The advertising market is starting to recover after the plunge of 2009 and the shadow of the economic crisis is finally dissipating in Bucharest. But what about the rest of the country? How are other cities doing? BR took a closer look at the ad industry in Brasov, one of the most beautiful and most visited Romanian towns.
2015 was the first year that Bucharest’s much looked forward to annual Event Agencies’ Night, organized by The Institute, “opened its stage” to agencies outside the capital. It was held simultaneously in Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, Timisoara, Oradea, Brasov and Chisinau, and commentators said Brasov was one of the surprises. With four companies creating special parties (The Pharmacy, Firestarter, High Contrast and 3S Studio) for this occasion, the city showcased its creativity and presence. BR decided to investigate its market, opportunities and clients.
In the beginning…
Opening an agency was a natural step for the team at The Pharmacy. “Since 2013, we have been a four-person company, providing for two years marketing consulting services and training, mainly focused on digital. Since the online market was growing very fast in Romania at that time, we decided that year to open the agency, naming it The Pharmacy, thereby starting to offer only digital marketing services,” said Catalin Ionascu, content marketing manager of The Pharmacy.
Being young, passionate and dedicated were some of their most important assets on the market, he says. “We grew up in the 90s, along with computers. Since technology has been an important part of our lives, it comes easier for us to work in the online industry and to keep up with each update,” added Ionascu. “We were involved in student NGOs, we were members of the same executive board and we managed teams, organized communication campaigns, participated in many events and held lots of training sessions while we were students. At the end of our NGO experience we started our company and our main experience came over time. Also, we are bloggers with experience in growing our own online communities.”
At the time they started their business in Brasov, they say, they were the first agency specialized in pay-per-click (PPC) marketing. The group felt it was the right time to make the move on the market as they grew in tandem with the rising popularity of the online market in Romania. This meant they could keep up with the latest trends in online and, each time there were changes at Google or Facebook, find out immediately about them and change or adjust the strategy in real time.
“We are positioning our agency as a performance marketing services provider. Our services are focused mainly on numerical results; everything we do can be measured, analyzed and optimized. Our slogan is ‘treatments for online performance’, because of our medical branding and the services we are specialized in,” added Ionascu.
Since entering the market, The Pharmacy has developed campaigns for over 60 clients (for example: Subway, Slim Art, Beauty Tech, fitomag, Coffer, Viotop Travel, Stonerex, D.I.M.I., Apart City, Zone Deco and ebagaje.ro) bringing them thousands of conversions.
Another young entrepreneur in the field is Radu Aurel Marius, owner of Complet Image. Having been passionate about IT even before high school, Marius decided in his second year at university to open a company offering IT services. He researched the Brasov market and decided, along with his roommates, to open an advertising agency instead where each one of them would offer his expertise. “After a year and a half I took over the full share package from my associates and became sole administrator of the company. In 2009 there were few advertising agencies dedicated to graphic communication and even fewer offering web design services. Hardly any companies had websites or knew about SEO services,” said Marius. “We are a company that develops marketing campaigns on indoor and outdoor formats and platforms. We also offer online consultancy, both for companies at the beginning of the road and big companies. We have clients from Romania, but also from abroad, and we believe that advertising and business are made with small steps and in time,” said Marius. Complet Image never wanted to be the biggest agency in Brasov, but intended to offer the professional services of web design, SEO, social media, visual identity, graphics, print and photography, he added. Its clients include Fahad’s Empire, CSIKI dogs training school, Piatra Naturala Brasov and Tentree Media.
In the mid 2000s, Razvan Patrascu, CEO and creative director of Firestarter, was in Bucharest, working as a creative director for an agency whose main accounts were Samsung and Ferrero. For those brands, generally speaking, he had to develop communication projects that followed the identity regulations established by their specific branding manuals. The firm was also developing identity projects for corporate brands and products for various Romanian companies. The main problem for him was that most of these projects were mainly about differentiation through the surface of their brand identity, rather than seeking to develop and strategically implement an identity program related to their business model.
“Branding as a tool was deeply misunderstood by entrepreneurs, and advertising agencies’ contribution diluted the values of an identity program, by assimilating the development of its surface (visual and verbal identity) during communication campaigns. So things got to a point where brand products would change their identity each time a new brand manager came on board, and, implicitly, with the new advertising agency that was chosen after a new pitch,” commented Patrascu. More than that, he considers the objectives of the rebranding were often short sighted and aiming to solve short-term problems, and that the ad agency was trying to solve them efficiently, sometimes by trying to fill in the skill gaps of the few branding agencies from that time, which was done in a simplistic, crude manner.
