Over the past six years, Eugen has won numerous awards, among them Cannes, Epica, Eurobest, Golden Drum, and many others – including Effies – with agencies from three different countries. Michael Weinzettl chatted to Eugen, who is also the President of Art Directors Club Romania, about his career, his views on advertising in various Eastern European countries, and the criteria he applied when selecting the work presented on the pages that follow.
Hi Eugen, could you please introduce yourself to our readers and provide a bit of biographical background?
Hi Michael, and hello to all Lürzer’s Archive readers. Let me just start by saying I am honored to be able to share some of my thoughts on advertising with you. My relationship with the field started, in a way, when I was 17. I never skipped commercial breaks on TV and remember thinking, “Hey, I could do better than this!” Of course I couldn’t, at the time, but the thought got stuck in my head. I was already writing literature – mainly poetry – at the time. I was also reading books like crazy. After two years of IT studies, I decided that wasn’t for me and I started studying psychology at the University of Bucharest while, in parallel, I dedicated myself to literature. So writing and psychology – two very important elements for any creative work in advertising – were slowly being accumulated in my system. At the time, the thought of working in advertising wasn’t the first priority for me, even though I was still very much actively consuming ads. Things changed after I launched my book “Electric bolts. Shapes beneath the skin” and decided that being a writer is something you can do regardless of whether you participate or not in the shenanigans of the literary world. So then I went into full-focus mode, hell-bent on getting inside an agency – no matter what. To put things into context, when I started there were no ad schools available, you had to just do a spec portfolio by yourself and start knocking on doors. After six months of rejections, I finally got a job as a junior copywriter at a small BTL agency. And from there it all took off. Since then I’ve worked in agencies both big and small, from three countries, I’ve done shopper marketing, BTL, ATL, digital, PR, you name it.
You joined MullenLowe Bucharest in September of 2016. What was it about this position that appealed to you?
At the moment I was called by Hortensia (VP of Creative Services MullenLowe Romania) I wasn’t actively looking for a job. I had been Creative Director of one of the best digital agencies in Romania for the two years since I came back from the Czech Republic and things were good. However, MullenLowe was both a bigger challenge and a bigger opportunity for my career. A bigger challenge because the job was a step up: I was to become an Executive Creative Director and to manage bigger clients, bigger projects, teams of creative directors and creatives. A bigger opportunity because I was back in a great network, I had more resources to fulfill my goals, I could attract talent easier, and so on and so forth. So, all in all, I felt that I could achieve much more than I had so far. After meeting the client service director, the strategy director and all the other people from upper management I realized that we had great chemistry together, that we had the same big ambitions for the agency, and that we had all the premises to make a great team together. And now here I am. There are a few star agencies in Romanian advertising. In a short while I aim to get MullenLowe up there where it deserves to be.
Can you tell us about the agencies you worked at before you arrived in your present position?
Each and every agency I worked at taught me something, and I’ve met a lot of great people that influenced me and my work. Before I left the country, I worked at Grey Bucharest and Graffiti BBDO Bucharest and had the chance to learn from Mihai Gongu and Claudiu Dobrita, two of the best creative directors in the Romanian industry. Then I left the country for Jandl in Bratislava, Slovakia, where I had the great opportunity to work with Pavel Fuksa, one of the best designers and art directors in the world. We both went to Prague then and worked in the Young & Rubicam Group, under Jaime Mandelbaum – the guy was already famous then, now even more so. I then went to McCann Prague and worked with Lars Kili. I’m dropping these names here, plus Will Rust from Ogilvy Prague, just so I can thank them all – they have shaped my work and me as a creative director, and I owe them a world of thanks. The thing I’m most proud of is transforming, with Pavel Fuksa, the independent Slovak agency Jandl from an agency that wasn’t winning any awards – and that people didn’t know much about – into Agency of the Year in Slovakia and a multiple local and international award winner.
