By Mark Tungate
Every year I’m invited to Budapest to chair the jury of the Hipnózis competition, run by the magazine Kreatív. The jury is unusual in that it features a volatile mix of journalists and advertising creatives. It was in this context that I met Ruxandra Papuc, group creative director of McCann Bucharest.
As the jury meeting progressed, I noted that Ruxandra had exacting standards and a fearless attitude to debate. An interview seemed to be in order. First of all, I was intrigued by the fact that she’d originally studied journalism. I wondered how she’d made the switch?
“I was already working as a copywriter by the time I’d graduated Journalism at the University of Bucharest,” she replies. “Getting into the industry was pretty tough before the social media era and my story is no exception: doing everything possible to hang around the right people and finally landing a copy position after a series of unpaid internships.”
It’s a measure of Ruxandra’s talent that, having joined McCann Bucharest in 2014, after only three years she was named group creative director, working on global and local accounts – including Vodafone, the company’s biggest local brand.
I wondered who her early mentors were, because they seemed to have imbued her with a powerful sense of what’s “right” in communications.
“One of the people who’s been and always will be an inspiration for me is Adrian Botan, global ECD and European creative president of McCann. He’s the one who put Romania on the global map of creative excellence in advertising and I think the whole industry owes him a lot. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him directly and I can tell you that every feedback from him was a very precious lesson.”
So how does the advertising scene in Romania compare with the rest of the region?
“The other day I was talking with a friend who’s a CD in Prague and he told me that Romanians are ‘the Brazilians of Europe’. That pretty much says it. We work hard, we have the underdog mindset and we bring excellence to the region. We’ve brought home some of the heaviest industry metal in the world and we have been on stage with the big US players. That’s pretty bold for an industry that’s just over 25 years old.”
Ruxandra herself has won her fair share of awards. According to her bio, she’s brought home prizes from Cannes, Eurobest, the One Show, the ANDY awards and others, including the AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers), which sent her work straight to the film archives of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Winning awards, she believes, puts positive pressure on creatives to deliver equally great work in the future.
AIMING FOR THE BIG GUYS
One of the things I always ask creative people is whether they have a creative ethos – a sort of guiding spirit that drives their work.
“We all joke about how we advertisers think we can change the world but – fun fact – research has taught us that people actually expect brands to make a real change in the world,” observes Ruxandra. “I want my work to have meaning, to stand for something and have a true impact on the lives of those it reaches. It sounds pretentious, but I do believe that every little detail of our work is somehow shaping society. So we should ensure we shape it to serve real values: from the way we portray women in the most basic of TV ads, to developing social experiments that can make someone’s life better right then and there.”
During a conversation after the Hipnózis meeting, Ruxandra mentioned that McCann Bucharest had a somewhat special character compared to other agencies in the area.
She explains: “First of all I think we should stop comparing ourselves inside the region and aim for the big guys. Our work should meet the western standards at all times. I think this is a healthy mindset that we’ve developed in our Bucharest office. We’ve also grown in a developing market which has pushed us to be more creative with every budget cut and lack of trust from the clients. It made us stronger and bolder.”
So let’s take a look at the work. Which of the campaigns she’s been involved in is she most proud of?
“I was telling you earlier about social experiments, and the project that I hold dearest is an integrated campaign build around one. Two lonely grannies from Bucharest sent out open invitations on Facebook for youngsters to join their Sunday lunches. Their living room became the hottest eating place in town. It was amazing to see their lonely home fill with guests and the way they were so happy to meet new people.”
Another campaign she loved working on gave Romania’s elder craftsmen their own Facebook LIVE show so they could share their precious knowledge with the online generation. “It was a truly enriching experience that thought me a lot about our national heritage and the beauties of our country.”
Ruxandra’s attitude and work encourages us to look at Romania in a new light. She’s also a worthy addition to any awards show jury – unless your work is sub-standard, of course.
Mark Tungate is editorial director of the Epica Awards