16th Jan 2018

Poland at a Creative Crossroads

Little Black Book interviews Sebastian Hejnowski, CEO Leo Burnett Warsaw about Polish ad industry

Poland at a Creative Crossroads

LBB: How is the advertising industry in Poland changing?

Sebastian Hejnowski: In terms of market development and innovation, it isn’t any different from the market in the UK. Many Polish agencies compete for the budgets of global brands and carry out campaigns that are recognised and awarded at international advertising festivals. Numerous Polish agencies, including those that make up Publicis Groupe, are global or regional hubs – Leo Burnett is such a hub for P&G Home Care.

The changes that do take place mainly concern new frameworks of activities, the most important of which is open dialogue with consumers. We’re living in a conversation economy – thinking in terms of advertising spot production is fast becoming passé. The advertising industry draws from the way PR agencies think; engaging in fights for a common cause, sharing the same values, the same vision of the world. This is proven by such campaigns as Always’ Like a Girl, which was created jointly by Leo Burnett and MSL.

Another visible trend is the use of technology and data to create individualised messages and niche strategies. Marc Pritchard calls this mass one-to-one marketing. At Leo Burnett’s Warsaw office, we’re working hard on developing our advanced dynamic creative competences, which will allow us to reach consumers with tailored messages at every stage of the consumer journey.

Poland has found itself in a unique situation. Many experimental projects could potentially be tested out in our country. How is this possible? To put it simply, the language barrier limits the global impact of any failed ad campaigns. At the same time, Poland has 40 million inhabitants and a large, modern market similarly developed to those in the UK or in France. That’s why many international companies are willing to try out bold and innovative solutions.

Poland’s advertising industry is investing in cooperating with startups and creating friendly ecosystems that give rise to new products and services, and new concepts are grasped fairly quickly. Publicis is a perfect example of this; as part of our global network, we’re developing our Business Transformation offer, we’re the organizer of Viva Tech!, we cooperate with the international startup community from Warsaw and enter local partnerships with Polish startups as well. We’re definitely heading towards business consulting, where an agency is responsible not only for a clients’ communications, but for the success of their entire business.

LBB: What’s the most exciting thing about Polish creativity in 2018?

Sebastian Hejnowski: Football! Football’s like a religion here in Poland, so the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia is a fantastic opportunity for truly creative guerrilla marketing campaigns. Taking a broader look, I’m predicting that 2018 will see a number of stunning advertising campaigns based on AR and VR technology.

LBB: And the most frustrating?

Sebastian Hejnowski: There’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of improving business culture and building mutual trust. Unfortunately, even well-known corporations often invite not just two to three select agencies to a tender, but give or even ten. This makes the process ineffective and difficult to run for the client, and it’s devastating for an agency. It’s rare to see a client covering the costs of creating an offer, and many decisions are taken solely based on consumer tests. Therefore, instead of going through their comprehensive strategic process with an agency, clients often shift the responsibility of selecting their future business partner onto market research companies.

LBB: And what’s been the biggest topic of conversation in the Polish ad industry this year?

Sebastian Hejnowski: In advertising research, which is mainly dominated by future commercial animatics, it’s fairly common for average and boring content to get chosen, because, after all, “We all like to listen to songs we've heard before.” This shifts our industry backwards by a decade at least, and content produced for local markets is rarely fresh. This can be seen in the results of Poland’s advertising industry in creative competitions. When agencies do win awards, it’s often for creative social campaigns or ad campaigns that have been implemented abroad.

Another widely discussed topic is agency rates, which have been averaged for the majority of the market and constitute a reference point in negotiating terms with advertising partners. In my opinion, such a small diversification of agency wages is a ball and chain that slows the development of the industry in Poland. Clients shouldn’t have their choices limited to just average agencies. They should also be able to reach for the top shelf.

LBB: Poland’s economy grew pretty strongly last year – are you seeing the effects of that in the ad industry?

Sebastian Hejnowski: It’s true, our economy is growing, but we’re going to have to be patient if we want to witness a visible impact of this on the advertising industry. Polish businesses and foreign corporations need a sense of stability and security. I think that businesses are becoming more optimistic towards the future, and with this, there’ll be wider access to newer and greater budgets. Clients will be investing in new campaigns; ones that are much more digital and multi-channelled. Increasing this budget pool won’t pour more money into good old ATL, but it will allow for the exploration of new channels and means of reaching consumers.

LBB: In the UK, the ad industry is still trying to get its head around Brexit! With Poland’s government’s growing criticism of the EU, is the potential of a ‘Pol-exit’ much of a topic of conversation in the Polish ad industry?

Sebastian Hejnowski: Poles feel that they’re an integral part of the European Union; we have strived to become an important member of the EU for years. After our initial delight that came from finally joining the EU, our approach became more critical. Current discussions focus on the widely interpreted realisation of Poland’s best interests, rather than on a 'Pol-exit'. We love complaining, it’s in our blood, but there’s no real talk of leaving the EU. Recent changes to the government and Mateusz Morawiecki becoming Prime Minister prove that even politicians from the ruling party have set a definitively pro-European course.

LBB: I know the Polish government is planning a crackdown on foreign-owned media and critical coverage etc. – I was wondering whether this has a knock-on effect on the Polish ad industry and the kind of work you can put out? Or not so much

Sebastian Hejnowski: All over the world, public debates are becoming increasingly more aggressive and politicians are falling victim to their own expressiveness. The previous government focused on national politics and played the “bad foreign media” card, but the recent changes have seen the most controversial politicians being shunned and replaced with new ministers that represent a pragmatic attitude and approach to the economy. And already there are visible results – the fine imposed by the National Broadcasting Council on TV broadcaster TVN, which is owned by Scripps Networks Interactive, has already been annulled after mass public outcry both nationally and abroad. We’re of the general opinion that the years to come are going to be smooth sailing for businesses here in Poland, and I believe that this applies to the advertising industry as well.

Original interview was published at Little Black Book