You have worked in agencies in Romania, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. What are the differences between the advertising cultures, and what do they have in common since they are all countries of what Golden Drum has called the “New Europe.”
I could write a book just by answering this question. However, I’ll be brief and start with the fact that advertising, at its core, is the same everywhere in the world. People, when you get down to it, really do respond to the same emotions and can be entertained and moved by the same universal stories that we’ve been telling ourselves even before there were countries and borders, gathered around the warmth of the fire. Sure, there are nuances, things to consider, small technical details to include, but in the end people are people. Now on to the differences. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are both Slav countries. They’re not incredibly different when it comes to culture and way of life. If I were to generalize, I would say that Czechs are closer to the German way of living while Slovaks have more eastern influences in their culture. But these differences are very subtle. Czechs are a little bit more prudent, they don’t like to take too many risks; they are a bit cold to outsiders. Slovaks are more polite and like to show off more. But, again, these are small differences. If you take a look from a distance, they are hugely similar. And their advertising as well. They love puns and wordplay, they excel at using local character and local insights in their storytelling – and that makes it harder to understand for foreign juries. That’s one of the reasons they aren’t considered European creative powerhouses. For many of the most successful ads from these two markets, you will need a local to talk you through the inside jokes and references. Romania, by contrast, is a very different market. Romania is a Latin country and the people here resemble the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Italians. We like our stories loud, colorful, and filled with passion. Even though the market is big (close to 19 million people), the socio-economic context has left it rather poor when it comes to budgets, especially if we compare it with Central and Western Europe. That means our advertising really needs to be creative in order to cut through the clutter and make the most out of the small budgets we have. That’s probably one of the reasons we’ve been so noticed on international award show stages. The downside is that you have to do a lot in a small timeframe, and that doesn’t leave too much time for craft. That’s why we’re mostly winning in Direct, Promo & Activation, PR, Media, and so on.
You are in full mandate as a President for ADC*RO, Art Directors Club of Romania. What is the role of the ADC in Romania – and also elsewhere in Europe – at a time when there is a veritable proliferation of advertising awards everywhere?
ADC*RO’s mission is the education of future generations of creatives and also the pursuit of the interests of creatives, thus making the industry better for all players. For the education pillar we’ve got ADC*School in which people that want to get into a creative department will learn the skills needed and will get a portfolio to start with. The teachers are some of the biggest names in Romanian advertising and they’re doing this work pro bono. The best ten students also get internships or even jobs in the industry. The school has been around for some time now, and some of the first students are now creative directors themselves. We’ve just started a series of talks called Lady Steps, invented by Simona Suman and Sandra Bold, targeting young women in the industry, trying to help tackle the sexism in advertising, an issue I feel is far from being “over” or “solved,” and one that all of us should fight with all our power inside our organizations. We also have something called ADC*RO’s Top 3, in which every month we say which ads we think are the best and, at the end of the year, we award the Team of the Year, Client of the Year, and Idea of the Year. The purpose of this initiative is to showcase work that is visible, clients that are constantly pushing great work, and the creative teams behind the success. There are no submission fees, we work a bit like the Oscars – all members of ADC can submit any work from any agency in the country as long as it was on air in that month. Then we all secretly vote on it and just publish the end results. Team of the Year is the team that has the most points, the team that’s constantly featured in our top list. The same for Client of the Year. For Idea of the Year we hold another vote, this time only between first-placed ideas from every month. In a way, this is the mission of ADC in the rest of Europe. D&AD is more than probably the most sought-after award show in the world, it’s also doing a tremendous job in educating advertising professionals, and it has a year-round presence in the industry. ADC*E Awards showcases great European advertising but also has programs that support start-ups and initiatives that blend together creativity not just from advertising but from many other creative fields. ADC*Europe has a wonderful initiative for young Europeans called Creative Express but it also has masterclasses for all levels of seniority for its members and more. So I think that ADC is still very much relevant when it comes to the industry, and I think it’s even more relevant when we’re talking about raising the next generation of creatives.
