5 Minutes with… Eka Ruola
As ECD and CEO of Finnish group hasan & partners, Eka Ruola channels both business and creative. And while this might seem like a muddle of roles for others, to him, having a “doer” as CEO who is closer to the work and clients, couldn’t be more natural. The agency is one of the most awarded in Northern Europe and from 2012 to 2015 was voted the number one agency by Finland’s marketers – a feat that Eka believes is down to the agency’s work processes being “made for the modern era”. What’s more, the agency isn’t half bad at marketing itself either – upon acquiring Swedish agency Perfect Fools in 2014, Eka appeared on Finnish radio with Ami Hasan to do a promotional interview while wired up to an electric current. And you can’t fault commitment like that.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Eka to talk all things hasan & partners, find out more about working with Lemmy, and why writing children’s books with his mother is the perfect creative hobby.
LBB> You’re both CEO and ECD – how do you balance these two roles?
ER> It’s something I think about a lot. One stems from when I became CEO in addition to ECD. I understood quickly that for our agency culture it’s better when you have a doer as CEO. Having the role of ECD and actually doing that work keeps me closer to the team, closer to clients, closer to what’s going on in this magic factory of ours. To me, this is the most natural setup for an agency. I couldn’t imagine running it solely from a business or numbers point of view.
LBB> You’ve said before that ad agencies need to evolve, be more agile and think beyond ‘campaigns’. How is hasan & partners set up to enable it to behave in this way?
ER> Our processes are made for the modern era. We don’t hide in a cave for two weeks after a brief and come up with one idea that we try to sell like Mad Men. We work together with the client, come up with multiple routes, we let the clients smell the marcomm sweat and invite them to be part of the process. That makes it more agile. It goes beyond campaigns. We live with the work almost daily. Now when you launch it takes a few hours for you to look at the dashboard (we have them on screens in our content studio) to see what needs support, what is going well. We are going from 360-degree advertising to 24/7 advertising. This is day-to-day work, sometimes campaign bursts, but the dialogue with the audience is always on.
We have a structure for an always-on relationship: Compass, Storm, and Pulse. This is our 3D approach - Compass, a strategic view on where the brand and business are going, is quarterly, campaign driven Storms are weekly and Pulse is 24/7 dialogue and optimisation.
LBB> There are a few different companies in the hasan & partners Group, with Frankly Partners and Raw & Land. How closely do these parts of the business overlap and collaborate?
ER> There is not a lot of overlap between hasan & partners and Frankly, there is a beautiful integration, we really complement each other. Same goes for Frankly and Perfect Fools.
Raw & Land is a production company and overlaps 100% with hasan motion. They work more closely together.
Comms and marcomms is where there is the biggest overlap, particularly with hasan communications and hasan & partners. But we collaborate, so hasan communications brings PR and earned media expertise.
Perfect Fools and hasan & partners are similar full service agencies, although hasan & partners is bigger. Frankly helps build solid foundation for us all through strategy and measurement expertise.
LBB> A couple of years ago you and Ami Hasan rather infamously did a radio interview where you were wired up to an electric current! I watched the video – it looked painful! Who on earth came up with the idea to do that – and, looking back, what were your memories of that day? Was it sorer than you thought it would be?
ER> It was really painful. The technical director from Perfect Fools, Bjorn Kummeneje, allowed me to try it out beforehand and it hurt. But then he changed batteries, so it was 10-times more painful in the actual interview. I should have known.
LBB> Who came up with that idea?
ER> Two Tonies, Bjorn, Ami and I had dinner in Stockholm. We maybe drank too much wine and the idea was born. Now it’s a good memory but at the time I wondered ‘do I have to do that?’ but it created a great story and some awards. Sometimes you have to suffer for your art.
LBB> The stunt was done to promote the hasan & partners acquisition of Perfect Fools. I hear so many agency leaders complaining that they don’t have the time to devote the same attention and energy to marketing their own agency as they do to their clients. In this case you really went for it and, haha, sacrificed your own comfort. Why was it important to go that extra mile?
