisis Communication: Nataliia Kholod’s Story

Nataliia Kholod is a strategist, expert in anti-crisis communications, external and internal strategic communications, and founder and CEO at WARTO Communications Agency. 

Strategic Brilliance: Unveiling Nataliia Kholod's PR Odyssey

Can you share more insights into your journey in the field of Public Relations?

Nataliia Kholod: My journey in the field of PR started during my student years. I accidentally got an opportunity to work on a political campaign and saw in practice how influential PR is for people to make life-important decisions in all areas — including choosing a president, products, or brands. I realized how tremendous the power of words is. It was the first time I thought about PR as a socially responsible activity and looked at it as a possible career of my life.

I started to work in the Verkhovna Rada as a spokeswoman. At that time, the field of PR and communications was very underdeveloped in Ukraine. We studied from foreign translated books and tried very hard to gain our own experience. A little later, I met the first agency in Ukraine that tried to do PR professionally. So I started cooperating with them, too, to learn about the agency experience from the inside. 

In 2005, I combined the experience of working in an agency and managing the press service and founded WARTO Communications Agency. It became the next step in my both PR and entrepreneurial journey. Our agency has gone through the entire developing process of a modern Ukrainian PR industry. During more than 18 years of work, WARTO Agency has grown from a small team of enthusiasts to a systematic Ukrainian business, which now employs leading professionals. We make new brands famous and make famous brands to be loved by millions. Our cases receive international and national awards for the most effective and valuable business solutions. We are an active partner of international grant organizations in Ukraine, such as DRC, USAID, UNIDO, UNESCO, GIZ, as well as a great supportive expert for a lot of businesses. 

PRNEWS.IO: As the founder and CEO of WARTO Communications Agency, what do you consider the most significant achievements or milestones for your agency, aside from awards?

Mastering the Art of Crisis Communication: Nataliia Kholod's Story

Nataliia Kholod: I consider the capability to be relevant at any time as our most valuable milestone. As an entrepreneur to the bone, I understand the strategic importance of finding a balance between firmness in our principles and values and constant transformation. I taught my team to be flexible and to develop the ability to adjust to meet the new needs and the changing society.

The decision-making rules and the psychology of influence on the wider community fundamentally and psychologically remain the same as 18 years ago. However, the tools of influence and channels from where people draw information they believe are changing very actively and powerfully. Nowadays, we know how to follow trends and even how to predict them before they become widespread. We know how to rebuild strategies and quickly include new tools and approaches into brand communications to grow their effectiveness and make them more powerful. 

If we started as an agency that worked with print media and PR through events, for example, then nowadays we work with a wide range of different digital tools and online formats, and Internet communities. We continue to master all new expertise and implement it together with our clients.

Thanks to this approach of being unstoppable, for more than 18 years, we remain relevant and up-to-date.

PRNEWS.IO: How do you maintain enthusiasm and professionalism within your team, and what, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful company?

 WARTO Communications Agency

Nataliia Kholod: This is a difficult question because I always believe that we can be stronger and stronger and stronger. But actually, the most significant core of maintaining enthusiasm and professionalism is deeply connected with the open-mindedness of WARTO Agency’s top management. Both I and our heads of departments are always open to new things. The agency’s board is always studying something — it is a very essential part of our corporate culture. We broadcast this to the team and encourage people to learn something new too, and to share their experience with colleagues. For instance, even when we take part in professional awards, we do it not just to win medals, but to show and set the bar for the team, that we should provide high-level solutions that will be recognized by the professional community. I see it as a cool motivation. 

Last but not least, during wartime, we focused a lot on psychologically supporting the team and being such a master of stability, where people would like to hold back and would feel resistance from external factors.

PRNEWS.IO: With a focus on anti-crisis PR, can you elaborate on some specific challenges you’ve encountered and successfully navigated in your career?

Nataliia Kholod: During 18 years of work, my agency has gone through the entire path of establishing modern PR in Ukraine. Moreover, together with our clients and partners, we have faced many global and national crises and challenges. 18 years is a solid term that not every business in Ukraine can boast of. Take a quick look at our history timescale:

In 2004, a year before the agency was founded, the Orange Revolution took place in Ukraine. Ukrainians defended their right to fair elections and contributed to positive changes in legislation for the country. As for me, the time of change has already begun. And just half a year after the end of the revolution, in May 2005, I founded WARTO Communications Agency. 

In 2008, together with our clients, we survived and successfully passed the global financial and economic crisis.

In 2013, the Revolution of Dignity took place in Ukraine, which became a really powerful movement for the country’s independence and unity. Unfortunately, in 2014, a month after the end of the revolution, our “aggressive neighbors” cruelly annexed Crimea, and later occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. That was the year the war began for all the Ukrainian people.

In 2020, we are faced with the challenge of the pandemic and adapted our PR and communications tools to the new reality.

After all, in 2022 we face a full-scale war and the war consequences: the industry’s general stagnation (almost 40% of agencies, our colleagues, suspended work after 24.02.2022), staff crisis, burnout of the existing team, the need to scale with limited resources due to shrinking customer budgets and the importance of developing new products to, for example, enter international markets. But even this did not stop the WARTO team and accelerated our development — we began to realize my ten-year development strategy much faster. Despite all crises and challenges, we overcame them together with our clients and helped businesses to sustain. 

