A Russian Exception

When you talk about Russian advertising, the name Voskhod often appears in the first sentence. We spoke to Andrey Gubaydullin, Voskhod’s creative director and co-founder.

by Katia Chelpanova

Voskhod is a unique player in the Russian advertising sector. The agency has won multiple international awards, including nine Cannes Lions. At home it is widely regarded as Russia’s leading agency, although it’s fully independent and does not belong to any global or national network. It has only 63 employees and since the very start its head office has been located in the city of Yekaterinburg – in the center of the country on the border between Europe and Asia. 


Today we can say that your agency is a pillar of advertising in Russia. Let’s go back 20 years. What made you to start working in this field during such a turbulent period?

Andrey Gubaydullin: I was working as a producer at a privately owned TV channel, where my responsibilities included both TV content and commercials, to make sure the project paid off. The 90s in Russia was the growth period for advertising, and it seemed that the sphere was flourishing, with easy ways to make money. Any young person dreams of starting an interesting and profitable business, so a couple of my colleagues and I left TV to focus on advertising.


What about your first commercial: do you remember it?

AG: Sure I do. It was a commercial for the Severnaya Kazna insurance company. I still remember the plot. It is 6pm, a businessman is ready to go home. He is locking his desk drawers, his cash box and his office. He puts a huge bunch of keys in his pocket, the pocket rips, and the narrator says: “Take care of your pockets: insure your property at Severnaya Kazna.” Our client had given us $130 for all production costs. A week later, the unusual commercial was aired and we got four new orders.


Created as a local independent agency, today you’re considered one of the biggest names in Russia. What is the secret of your success?

AG: Actually, we are a small agency with only two offices. One is in Moscow, as all the budgets and international headquarters are there. The other is in Yekaterinburg, a non-touristic city of 1.5 million people. Here you can understand the essence of real business and the life of a big industrial city.

The agency has 3 basic principles.

The first principle: We work for our client’s clients.

We find it hard to cooperate with clients who don’t understand their audiences. Unfortunately, in Russia top management often approve creative ideas based purely on their personal opinion – whether they like an idea or not – not taking into account what their consumers like. We, on the other hand, always focus on what the end-buyers dream of. Quite often, we conduct audience research with our own money.

The second principle: You don’t have to love us while we are working, you love us for the result. We are tough while working.

There is certain attitude in Russia that advertising is more like a service – you can ask for whatever you want if you pay.

But if we blindly follow whatever a client tells us to do, the result can be horrible. Sometimes they say we’re not client-oriented. But that’s not true or fair. If we believe in the power of an idea and our client trusts our professionalism, we can go much further than what’s written in the contract.

The third principle. Every client deserves a good creative idea. At least for the first iteration.

Every client should have a chance to get an awesome creative idea and say, “That’s great, but let’s make it simpler.” It goes without saying that we wouldn’t appreciate this, but we would make it simpler. Every client has his or her own truth and vision of the business. As for us, we always try to make their business brighter and add charisma and dynamism.

We are a craft agency as well – we try to make everything perfect. It’s unbelievably hard in Russia, though. We have no traditions or special practices in terms of video making and postproduction. Almost no copywriters and art directors are older than 30. It’s because the industry developed not so long ago and there is a tendency for specialists enter it in their early 20s and expect to become creative directors by 30.


What kind of skills should young creatives have to become part of the Voskhod family?

AG: They should have bright eyes, talent and a hardworking nature. Every month I receive hundreds of CVs by email and I look through them all myself. Then I choose a “creative tandem” and give them a test case. Few people make it to the next round.


Nowadays the Russian advertising market seems to be divided between Voskhod and “the others”. How did you navigate the journey from creative director to managing director and from a local agency to one with an international reputation?

AG: I would not be so definite about dividing Russia’s market like that. We have a lot of talented agencies. We communicate well with many of them. Our country is big, so there is enough room for work and fame for everybody.

As for my place in the agency, I represent it at international festivals as its creative director, but I’m more like the managing director of the creative department. My main function is to inspire the team. Apart from my experience, I have a kind of instinct for “breakthrough” ideas. Plus I know how to develop them.

The ideal scenario would be to have no creative direction at all, so the creative teams could produce the whole idea from start to finish and present it to the client. I believe in creative freedom and responsibility at the same time.


You have visited many of your colleagues in European agencies. What did you learn from this experience? Is the European agency landscape very different to yours?

AG: The difference is in the age of advertising industry and in the attitude of society. People in Europe show more respect towards advertising; it’s easier to find artists, illustrators and actors who would not mind taking part in interesting advertising projects. In Russia, actors treat advertising with contempt. It is not appropriate to write about advertising in the media, as it has no social importance in society. Even if they write something about you, they won’t mention the name of the agency or the client.

Europe is also different in terms of clients’ loyalty to their advertising partners. A creative team can work with the same client for years, while clients in Russia might change their team every year.

Another problem in our country is the absence of solidarity in the advertising community, which is obvious at international festivals. To start a change, we initiated the creation of a code of ethics for Russian ad makers. It took us some time and effort to persuade the industry that it needs this kind of document. But the code has been approved by Association of Communication Agencies of Russia (ACAR). With luck it will change the situation for the better.


How do you see your agency in five years?

AG: I think we are going to enter the international market. Our experience of cooperation with foreign clients shows that we are well aware of the ideas that appeal to a European consumer. Like everyone else we are heading towards full digitalization, so all our works are integrated into the online environment.


Tell us something unexpected that makes the Russian advertising market completely different from all the others?

AG: Russian TV still features commercials about pipe factories and sewing machine repair, one after another. 

Andrey Gubaydullin
ECD Voskhod, Yekaterinburg