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Bolt can be the leader, but will be pushed from their throne if they don’t grow as a brand.

Interview with Andris Rubins, Managing Director & Partner, DDB Latvia

DDB Latvia won the Baltic Agency of the Year title in 2018 and Andris Rubins will be the jury member of Balticbest 2019 competition.

He shared his thoughts about the changing advertising industry landscape, the need for Pan- Baltic approach. He is convinced that the tech companies need traditional advertising and branding once they face the competition.

What are the current developments in Latvian advertising market?

One trend I can clearly see emerging is integration. Integration in terms of disciplines and overall work structure. Clients are looking for teams who can provide a full brand experience, by that I mean building unified strong brands and merging know-how across different disciplines like PR, design, digital, etc. Every single element should fit the bigger picture. When working with five different agencies, each adding their own little piece of the puzzle, the result can be a bit chaotic, thus clients are looking to integrate all directions under one roof.

In parallel, I see integration across all three Baltic countries and a need for strong pan-Baltic strategies. Some activities will always be kept on a local level, but the overall trend is moving towards centralisation. There will be one Baltic marketing director, one leading Baltic brand agency and unified concept campaigns for the whole region. I’m not saying one formula fits all, but if you look into it deeper, you’ll always find similarities between the three countries. airBaltic is a perfect example here. They have managed to come up with campaigns suited for 12-15 different countries.

The reality is that agencies are not like McDonald’s – you can’t always count on the quality to be exactly the same across different regions. The quality varies drastically within the group, hence, many companies prefer to handpick their local partners in order to maintain a high standard.

Agencies really have to reconsider their quality level across different countries and disciplines. Otherwise the overall reputation will suffer. We are working hard to provide the best in whatever we do and if we’re not up to the par in some disciplines, we make sure to find the best partners. It something we need to improve in order to provide big pan-Baltic integrated campaigns. You don’t have to have all disciplines in-house, because your partners should be there to support you. We do trainings and learn from our partners in Scandinavia, which is something we should also implement amongst Baltic agencies.

I have a great example from Scandinavia, where all local DDB offices recently merged into a micro-network called NORD. It’s hard to share know-how within big global networks, because as we all know, big players are only interested in talking with one another. Small countries are left behind. NORD was created to tackle this issue and give smaller players a stronger voice. For now, we do projects together and just recently won a huge pitch for Latvian cosmetics brand Stenders. We have a lot to learn from them, but it also goes the other way around, because the level of work we manage to produce on small budgets is astounding for our Scandinavian friends.

Tech companies are rapidly taking over the world. Clearly, their marketing mindset is completely different compared to traditional clients, because in order to gain greater agility, most marketing is done in-house. Sounds like bad news for advertising agencies, doesn’t it?

Definitely something we should be worried about. However, running your marketing in-house only applies to day-to-day communication. Looking at the bigger picture, it’s nearly impossible to build a strong brand without external help. At the end of the day, your product can be superb, but competition will catch up and the only thing setting you apart from the others is a powerful brand. You cannot rely on your product alone, because copying is happening at the speed of light, especially when it comes to tech. Bolt can be the leader today, but will be pushed from their throne by Yandex and Uber in no time if they don’t grow as a brand. Airbnb and Netflix are already using traditional advertising. This is why advertising as an industry was born.

Moreover, think about the talent working at innovative tech companies today. At some point, they will feel the hunger to learn more and practice their know-how in other areas. Advertising agencies are a great place for learning, because we combine different categories and disciplines. Obviously it’s also up to us to provide an attractive environment and break those stereotypes. We need to build modern environments and become more agile in order to cater to those changing mindsets.

Industry giants are slowly starting to retire and the overall excitement seems to be fading from the advertising the scene. You’ve been in this industry for 20 years now. What keeps you going?

Working together with DDB NORD was a breath of fresh air for us. The best creatives came together to share their knowledge, ideas and energy.

As for DDB Latvia, we just launched a new program focusing on cultural insights. We have a team responsible for monitoring trends, studies, notable cultural events, etc. Their findings serve as insight and inspiration for other agency teams. We are always up to date with the latest happenings and are working hard to implement these findings in our daily work. Of course you have to react fast, because today’s news are forgotten by tomorrow. This program has provided us with great opportunities for brand conversations for instance. On a larger scale, it’s all about becoming more agile. Gone are the days when you had a week for briefing and two for strategy. Everything is happening NOW and you need to be part of that conversation otherwise you will not survive.

Which sectors are most active on Latvian advertising market?

Old giants like telcos, supermarkets and retailers are still here. Finance has taken a breather due to all those fintechs disrupting the category. Banks are reconsidering their marketing as such. Now more than ever, I see a big rise in city marketing and brand building. Universities are also an interesting new addition. The number of students who are able to afford tuition fees is on the rise, thus universities are putting more energy into marketing. Finally, IT is growing immensely and despite the fact that we have start-ups with their inhouse marketing teams, you still have companies who are looking for external help.

On a final note, I would like to invite all Baltic agencies and companies to take part in our annual Baltic Brand Ranking initiative. The Baltic Brands Awards 2019 will take place in October 3rd. Here’s the website from previous year: https://www.zimolutops.lv/en/loved-brands/baltic-top

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