LBB’s Laura Swinton jams with the Romanian creative shop to find out what key the band likes to play in
Free-flowing, passionate and experimental. Jazz, the indie Romanian creative agency founded in 2012 takes its inspiration from the musical genre of Dizzie Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.
It’s founders were driven by the desire to create raw, impactful and authentic work and risked it all to set up during a troubled time for the local economy. But that experience birthed a boutique that’s brave, passionate and full of fight. Now, from their office on Kiseleff Boulevard, by Bucharest’s Arcul de Triumf, they’re turning the spirit of jazz into amazing creative.
To find out more, LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Andreea Ghenoiu, creative director, Valentin Suciu, creative partner and Irina Pencea, managing partner.
LBB> You set up Jazz after 15 years of working for network agencies and brands… what was the trigger that made you decide to make that move?
Irina> We were crazy enough to believe that we can create a viable business model based on authenticity: full focus on quality of the work and on the impact of the work in the people’s lives and in the business of the client. No other biases such as network or investor interest. It was our risk, our reputation on the line and nothing else.
LBB> You set up in 2012, which I understand was a tough time for the Romanian economy. What sort of challenges was the market facing at the time? How has setting up during a tough time shaped the kind of agency you’ve grown into?
Irina> Indeed, our enthusiasm was matched only by the difficulties of the decreasing industry. During the first three years, the reality of being an entrepreneur in an uncertain market gave us nightmares. It was during those days that we realized that Churchill was right: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” But eventually this proved to be a great insight for one of our dearest campaigns for BRD Societe Generale.
LBB> Naming the agency Jazz is quite a statement of intent! How does jazz influence and inspire the culture and the business?
IrinaP> Jazz is a blend of talents and typologies where we all have a voice and we all contribute to the work. We have processes that are collaborative by nature and we are not fans of templates and predefined forms. All in all is just like a jam session of talents and expertise, with respect for personal expression and style. We take things personally. But we do believe that creativity is the greatest shortcut to get results.
LBB> And when it comes to jazz – are you a big jazz fan personally?
Valentin> We love what jazz stands for: incredible musical craft, reinterpretation of musical styles, old or new, collaboration and finally, a music that makes you swag.
LBB> What sort of places did you work before?
Valentin> Most of Jazz people worked in big, multinational companies. The three founders met each other in D’Arcy, then were part of the management team of an independent agency that reached top 10 in Romania before 2011.
LBB> And how has being independent allowed you to behave differently and create different kinds of work?
Valentin> First of all, being independent and having no safety net means no excuse. We cannot afford to have bad work. Or to rely on network help. We just have to prove ourselves on every project.
Second, we can nurture a culture of authenticity. It’s not about who wins the next trip to Cannes, it’s about how can we create projects that really move people. Clients and consumers alike. Participating in creative awards is a consequence, not an objective.
And third, being a maverick makes it all about collaboration for a good cause. It’s us against the corporate world of advertising. And that’s a powerful motivator.
LBB> When you founded Jazz, how many of you were there and who was your first client?
Valentin> We were 20 and we started with three clients that knew us and trusted us: Pepsico snacks division, Danone Romania and Heineken Romania. Today we are 30. Half creatives, half strategy and client services.
LBB> And give us a flavour of what the agency is like day-to-day. Where’s the office and what’s the atmosphere? is it a lively kind of place?
Valentin> Well we are headquartered in beautiful spot of Bucharest, next to the Triumphal Arch. It’s a building with history, it used to be the place of Duiliu Marcu, one of the most famous Romanian architects at the beginning of last century, and then it belonged to the Geological Institute. So, it’s a mix of modern design blended with the aristocratic feel of the old Bucharest. We have our garden to eat, take in the sun and brainstorm. You can still feel the artsy atmosphere, we have some antique objects and part of an ancient fountain in the garden that has a Griffon sculpture on it. And we laugh a lot. It’s good for health.
LBB> Who are the key members of the team – and what makes them really Jazz-y?
Andreea> What makes us Jazz-y are our intense emotions, our drive and our passion for advertising. Any of us can take a project from idea generation to execution on its own anytime. But, it’s the team spirit we put in that makes these ideas great. The Jazz-y people are the kind of people who never say: It’s not my job or It’s not in my job description.
