St Petersburg International Economic Forum

JCDecaux: You need 'guts to invest' in Russia

Western CEOs should attend SPIEF: JCDecaux CEO

Investors should be prepared for "crisis" when investing in Russia, the co-chief executive of French billboard advertising agency JCDecaux told CNBC -- but staying away from such a big market would be a mistake.

Jean-François Decaux, co-CEO of the family run group, said Russia is now the third largest out-of-home media market and similar in size to that of the U.K., so the opportunities in the country far outweigh any risk.

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A JCDecaux employee transports advertising posters at the company's depot in Gennevilliers, France
Fabrice Dimier I Bloomberg via Getty Images

Western business that have avoided the country due Western-imposed sanctions over tensions with Ukraine are mistaken, he said.

"I am a business man, I started to invest in Russia back in 1995 when we installed the first advertising bus shelters in St. Petersburg, so St. Petersburg is my home town when it comes to Russian investment," he told CNBC, speaking at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

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"If you don't have the guts to invest here you better stay at home, but it is a big market," he said.

The outdoor advertising agency employs some 3,000 people in Russia and owns 25 percent of the country's largest outdoor advertising company. Decaux said Russia's outdoor advertising industry is about 15 percent of all media spend so it is a "big business".

"Things are not always going up – you have to be prepared to be facing crisis and right now, as far as we are concerned, we have invested a lot of money in Moscow contracts and the city hasn't dismantled 40 percent of the (illegal) panels they were supposed to dismantle," he said.

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Decaux said he intends to meet with the mayor of St. Petersburg, to discuss why so many illegal billboards have yet to be taken down.

"Crisis brings opportunities as well, including Russia and I could give you many examples of when we have benefited from crisis – but you need to have the guts and you need to think long term," he said.