Meet the jury member Rolands Puhovs: silence is expensive

Baltic Best Head of Programme Hando Sinisalu interviewed Rolands Puhovs, who is the Managing Director of Latvian branding agency White Label and a jury member of this year’s Baltic Best competition.
How has the war in Ukraine affected the marketing scene in Latvia? Are clients cancelling or postponing campaigns due to the war?
There are brands who have postponed bigger launches until autumn, because they believe that it’s not a time to celebrate nor to self-praise. It’s not ethical. One Pan-Baltic client has postponed its rebranding launch. The situation has stabilised after two months and we don’t see a decrease in our workflow. In the beginning, many were confused in terms of what they can talk about. Is it ethical to talk about loans or money? Our clients need help with communication during wartime, and how to run campaigns in this new climate.
Here, in Latvia, the war isn’t even the biggest issue. There is an increasing fear of what’s to come in autumn with increasing energy and food prices along with the possible comeback of COVID.
What do you tell them to alleviate these fears?
We tell them that despite all, we need to keep the brand presence. They can decide to cancel launches, but the brand presence has to be kept because afterwards, it will be much more expensive to get the brand back to people’s minds. Silence is expensive. Previous crises have proved that the brands that remained active during the crisis came out as winners.
White Label is a branding agency. What is the difference between a branding agency and a traditional advertising agency?
Our primary business lies in brand strategies. We solve business problems and know how to earn more money using brand tools. In turn, these strategies have to be executed and the execution is what we often see in the public – be it design, commercials, PR, social media or even influencer marketing. White Label comes prior to these activities.
There used to be advertising agencies with strong strategic capabilities, but it has become very rare now. Advertising agencies mostly work with B2C clients who need communications, whereas our clients come from the B2B side and are sceptical towards these crazy creative people. They don’t need creative commercials, they need people who understand their complex businesses.
You can find specialised B2B agencies in other markets like Sweden and the UK. Moreover, if you look at the business landscape, there are actually more B2B companies than B2C companies. Why are there so few B2B agencies in the Baltics?
B2B companies require people with very different skills. You need people who understand business, have a background in economics and can find a common language with the owners. Other agencies are mostly filled with people with a social science background. And we do still need creativity in B2B, but the deeper understanding of how complex businesses work has to be there.
Also, the need for marketing is often a very low priority for them. It only becomes a part of the discussion once they’ve realised that their growth depends on it. It’s very hard to sell a brand strategy to a B2B company that is not ready. And once they reach that realisation, they start asking around and end up with a nephew who has done some graphic design in high school or another nephew who is popular on TikTok.
Many B2B companies don’t even have a marketing manager, because the sales manager or the CEO are taking care of these matters. Nevertheless, companies with no marketing knowledge and terrible website are often very successful companies.
Absolutely. We are currently working with a client who has done zero marketing in the past 20 years. Their last webpage update took place 15 years ago. Today, they want to raise prices and increase their business in Scandinavia. They realised, that in order to do that, they simply need to look better.
I think they treat marketing as some kind of voodoo science. It’s not tangible. And even the word "marketing" makes them somewhat suspicious. At White Label, we rarely use the words "marketing" and "strategy", because it’s hard to grasp. Instead, we indicate the problem and showcase the way that problem could be solved. How optimisation could lead to spending less time and making more money.