Latvia needs country branding

Interview with Andris Rubins, Managing Partner of DDBLatvia. DDB Latvia is one of the biggest agencies in Riga, the biggest clients are LMT, Circle K, Lido, Luminor, etc.

Andris Rubins  

You just finished your studies at Berlin School of Creative Leadership and wrote your thesis about the image of Latvia. What can you say about the image of Latvia compared to the Baltic neighbours? How to improve that?

We know Finland as a place with a great education system, Estonia is often called as "Europe cyber capital", but Lithuania and Latvia are still missing the strong image. Even worse, sometimes they are mixed up. As we know from the commercial world, if you don`t have a strong image, there come loyalty problems. In this case, people are leaving the country to find opportunities from elsewhere. We are losing population, 20% of the population have left the country since joining the EU.

The first and only time Latvia had proper brand strategy process was 10 years ago when the leading expert in country branding Simon Anholt found that Latvia has not enough confidence and Riga should be branded instead.

I think, 10 years ago, it was an honest and relevant strategy, but today Latvia is showing a lot of progress in different areas.

My theses question was what could be Latvia`s brand narrative, purpose or idea, what we all could share with the rest of the world and consistently communicate. I interviewed more than 30 people from science to art to business to academics, from locals to foreigners. I also designed 18 cards, where I defined the issues and tensions that are social or global that are becoming more and more important. All of the experts had to choose 3 of them to create a focused and unique strategy.

Words like the quality of life in terms of greenness, creativity or connectivity were the most popular.

I propose to build the narrative around Latvia being a free space for ideas, different ways to create, to experiment, to play.

But you could describe Estonia or Finland as well with those 3 keywords: greenness, creativity or connectivity.

Yes, but we don`t want to compete with Estonia, but instead, own our own unique story to share. If Estonia is so focused on being digital, I wouldn`t want to use the same word to describe Latvia and start a fight with Estonia.

Of course, Latvia and Estonia aren`t so different.

What did you gain from the Berlin School of Creative Leadership?

Firstly, we learned a lot about the world and how it functions because the studies took place in Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and Shangai. We saw how different countries and cultures organize their lives and environment. After graduating, I understand more what we can learn from other parts of the world.

Secondly, we learned more about ourselves - how we, as leaders, can influence the environment, the people and how to motivate others, how to become more authentic leaders, why would anyone follow us.

The third thing is I gained new friends and new connections. I have an amazing global network thanks to this experience.

Of course, we had many practical classes as well about finance or marketing. It was a great way to refresh my skills and know-how. But still, at the end of the day, I gained a lot of knowledge about how to change things around me and what can I bring back from it. The whole concept of agile leadership was also one of the main focus in Silicon Valley.

Do you see any way how to bridge that gap between startups and agencies and make them friends?

Startups usually don`t choose to work with traditional agencies or do traditional campaigns, but they are investing a lot in design and content. Often, when the company grows it starts to work with agencies. I think it`s natural, that when starting a business, you first attract the enthusiasts because you don`t have sufficient funds to work with agencies. But otherwise, we have done during the last couple of years 3-4 projects for startup companies. Very often the startups are very busy creating a product or attracting investment, not having enough attention to the brand itself. That is why we are doing for a second year Latvia`s startup rankings and one of the criteria is the buzz the brand has made.

What are the best startup brands in Latvia?

Last year, we awarded 3 best startups. The first one was Sonarworks, which has created software to have authentic sound from the recording studio to the album. The second one was Mintos, the most successful financial FinTech company.

The third one was Catchbox, interactive microphones for conferences.

Latvian startup brands ranking is here:

What do you think about the trend of agencies trying to become business advisors to their clients?

Actually, we have done it for a long time already. We have a consulting team, which mostly does marketing strategies, brand workshops, employer branding etc. That has been our focus for many years. Last year it was our biggest growth area. There is a lot of potential already in the field, we don`t have to invent it. When it comes to product developement, internal communication, employer branding and marketing strategies, we do it very often.

Do you see the hunger and ambition to increase the market share and grow in Latvian brands?

There are some brands hungry to expand, but we can still see the signs of stagnation, the FMCG sector has stopped. The brands that are exporting are hungry to grow. Last year DDB had the biggest numbers of projects involving export marketing.

When brands are targeting Europe, Scandinavia or Russia they are ready to invest more because the market itself is bigger.

Here is the website describing the best exporting brands from Latvia:

Here are some examples of what DDB Latvia has produced in the field of export marketing:

BMW VR experiment that got a lot of positive media reviews locally and globally:

Atlas Drones video made for their LasVegas show:

LiveRiga short films that have been awarded in more than 7 advertising and tourism film festivals including Cannes Dolphins

What`s your prediction for the DDB Latvia future?

The first half of the year has been very good, the second half has a lot of unknown. We have a solid client portfolio. We have won all 12 pitches during the last 14 months. I don`t see we can grow a lot because some of the industries have decreased their spent and some clients are doing more and more marketing in-house, by themselves to have more control over their content. I`m optimistic about the future of us as an agency and the industry.


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