Breaking the Mold: Tomi Salo, Irina Kirvesmäki, & Saana Simander, TBWA\Helsinki

by India Fizer , AdForum

(Pictured left to right: Irina Kirvesmäki, Saana Simander, Tomi Salo)

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Helsinki, Finland
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Tomi Salo
Innovation Design Trainee TBWA\Helsinki

Irina Kirvesmäki
Content Producer TBWA\Helsinki

Saana Simander
Communications and PR specialist TBWA\Helsinki

We spoke with TBWA\Helsinki's innovation design trainee, Tomi Salo, Content Producer, Irina Kirvesmäki, and Comms & PR Specialist, Saana Simander, on all things innovation and how the industry can benefit from stepping outside of traditional approaches to advertising.


Can you tell us about your current role and responsibilities?

Tomi: I’m currently working as an innovation design trainee at TBWA\Helsinki’s Innovation Lab. As an industrial designer I have skills from multiple sub-areas of design. My responsibilities are designing products, concepts, and prototypes plus I also dabble in UI/UX and graphic design.

Irina: In my current role as Content Producer, I’m creating content for my customer’s social media, managing social communities, creating influencer concepts, and taking part in the general creative work. A big part of my job is also to constantly keep myself informed about the new things that are happening in the world of social. During my short time at TBWA\Helsinki, community management, social influencers and TikTok have become three areas of expertise for me, and I’ve gotten to be a part of many projects due to that.

Saana: My role as a PR Strategist entails everything that has to do with PR. I’m responsible for our unique PR process that has been developed to lift our client’s best work and innovations in both national and global press. I’m also very much involved in some of our creative work to make sure that we’ll get the most out of every idea in terms of earned media.

What drew you to work at this agency and what opportunities does it provide to foster your professional growth?

Tomi: I was intrigued by how an advertising agency like TBWA\Helsinki utilizes industrial design like no agency I’ve encountered before. During my short time working at our Innovation Lab, I’ve learned a lot which I owe much to our flat hierarchy allowing me to work as an equal designer alongside people with much more experience. I was for example given an opportunity to design the Viita Workstation for our client City of Lahti, the European Green Capital of 2021 which has for sure been a big part of my professional growth here.

Irina: I’m currently finishing my MSc. in Marketing studies at Aalto University and I always dreamt of working with big and global brands and their marketing. TBWA\Helsinki’s impactful and disruptive ad campaigns drew my attention and quickly enough, it became my dream to work here. Working at such a global and awarded ad agency has already offered many opportunities to grow professionally: I’ve learned a great deal from my talented colleagues and most importantly, I’ve been trusted with responsibility, sometimes so much that it makes me scared. But that is where growth happens.

Saana: When I first heard about TBWA\Helsinki, I was immediately impressed by their take on innovation, creativity, and advertising making it an easy decision to apply here when the time for my internship came. Ever since joining the agency and especially our communications department I’ve had endless opportunities to grow professionally. I owe much to the creative and inspiring atmosphere, the opportunity to learn from my talented colleagues and for people above me believing in me. At TBWA\Helsinki it’s the talent that matters, not how long you’ve worked.


Are there any unused skills you have that you'd love to incorporate into your professional work?

Tomi: Well, I’d like to consider myself a creative person and I very much enjoy working with my hands.  I’m really into arts of all sorts, especially painting and ceramics so it would be awesome one day to make use of these skills in my professional work.

Irina: For me to succeed as a Content Producer, I must constantly follow what is happening in the world of social media. I believe that this is something that I could make use of in other areas of marketing and advertising, extending to the outside of social media. As most of our time is spent in social media, where most of the trends are born, I’d love to utilize these skills on a larger scale, for example in campaign planning.

Saana: I consider myself lucky in a way that I am able to utilize all my skills in my professional work at the moment. At the beginning of my career, I pretty much worked behind the scenes but recently I have been able to take part in ideating and campaign planning which I really enjoy as a creative person.


Joining such a massive industry can be overwhelming, how do you stay informed and ahead of the curve?

Tomi: For me one of the greatest platforms to follow has been TBWA’s cultural intelligence unit Backslash that gathers information on the cultural shifts happening around the globe. I also try to use as many social media platforms as possible and follow different kinds of people to get a better view of the world and the changes that are occurring.

Irina: Adding to my answer above, information seeking and staying ahead of the curve is something I’m still learning every day. My mentor once gave me a good tip about making it a daily habit to stay informed. Therefore, I nowadays begin my days with either reading the news, listening to podcasts, or reading a book. Sometimes the massive amount of information can be overwhelming, but I firmly believe that in this case learning just a little bit every day is better than nothing.

Saana: Even though the industry can be overwhelming at times I try not to stress too much about it. It’s easy to get lost in the vast amount of information but luckily curiosity and the need to stay informed on what’s going on in the world are in my nature. As a PR professional my everyday life at the agency very much revolves around staying ahead of the curve, but in my free time I also love to read books (not just industry related), browse social media, and listen to podcasts.


What areas in the industry do you believe could use an overhaul?


Tomi: TBWA\Helsinki unlike many other ad agencies has the capability to develop and create product design ideas to life. Our Innovation Lab has given us an advantage in the advertisement industry and a way to be disruptive. Often many great ideas come to halt when ideas need to be turned into concrete products so I really think many agencies could benefit from expanding outside of traditional advertising talents to for example people with an eye for innovation.

Irina: In the endless content stream of today’s media scape, it is important to stand out from the mass. Instead of only pushing content out to their channels, brands should also take time to reply to comments and private messages on a regular basis to get the audience more engaged. Steering away from traditional customer service answers and instead adding a bit of edginess and humor to the responses can also increase the viral potential of the brand's socials. A little goes a long way: sometimes for example 0.5-1 hours a day for responding to comments and messages can be enough.

When it comes to PR, I think there is still a lot to be done within the industry. Firstly, PR is often considered as a separate function when in fact many cases could really benefit from taking the PR aspect of the project into account from the beginning. Second thing is that I often come across ideas that in my opinion would have so much potential outside the industry bubble but unfortunately their full potential is not utilized.


Where do you hope this role will take you down the line?


Tomi: I would love to stay at TBWA\Helsinki after my internship and be part of something that truly makes an impact and stops people to think. I hope that in the future I get to work abroad and dive into different cultures and adapt to new ways of thinking and designing. As a designer I like to be part of different kinds of projects and not to limit my competence to specific areas of design.

Irina: I’m not keen on titles or hierarchy, so there’s no one role that I’m striving for. Instead, I would like to work with brands that are interesting and open to trying new things in their social media and marketing on a higher level. I’m eager to see what the future has in store for my career!

I’ve grown to my current role as a PR Strategist quite fast and now that I am here my goal is to enjoy this moment and make the most out of it. However, as most of my career has happened during the pandemic, I very much await for the world to reopen again for us to be able to utilize the full potential of our global TBWA network. Even though I try not to stress too much about where my career will take me, I look forward to everything this agency and the industry as a whole have to offer for me.