“I anticipated that with market maturity and the evolution of the entrepreneurial culture, perceptions of the importance of an identity program would change. It would be seen more and more as a tool that generates value, based on the strategic building of the public’s brand experience, on the long term. Romania’s integration in the EU also meant an opening to entrepreneurial models that attracted strategic approaches and business patterns. So I concluded that the Romanian branding market would grow and eventually become more specialized,” added Patrascu.
He therefore gave up his job as a creative director in Bucharest in 2007 in order to establish a branding agency, named Firestarter, in Brasov. Its immediate goal, as he puts it, was to develop identity programs, and in that way, to help Romanian brands grow on a strategic pathway. He built from scratch a team of young people, raw talent without experience, untouched by the wrong branding “philosophy” of Bucharest’s advertising industry. In this way, they were soon able to apply and experience identity programs that followed development processes, the way they were defined by professionals such as Jean Noel Kapferer, Martin Lindstrom, Wally Ollins and Tony Spaeth.
“In 2007, Romania was posting dynamic economic growth and Firestarter soon attracted the interest of local companies that wanted branding services other than those in Bucharest or Cluj. We were the first branding agency in Brasov, but from the beginning we targeted the national market. The economic crisis favored us as a solution for the branding needs of some national companies that usually used larger agencies from Bucharest,” said Patrascu.
While for some starting something new, on your own, is about building a business, independence and freedom, for others business is intertwined with more emotional, personal growth and relationships. In 2009, Alexandru Vitalariu, managing partner at Grin Design, started working as a freelancer for various small clients in Brasov. At first, it was about doing some simple designs such as business cards, but in a few months all these small projects got him a job as a graphic designer. And, he says, his world changed.
“I started working to a certain schedule and better focusing on the final purpose for my designs. 2012 was the year of change for me. You know that all good stories start with romance. It was almost the same for me! Following a series of events, I got together with my childhood girlfriend who was a journalist at the time. We decided to open the agency with me as art director and her doing all the copywriting and content management. In a few weeks we managed to get our first big client and things naturally evolved from there,” remembered Vitalariu.
Since then, the team has grown to four members with Vitalariu as creative director, Oana Paraschiv as senior copywriter, Eduard Manta as graphic designer and Kendi Zsolt as photographer. “It was the right time to do it because I consider myself a positive person and also because it was somehow a long-time goal. It couldn’t have turned out differently. We are a creative agency delivering creative content to businesses revenues, the majority of them being big enterprises relying on agencies to run their marketing campaigns,” added the Grin representative.
The firm offers a range of services from branding & identity, logo design, web design and moving to copywriting, social media and photography, for clients such as Coresi Shopping Resort, House Residence, Kronospan, Dräxlmaier Group, RINF, RTC, Style Up and Kron Bun.
Under the slogan “Don’t compete. Create your own category” the agency tries to push the boundaries, says its founder, and differentiate itself on the market by offering something different rather than “more”. “We respect our deadlines while delivering a professional creative solution,” concluded Vitalariu.
Competing against yourself
“Our competition is not only local or regional. Because our services are online, our audience is national and so is our competition. Since we started the business, our competition has increased very fast but the market’s demand for PPC marketing services had a slower ascent. That is why we always had to be different from our competitors. What we offer is not only result-based PPC campaigns, but also the creative idea, the related content for these campaigns and reports based on numerical results,” said The Pharmacy’s content marketing manager.
At the same time, the agency’s representatives say they see beyond Brasov and simple advertising. They are also trainers and organize a series of events entitled Laboratorul de Online (Online Laboratory), a practical online marketing course which they have held almost 20 times, in 6 different cities in Romania. Over 270 participants and more than 250 companies have attended the course, which is intended to educate the market and help companies know what to expect and what to ask from a digital marketing agency.
Firestarter’s direct competitors are branding agencies from Bucharest, Cluj, Timisoara and Iasi. “The eight years that have passed since the agency’s foundation have helped us refine the process by which we develop the identity programs and build our own primary research tools that are adapted to the Romanian economic ecosystem. In the first two years we tried to find customers that, even with lower budgets, would be willing to face the process of developing an identity program that followed the WHAT/YOU/SAY steps. This way, we’ve proved the value of our product, we’ve managed to build a portfolio and also to become relevant to the needs of national companies. We’ve won some national awards and we have projects that are published in specialized books and websites,” said Patrascu.
