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5 Minutes With… Ela Gokkan


CEO, Lowe Istanbul

5 Minutes With… Ela Gokkan

Istanbul is a city that brings together the best of East and West into a glorious melting pot – and for Ela Gokkan it’s one of the most exciting and creative cities in the world. Since joining Lowe Istanbul as CEO last year, she has seen the agency transform into a modern and lively hub as befits its dynamic location.  Laura Swinton spoke to Ela about her agency’s recent re-launch, being one of just a few female CEOs in her country, and why her people are as important to her as her clients. 

LBB> What is unique about Lowe Istanbul right now?

EG> Right now, our freshness is a very unique factor in the advertising industry. Last year, we re-launched the agency with a total makeover. We are a large network agency with fresh, new faces and fresh, new approaches to the way we do business.


Other than that, there are two aspects to the uniqueness of Lowe Istanbul. One aspect is its capabilities. It is about managing advertising on a scale that is larger than the country we are in. Most of the agencies in Istanbul don’t carry such strong roles for the region. Here at Lowe Istanbul, we work not only for Turkey but also in the whole of North Africa, Middle East and as well as Russia, Ukraine and Belarus for many different brands in our portfolio. This results in a vast knowledge of the region and its varied lifestyles. 


The other element of our uniqueness is an internal success criterion. I can proudly say that the people at Lowe Istanbul work here because they feel that they matter. To us, one of our criteria in overall success is the happiness of the people in the agency. I don’t believe any other way of doing business is sustainable. We mostly work with the Y generation. It is very important to understand their aspirations and keep them motivated. We believe that people working with us are as important as our clients. 

LBB> You joined Lowe Istanbul last year – how has the agency evolved in that time?

EG> Lowe Istanbul is one of the oldest ad agencies in our country and has been through many mergers throughout its history. Being an old classic company has its advantages as well as disadvantages. What we did last year was change every single bit that didn’t fit in the vision we had for Lowe Istanbul. We became a more productive, efficient, easy going, joyous agency everyone is happy to work with. One of our clients put it very nicely, saying that we have evolved the ‘Lowe’ to ‘Love’ in their eyes. They love working with us, they believe in us. I believe this is a very strong asset. If your clients love working with you, it means a lot in terms of long-term success.

LBB> How did you first get into advertising? What attracted you to it?

EG> For me, it’s a family thing. I come from a creative family. My mother is an art director. My father was an architect and they are both people who were in love with what they do. This is why I was drawn to a creative industry. But, really, I was born into advertising. My mother worked at McCann Erickson in Istanbul in many different positions from art director to Creative Head for over 20 years. I could literally say I grew up in McCann. Letrasets and Rotring pens were my play-things when I visited mom in the office after school. I used to love watching Coca-Cola ads that arrived from round the world at home with my mother. 

LBB> What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you started your career?

EG> Sometimes we tend to forget the fact that we are not doing brain surgery.  The only way to survive in the long run when doing a high stress job like advertising is to keep this in mind. This is just a commercial that a family will watch as they are having dinner; so there’s no need to make our lives miserable for things we cannot change or control. But I must add that I was lucky to have had this advice early in my career. I’m proud to say that I have been working in advertising for many years and haven’t had any ulcers or migraines. 

LBB> When it comes to the next generation of Lowe Istanbul’s adfolk, how does the agency nurture new talent?

EG> Thanks for that question, as I have a lot going on in this area.  As I mentioned before we value our people highly. I have just received a thank you email and here is why: I know our job is not getting easier – day-by-day we need to deliver high quality ideas within the shortest deadlines. Still, ideas are about inspirations. If my people are not inspired they cannot create. Sometimes we work 24/7, so I encourage them to go out. I had written an email to the entire agency telling them that they were allowed to go to the Istanbul Biennial, so if they wanted to they could just say and leave. This is what I was thanked for later. 


We also relocated very recently – the hardest part was to find the right location. I chose our new premises on the basis of not only efficiency and capacity but also how it would make the lives of my people better. People love it there because they are now in a beautiful, partly residential, upscale neighbourhood where they love to walk, hang out after work, meet up with friends and visit art galleries. The relocation gives us those opportunities. 