LBB> Tell me about SoulJazz – this is the kind of work that has a higher purpose, for example Save our Songbirds or MagicHome, which we recently covered. What is SoulJazz and why is it an important part of the Jazz family? How does it feed into the wider agency culture?
Andreea> SoulJazz is our social platform. We took a commitment to us and to our country to join and try to solve with our communication capabilities a social problem, a cause, yearly. We do believe that communication can change our world and SoulJazz is aiming to prove this. In 2015 we had Save our Songbirds, a campaign that changed the Hunting Law, saving the lark, the national music symbol, from being extinct, in 2016 we had a project for Romanian midwives Association and in 2017 we did Take a Seat for MagicHome, managing to raise money for 3 shelters near oncological hospitals that will accommodate sick children parents.
Valentin> SoulJazz projects are the projects in which we listen to our soul. It’s an opportunity for us to give back to the community, and to let people know who we really are. And people do respond, we have a lot of clients that came to us because of the quality of insights and ideas that they see in our social work. And it is a great way to unite Jazz people around a good cause.
LBB> Save our Songbirds did really well on the awards circuit in 2016 – what are your residing memories or working on that project?
Andreea> Just like any other Jazz project, this one was not created for being an award magnet. It all started with radio news, prompting us that the Government was going to change the Hunting Law, allowing hunters all over the world to come and hunt our songbirds. This was the first SoulJazz campaign, a campaign that proved us we can make a difference in the world. It’s one of our dearest projects that was actually not only created by us, but produced, directed, communicated by us, with zero budget and many, many calls.
LBB> And what did the award success mean to you as an agency?
Valentin> Inside Jazz, award success is like the morning after a one night stand with a beauty when you discover that he/she is really, really smart. You have already scored beauty, smartness is a bonus. For clients I think that is not that important when they chose us. But it is in their top 10.
LBB> I really love the craft of the La Minut mustard spot – as well as the insight. How did you go about creating something that reflected both modern Romania as well as traditional Romania?
Valentin> You cannot really touch people without craft. That’s why, in advertising an economy mustard we actually worked with the best Romanian photography and retouching studio, Carioca, to create visuals that truly reflect and enrich our customer reality.
LBB> Which other pieces of work are your super proud of and why?
Valentin> This year we launched through our client Avon a powerful statement about how the digital world affects love that went viral. It was launched before Women’s Day and encouraged men to stay away from their screens for only one day. And look into their lover’s eyes. Also, we had a 24h Facebook live event series for Lidl celebrating their 2 million fan base, full of entertainment, that had a great engagement.
We are super proud of our Provident online campaigns that managed to change perception over Loans in Romania. Last year we even managed to generate a TV experiment making Romania aware about responsible loans:
We are also super proud of our work on the Avon campaigns that put women in focus in a very nice and creative way.
LBB> And more widely in the Romanian market, are there more independent agencies opening? I’m only aware of a few, but I was wondering if the success of Jazz has encouraged more people to try doing things a bit differently?
Valentin> We don’t know about other agencies opening, but what we saw is that this belief that advertising should be done with a purpose, started to influence big agencies in being more authentic and more willing to create a real impact.
LBB> The more I meet Romanian creatives the more I feel there’s a really particular kind of inventive creativity that’s unique to the country? From an outside perspective at least, it feels really cheeky and inventive… I was wondering what your perspective on that was?
Andreea>: Romanian advertising market is still a young one. It’s only 25 years old. So we don’t even have yet a generation of creatives that have retired from advertising. The market is still fresh, minds are very fresh and willing to do great work. Romanian creatives may seem more inventive also because of the low budgets they usually have. We don’t have the 'hub mone',y which makes it more challenging. We can’t say that we will just do a TVC with great production value and that’s it. We are always forced to find an idea, an activation…something that will make the campaign great when the budget isn’t really there. Romania is a perfect country for training ingenious minds.
LBB> What are your ambitions for Jazz?
To create campaigns that challenge the world from our location in 55b Kiseleff Bd, Bucharest!