When it comes to convincing the client of a certain idea or project, Firestarter’s main argument is that the identity program contains a business design. In its relationship with its clients the firm positions itself as a “creative partner”, pursuing strategic objectives for long periods of time. “We are a branding agency accredited by a major European banking institution which co-finances our services for SMEs. In 2016 we plan to target the Western European market with our services,” concluded Patrascu.
Yesterday and today
“2014 was a very good year for us and this can be seen in numbers: we grew our team to five people; we grew our portfolio and created dozens of campaigns for more than 30 clients. Even if 2015 ended tomorrow, it would be our best year until now. We can count 11 editions of Laboratorul de Online, over 40 new clients and revenue growth of over 30 percent,” said Ionascu.
The Pharmacy team describes itself as proud of its statistical results, but more inspired and happy about its influence on the companies it has worked with. “We doubled the number of conversions for a client with an online bicycle store, in the first 30 days of the Google AdWords campaign. For a client with an online agricultural equipment store, from the total number of conversions on the website, 10 percent are because of our Facebook Ads campaigns. These are only a few examples that prove that PPC marketing campaigns can be an important part of the projects we are proud of,” the content marketing manager told BR.
For Complet Image, 2014 was a great year, according to its owner. The company continued to grow, hire people and make new acquisitions. “2015 was our most challenging year and got us started on the road that will hopefully help us reach our goal of being the biggest online advertising agency in Brasov in 2020. Also this year, we have created and developed our own photography studio, because we consider the image really important in the online world and we want to make sure we deliver our best,” commented Marius.
“We are working with a small amount of clients – about six or seven identity programs per year, each of them developed over a few months. There were no significant quantitative fluctuations during the last two years, but we’ve managed to attract international customers, which led to more qualitative projects,” said the Firestarter representative.
Creativity in Brasov – small steps
Flagging up the importance of confidence in this industry, Vitalariu said, “Our clients know from the first meeting that we don’t have to convince them that our solution is better. It’s enough to see the results of our last projects to understand that we deliver a long-term solution. I know, generally speaking, it’s not easy as a client to fully trust someone, but until now, we have managed to achieve this without having to struggle very much,” said Grin’s managing partner.
Regional attitudes differ from those in the capital, in Ionascu’s view. He believes that Brasov is, unfortunately, still a limited market in terms of creativity. Clients are reluctant to stump up money for campaigns that are unorthodox and are very focused on sales results. “It is hard to convince most of them to accept something out of the box and they want immediate results. This is why, in terms of creativity, our market is mainly in other cities, not in Brasov. We believe that in the last few years the advertising market in Brasov has grown, but, unfortunately, not as much as the markets in cities such as Timisoara, Iasi or Cluj-Napoca. In the near future, we can predict constant growth but, unfortunately, still slow,” noted The Pharmacy’s representative.
Nor is Patrascu very optimistic, as he thinks that the entrepreneurial regional culture probably needs around five more years until the brand experience becomes the main growth engine for businesses. As for the value of the entire Brasov advertising market, although he cannot be sure, based on the small number of branding, advertising, PR and online communication agencies, he estimates it at around EUR 200,000 per year. “Still, there are companies with big investments in communication, like Delaco and Allview, but those do not work with local agencies. Bigger picture, I think we are talking about EUR 1.5 million at most,” added Patrascu.
There is still hope for the future, say players. While in 2007 Firestarter was the only agency in the area, in the last three years, several small companies have emerged, with what Patrascu believes to be potential. “The comeback of the real estate industry generates mid-term regional communication projects, and we have seen the appearance of various technological start-ups with potential for using communication services for the years to come. The main problem for Brasov is that it doesn’t have an art and design university to produce human resources with visual communication skills. The absence of this resource effectively chokes the development of skilled local communication agencies. Over the years, Firestarter has been – without us explicitly wanting this – a school of branding and design, and, as a result, we have some former colleagues from Brasov that are very valuable in their positions in Bucharest,” concluded the CEO.
Complet Image’s owner is also optimistic as the Brasov advertising world is clearly expanding, even if the agency he represents is active on less well understood fields – SEO, graphic design, etc – and clients are very open and willing to understand and follow the latest trends. They just need the proper guidance, he believes.