Hando Sinisalu had lunch with Indrek Viiderfeld and Kerstin Raidma, the leaders of Tabasco - the Estonian Agency of The Year (based on Kuldmuna 2016 results). They have only 6 employees (last year just 4), but they have won numerous creative awards both in Estonia and abroad. What is their secret of success?
You are a small agency compared to the Estonian “dinosaur agencies” such as D/v/s/on, Age McCann, Taevas Ogilvy, Tank and Kontuur Leo Burnett. How can you beat the big and famous agencies in the awards game?
I think that this is the trend everywhere in the world – small cool players differentiate and offer better quality. You can see the same trend in the beer market with all the craft beers, for example. Small is cool and beautiful! When we started an agency, we did not have a goal to win many awards. We do what we like with passion and awards are just a bi-product of that.
In a small agency, the responsibilities are really clear. Everybody is directly responsible for the quality of their work. We take it really personally. Every time we do something, we ask from ourselves: can I sign it with my own name (not the agency name)?
There are many small agencies. Being small does not necessarily guarantee a high quality work. There must be something else.
Our work method is different. We do not have account managers. Our creatives have direct contact with the client. Every employee takes the responsibility to work and communicate with the clients. The chain of communication is very short and straightforward, without unnecessary middlemen.
One of the reasons why agencies have historically hired account people is that the creatives are “too funky”, they do not have the discipline and there should be somebody constantly managing their work.
We have to bust that myth. If you hire the right creative people, you do not need the “babysitters” to clean up the mess after them.
If you train the young creatives in the early stages of their career, they will be perfectly able to manage their time and work without the supervision from the account people.
I started as an account executive and it is much easier to create ideas, rather than to brief the creatives and then wait the ideas from them. It is cheaper and more efficient to hire creative people who can work with the clients directly.
But what about strategy? Who is responsible for the strategic approach? Creatives may produce only one-off ideas that are not aligned with overall marketing strategy.
Strategy is not a daily work. Once the strategy is in place, agreed and confirmed, the creatives just need to follow the right strategy.
What are your ambitions? Every business must grow – or die!
You need to ask from yourself, what makes you happy. Is it business growth? Or good work, improving your creative output? One of the coolest design agencies Sagmeister & Walsh has 11 people, and I am quite sure they make a good profit.
One of the coolest agencies in Egypt, Elephant has 2 employees. Our main goal is to make cool ads, such work that is competitive in a global level. If we need richer or braver clients for that, then it would also be a goal to get such clients. Also – if we need new talent for that, we need to find such people. We would like to make campaigns that have global reach.
Why does an agencies need awards? What is the main benefit?
The main benefit is that it gives additional energy and motivation to our employees. It is cool to work in the agency that wins awards! Why would a great talent want to work in an agency that does not win anything? Your existing clients also like you more if you are successful. It makes your agency more sexy.
Any final remarks?
Clients should trust their agencies more. Without the trust between the agency and client it is not possible to create outstanding work.
It is not easy to trust, but the clients must take a certain risk. It is like marriage – you need to have trust and good faith.
I think that the client and agency must be equal partners. We need to work together, they are part of us and we are part of them.
Interviewed by: Hando Sinisalu, Best Marketing International