We also try to invite influential people to our agency for afternoon chats from many different disciplines and backgrounds. The more diverse they are, the better it gets. It feels really good to chill out and have chats with people that you normally wouldn’t have the chance to meet.

LBB> From Turkish creative and photographers etc. that I’ve spoken with, it sounds like Istanbul and Ankara have vibrant creative scenes. How would you characterise the creative scene?

EG> Istanbul has always been a melting pot. Being from Istanbul originally,  I couldn’t be happier for seeing Istanbul where it is today and I believe the potential is colossal. Our geographical location has always had a huge impact on our lives. We are literally in the middle of east and west. This reflects in our cuisine, in our family ties, in our religion, in our history, in our personalities, in our lifestyles, in our fashion, in our ways of doing business. 


This blend creates an immense diversity and prosperity, which manifests itself in the fine arts and creative industries. I could say we have the best and the worst of both worlds. We are as eastern as we are western. We have foods, manners, reactions that you could call European or Arabic. But to us, this diversity in everything is all that makes this country extremely unique. We are also a young country, which results in a great productive power.

LBB> Recently, Turkey has seen some political and economic unrest, and I was wondering what sort of knock on effects that has had for clients and ad agencies?

EG> Being a melting pot, Turkey has its moments. There is a clash of cultures within one nation which is very hard to handle for everyone involved. Advertising on the other hand is about people – every kind of people. So for us it’s very important to stand where we stand with mutual respect to everything that is happening in and around us. People love black or white, therefore as marketing and ad people we need to find a way to serve both. I guess this could be the learning.

LBB> Also – working at Lowe, a network not afraid to get stuck into political and social causes (e.g. Operation Christmas) – do you think the creative and advertising industries can or should get involved in influencing the outcome and affecting social/political change?


EG> I believe this depends on the necessity and may also depend on the specific nature of the cause. Operation Christmas is not about advertising it is about changing lives, it is about creating a better future for a nation. I think for causes like this we should step forward and stand up. 

LBB> I’m interested to know what it’s like being one of the few female CEOs in Turkey?


EG> I’ve never had any trouble or been in any awkward situations as a result of being a female CEO in my life. In fact it feels awkward when I’m called a ‘female CEO’. I feel that being a CEO or not, being a working woman in general can sometimes become hard. But other than that it is perfectly fine. 

LBB> As I understand, according to the OECD, only 28% of women have paid employment, compared with 69% of men. Is that gender disparity mirrored in the advertising industry, and if so are things changing? And can/should agencies actively try to address this?


EG> Turkey is a country of dilemmas, I must say. What the statistics say can sometimes mislead us to inaccurate conclusions. Turkey is a great country for women who want to be successful. Many of the largest conglomerates and companies are run by female leaders. Women don’t necessarily face gender discrimination more than any other western country. I was never held back because I was a woman in the advertising industry. What happens mostly is that us women tend to stop working once we get married and/or have kids. That’s when men move on to higher positions. Of course some people may prefer to promote men but this happens everywhere in the world. There are parts of the advertising industry and marketing departments where you could feel like you are in a Harem because they’re full of women. 

LBB> And what’s the most exciting thing about working in the Turkish ad industry at the moment?

EG> Being in Turkey at the moment is very exciting. For the ad industry it is always exciting to be in a dynamic, economically growing, young energetic country. Creativity it is prospering, the arts scene is lively and the country is blooming.


LBB> Which pieces of work from the agency have particularly resonated with you recently?

EG> Being one of my largest brands, I think the OMO campaign made in the London office “Whatever Life Throws At You” is one of my favourite commercials recently. The simple sophistication the idea holds just amazes me. 


LBB> And what do you think 2014 holds for the agency, and the industry?

EG> The industry is again expected to grow 4.5% in expenditure. Digital keeps on growing as well and is expected to reach 25% of all the media spending in 2014. 2013 was the year of our preparations and re-launch, but 2014 will be the year we focus on turning Lowe Istanbul into a booming agency through new business and organic growth. 


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MullenLowe EMEA, Wed, 27 Nov 2013 18:01:50 GMT