ER> I think it was important at that point. We made a big acquisition, it was a big thing for us. We showed that top management is willing to do everything to make it work and to integrate the companies. It was worth going the extra mile. I want to go the extra mile every day for clients and teams. It’s much harder to do marketing about yourself than for clients. Sometimes you come up with a crazy idea that is still relevant. When that happens, you have to go with it – you would regret it otherwise.
LBB> I met you a few years ago at the London International Awards, when you said you also wrote children’s books. Is that something you still do? What are the stories about?
ER> With my mother I wrote two books about a puppy’s adventures, we wrote it 50/50 and they are published. I really enjoy writing it with her. I have a six-year-old son but I haven’t read him the puppy stories yet because they are aimed at slightly older children, but it will be time soon.
I have also written a children’s book which isn’t published yet. I got the comments from my editor 18 months ago but haven’t had time to finish it. I want to write quirky stuff that also contains a lesson to learn. There’s not enough time for that right now. If I do something I want to do it really well and with a full heart.
LBB> And why is it important to have a creative life and projects outside your work?
ER> You have to go to the gas station once in a while. By that I mean, you have to see what other people are doing and do something completely different yourself. That keeps the engine running and keeps it intact. That’s really important.
LBB> Let’s talk work! We LOVE the Lemmy spot from a year ago, an ad that was quite poignant because it came out shortly after Lemmy’s death. How did you get the client behind the project?
ER> It took quite a lot of talking with them. Valio is a big international company and their products are sold in 27 countries. But they are not advertised too much abroad, so brand recognition is not so great outside of Finland. Then we had this old Finnish commercial done for the dairy council 20 years ago that people remember; they talk about it when we do research.
We had an idea for the remake but we wanted it to be an international asset as well. Using Lemmy as a milkman for Valio was the craziest thing to do so we went for it. It took a lot of time and effort to get the client to go for it, but they understood they needed to do things differently, take risks, be bold. We talked a lot and they said let’s be bold. It worked beautifully and won the Grand Effie in Finland three weeks ago.
LBB> The recent LähiTapiola team up with Hydraulic Press Channel had us in stitches! It’s an interesting sideways take on the trend of brands teaming up with social influencers. What do you think is the key to finding the right pairing between brand and influencer?
ER> The key is basically that it’s not fabricated or forced. That there is some kind of a natural relationship between the brand and the influencer or the idea simply is very controversial. Either a great fit or no fit whatsoever. The influencer must truly embrace the company and brand or have some kind of take that makes it natural. If it is forced or you can smell the money it doesn’t have a big impact.
LBB> As your recent Sanoma spot (the one with the potatoes!) hints, there’s a bit of rivalry between Finland and Sweden! How does that translate into the advertising industry? Since hasan & partners acquired Perfect Fools, which has a Swedish office, do you find yourselves drawing on that rivalry to motivate each other?
ER> To be honest we have, for a long time even before acquiring PF, thought of Sweden as being our other home market. We are well known in Sweden. We might draw on the rivalry a bit to motivate each other, but if we look at the agencies we are culturally close enough. It’s a nice little spice but doesn’t affect the day-to-day between the agencies.
But if ice hockey is on, then we revert to our true colours.
LBB> What are the most exciting and most frustrating characteristics of the ad industry in Finland?
ER> I like to talk about the marketing industry rather than the ad industry. The most exciting thing is that we are better than we think. We are not that far from world class when you count our collective Cannes Lions. It’s exciting.
Most frustrating… there are still not enough companies in Finland that see marketing as a strategic investment. Those that do are using it and winning big. But lots think that marketing is advertising and that is something we need to change.
LBB> What are your plans for 2017?
ER> Continue to integrate the companies in the group. It is going well, but it’s still a big part of daily life. And I want to make it fun. It’s tough work and I want to make sure it’s fun for our people.