Your background, if I understand things correctly, was in the digital arena, yet a couple of years ago you came fourth in our very own Lürzer’s Archive Ranking of copywriters worldwide. So what is the secret behind that?
Well, as I said before, my background is a bit from all over, so I wouldn’t necessarily say it comes from digital. I’ve been working in digital for the last two years, now I’m back helming a full-service agency. To digress a bit from your question, I don’t believe in digital creatives, TV creatives, radio creatives, insert-media-here creatives. I ask of my creatives to be able to excel in all. You cannot call yourself a creative in 2017 if you’re not intimate with digital. Everything is digital now. A TV ad is digital. Radio is digital. I think we’re at that point in the evolution of our industry where we can all just simply consider digital as a given and stop putting it in a different basket. There are no great ideas that can live outside the digital realm anymore. So, getting back, I’ve been incredibly proud of making it into the Top 5 in the world, and the secret behind it, or, frankly, behind any great success is this: hard work. Inspiration is good, talent is even better, passion is crucial, but all these are nothing if you’re not putting in the hard work needed to succeed.
What are the challenges facing you at MullenLowe, and what are some of the campaigns currently taking shape under your creative direction?
It’s an incredibly exciting time here at MullenLowe, the network is getting more and more attention internationally, the Bucharest team is all set (some people left, some new folks came on board) and we’re working on some great projects. We recently won the CIF account with a campaign that I’m sure you’ll hear about after we launch it. For our long-time client Praktiker, we’re preparing a nostalgia-filled, star-studded campaign that we’re very proud about. Then there’s Omo, where we are continuing the good work we did last year with a new integrated campaign. We also do pro bono work for Red Cross Romania, and this year we have several campaigns lined up. Last but not least, we’ve won a big part of LIDL and we’re launching a campaign that will make heads turn. So keep your eyes on us. We’re always looking for great talent to work with and we’ve got our eyes on both Effies and Cannes Lions, so to speak. Meaning we want to do work that moves products from the shelves and brings Lions to our shelves. I’m a strong believer in the fact that creativity actually does sell. The more creative the work, the better the results for the clients. I’m happy to say that most of our clients understand and support this philosophy.
Where do you get the inspiration for your work?
From life. From living. It’s very similar to where a writer – or any artist – gets their inspiration from. You can’t expect to make people pay attention to your work if you don’t live with them, don’t cry and laugh with them, if you don’t live your life to the fullest. So I try to be surrounded by interesting people and hear great stories as much as I can. I try to keep an open mind for things outside my comfort bubble. I try to stay curious and hungry and learn something new every chance I get. And I tell my creatives to do the same.
How does Eugen Suman relax, how do you recharge your batteries?
Just like everyone else, I guess. By going out with friends, reading a good book on a lazy Saturday afternoon, going to the movies with my wonderful wife, playing a video game, writing poetry. Lately I’ve been enjoying Star Trek – The Next Generation. Yes, the TV show. Netflix is great like that.
As a creative with a primarily digital background, how do you see the future of print advertising? Its role has, after all, been changing, it rarely being the lead medium anymore when a campaign is conceived.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: no media ever truly dies. Radio didn’t die, TV still rules and dwarfs everything. Clearly, therefore, the first media ever to be used in advertising – print – will not die. However, it has transformed. The classic magazine or newspaper format doesn’t have the same reach it used to have and so it has a lower impact. But who says print means newspaper or magazine? The Facebook post is the new print ad as far as I’m concerned – it uses a line or more plus an image for a commercial purpose. Or how about in-transit ads? Citylights? Outdoor? They’re still forms of print advertising. The sociocultural landscape is changing and so it’s normal that advertising and the media mix evolves with it.
What were some of the criteria you applied when selecting the digital work featured in this issue of Lürzer’s Archive?
The disruption factor. The innovation. The overall craft. The smartness of it all. The relevance for the medium. And that magic spark that makes the difference between good and great.