– You worked for MTC, Wrigley's, Pepsi, Orbit, had a hand in almost every brand of chocolate – Snickers, Mars. What are you particularly proud of?
– In 1999, representatives of Tetra Pak came to our agency, Propaganda. They were planning to launch a new juice and we were asked simply to come up with the name. There were a few possibilities but in the end we settled on “Sok Ya”. The brand sold well and now you can see it on the shelves of every supermarket.But what I am most proud of is my work with the company Beeline. In 2005 I was working at the advertising agency BBDO Moscow. At the time, the mobile market was going through hyper-growth. They were beginning to expand nationally. We had ten days to make the advert. Usually it takes three months. It was really tough, we were working at fever pitch, the team kept changing. And in partnership with a design studio in London, we re-launched the brand: a black and yellow striped object on a white background. I'm proud that it was our team which came up with that logo.
We had ten days to make the advert. Usually it takes three months.
– What kind of people work with you? How do you recruit your staff?
– They are creative people, often with an artistic background. We look at a candidate's attitude, not what they know. You can always give them knowledge. But they should believe in what they are doing, be able to get their thoughts and ideas across, have their own opinions. At the interview, I try to understand what a person's goals are. I once asked a candidate what their favourite advert was and he let slip: “Actually, I don't really pay much attention to them.” Likewise, he couldn't tell me what his favourite film or book was. In our business, there is no role for anybody who doesn't derive pleasure from creativity.In advertising, we have nothing except our people. It is they who determine the quality of the agency. Our colleagues have to have a good attitude. I am prepared to invest a lot of time in my people: their emotional state and what motivates them is important to me. There are three ingredients which are important, the three pillars: God, Greed, Glory. The first is Faith. Many creative people get a kick out of believing in what they are doing. The second is Greed, greed for money. It is not unusual for staff to be motivated by money. And the third is Glory, which is also of no little importance. Everybody likes seeing their advert on the television.
– The greed for money is particularly interesting...
– Junior managers, those who have just graduated receive 30-40,000 rubles a month at international network agencies. Mid-range specialists earn from 80-100,000, professionals with great experience, 200-300,000, but salaries for foreign creatives can reach 400,000 rubles a month.
– Is it important to know Russian in your line of business?
– It is important but I wouldn't say that it is essential. Our creative director, for example, is Italian and he doesn't speak much Russian. I know a lot of successful people in Russia who don't know the language. But, of course, that can be uncomfortable for them within the team. They don't get what their colleagues are talking about in the smoking room... The fact that I am American who speaks good Russian helps a lot.
I always say that a good idea is one which you can explain whilst waiting for the lift.
– And how would you rate Russians' English?
– To find someone in Russia with good English is not difficult. I always say that a good idea is one which you can explain whilst waiting for the lift. If the lift has arrived and gone again and you are still talking, then the idea is not such a good one. The English language is very good for brief statements. But even in English, Russians construct large, convoluted sentences.
– Which qualities of the Russian character impress you, and what can you not put up with?
– What I like about Russians is their spontaneity, their willingness to act without a plan. Americans, on the contrary, have to plan everything. It is inconceivable to them to start work on something if they don't have a plan. Russians start off the cuff, and always find a way out of a seemingly impossible situation.But two things in Russians don't sit well with me. Russians are not very results-driven, they are geared more towards the activity than its result. I think this is to do with their history, their education. For years under socialism they worked, but the result of that work wasn't important. The second negative quality is the absence of accountability. If something doesn't work for a Russian, they always find some weighty reason for it. A colleague says that he hasn't signed a contract because the client hasn't called him back, or that he has sent a letter, but hasn't received a reply. That isn't his department. It doesn't matter that there is no result, he was working, which is fine...
– What would be different if you were working in advertising in America?
– I would hardly have been able to reach the level I have in Russia in such a short space of time. In America there are more people working in advertising. But the market doesn't develop so quickly there. It's considered normal in an American company to have the same role for ten years. In Russia the career ladder is shorter, you can move up it a lot quicker.
– What kind of investment do you need in Russia to open an advertising agency?
– You can launch yourself in the advertising business without any investment at all if you have even just one client. This is the story behind all advertising agencies. They were all created by having a client who was willing to go with them. This allowed them to rent an office and hire staff. The creation of the American company Nike is an excellent example. The student Phil Knight thought up a brilliant scheme: ordering trainers in Asian countries and then selling them on the American market. He sold the first batch of shoes straight out of a minibus. Right there, on the street, he met a sales manager who was just starting out. They made their first advertising posters in the garage, their worktable was an old door. The Nike logo (to plain folk it looks like a streak of snot) was thought up for them for thirty dollars by a female student at Portland University.
It's considered normal in an American company to have the same role for ten years. In Russia the career ladder is shorter.
– What are the costs of renting premises in Russia like?
– Now you can find them for 600-800 dollars per square metre a year bearing in mind the conditions essential to an international company, and if you don't complain about the location. There isn't the huge rush that there was five years ago any more. Before, you had to invest 1.5 – 2,000 dollars per metre.
– Is it profitable doing business in Russia?
– Absolutely! Here the market is such that the greater the risk, the greater the returns. If you don't want to take a risk, the returns will be smaller, like it is now in America. In the States, if you achieve growth of 1% – that's a triumph. But in Russia, you can achieve 15% growth. The problem over the last ten years has been not how do you reach this growth, but how do you manage this growth. Because you have to grow with your business. And if you grow too quickly, if you have created a “monster”, you have to feed it, and that is difficult. In one company where I worked, we weren't able to grow because there was only one IT director who wasn't able to install any computers...