PRNEWS.IO: How have your clients’ approaches to PR and communication shifted since the beginning of the war, and how has your agency supported them in adapting to the changing landscape?

From Vision to Victory: Nataliia Kholod's PR Triumphs

Nataliia Kholod: On February 25, 2022, the day after the start of the full-scale invasion, we posted on social networks that we were ready to support Ukrainian companies for free and provide them with communications assistance. It was obvious to me that communication is something that all brands and businesses will need very much. As a result, we helped 24 companies — Ukrainian and international businesses represented in Ukraine — convey their messages to the audience. We helped more than 24 big and middle-size companies to restore communication with consumers. It was unpaid work, but this work saved the Ukrainian businesses, helped them to adapt to the new reality, and saved our team. We were loaded with work and we felt needed. We have seen how positively people react to the news about brands working again, we have seen that we give hope, that factories are working, production is producing something and life presents with some normalcy that can even give a sense of hope. This project of our corporate social responsibility received more than 40 million contacts. 

Today, businesses need specific results from PR and want to calculate its influence more than ever. The issue of measurement has always been relevant, but now, with a limited budget, clients want to see some kind of guarantee of particular results and how PR activities will affect the solution to their business problem. I suppose this is the main change. Of course, we can talk a lot about the tools that have changed, but as we said, they have been changing every day during the last 18 years. Some of them took off quickly and burned down quickly. So there may be many different tools, but the most important thing is the match between the client’s business goal, expectations from PR, and particular results. 

My agency’s mission is to provide sustainable business with a powerful public impact and to bring brand values to the hearts of millions. Strengthening business means strengthening the country’s economy. WARTO Agency works with many Ukrainian campaigns from various strategic industries (such as the food industry, retail, medicine, and financial sector), we organize their communications and ensure influence on millions of Ukrainians. For our clients, we act as experts in the field of marketing, business strategy, and PR, and our recommendations are quickly implemented by their companies.

Nowadays, I understand the strategic role of communications in strengthening businesses and society. Through our activities, we strengthen businesses — thus strengthening the country’s economy, contributing to its stability and development in times of challenges, and laying the foundation for recovery after victory.

Navigating the PR Battlefield: Nataliia Kholod's Leadership Legacy

PRNEWS.IO: With the war gaining international attention, how has your agency approached communication on the global stage, and what considerations are taken into account when addressing international audiences?

Nataliia Kholod: In 2022-2023 WARTO Agency has built a partnership network with European and American PR and marketing agencies for joint projects to introduce Ukrainian brands to the foreign market and help foreign companies to enter the Ukrainian market. We decided to establish partnership communications specifically with our colleagues from other countries because we knew: experts in our field — PR, communications and marketing specialists — would be the best newsmakers who would most actively talk about Ukraine within their countries and with their clients. After all, a very big role in supporting Ukraine is played by perception, public opinion of different countries, immersion in the informational context of events, and access to live, true information from the first hand — and this is exactly what we as a team that continues to work in Ukraine can share.

We also started to join international conferences to represent Ukraine, Ukrainian businesses, and Ukrainian resilience. I am considering such activities as a mission because at our presentations 70% of the time we talk about the country, the possibility, and prospects of working with Ukrainians, and only 30% — about our agency directly. We believe: a person, a company, and the state should make their impact in forming an information field. Nobody can stand still — we all have to do it for the victory.

Behind the Headlines: Nataliia Kholod's Journey in PR Excellence

PRNEWS.IO: Are there any lessons or insights gained from working with clients during wartime that you find particularly valuable?

Nataliia Kholod: It’s a bit terrible to admit, but as for me, the war is generally one solid insight. After a certain time, while you are trying to resist or control the situation, you may unexpectedly find out that flexibility is the best weapon. You have to be ready that you can’t expect that all your anticipations will be met immediately — you will need to quickly adapt to what you have at the moment and appreciate it as much as possible. Not what you want to have, or you believe you must have, or even you hope to have. Flexibility is the greatest strength.

What else could be an insight? Communications and PR turned out to be a very powerful force. The war showed us that we need to have a kind of strategy, communication strategy, at all levels: government, business, and society. It will help us to have a very strong influence and to form new connections, and networking. And all these united, situational associations turned out to be very resilient. Such cooperation for solving problems, when people and organizations of different levels begin to unite around one idea, turned out to be an immense power. It is more than a simple insight — it is a phenomenon, which inspires not to give up.

PRNEWS.IO: As a woman in the PR industry and business, what unique challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them? Do you believe gender plays a role in the dynamics of the PR industry, and if so, how?

Nataliia Kholod: Regarding my personal experience, I guess I had no cases of gender discrimination in my entire career as a PR woman and as a female entrepreneur. Of course, I am not an indicative example. I defined the following thesis: looking back, I simply did not give anybody the opportunity to discriminate against me, because I always emphasized my professionalism and expertise as a more remarkable thing, and simply cut off any attempts or just did not pay attention to any attempts. Maybe I was just too focused on achieving my goals.

As an agency owner whose team today is 100% fantastic and expert women, maybe I needed to have something to say about the role of gender in the industry. Indeed, from my experience, there have always been more women than men in PR and communications. But I’ve had a lot of cases of working with cool pros of both genders — and I think it shouldn’t be the determining factor. Mostly, the level of professionalism of the expert you work with is the thing that really matters.

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