Growing up in communist Romania, the future seemed obscure and unpromising to Wunderman Thomspon’s Sandra Bold. With many creative career options limited, especially for women, Sandra’s hunger for creativity led her to architecture, a degree she believed would satisfy her artistic desires.
However, even as she went on to pursue architecture, Sandra would find herself once again circling back to the industry and occupying herself with ads on breaks between her projects. Realising her passion, Sandra jumped into advertising working her way up from working as a copywriter to becoming the chief creative officer of the Benelux region for Wunderman Thomspon, based in Amsterdam.
From MRM McCann Romania to Publicis London and then Italy, Sandra’s desire to challenge herself creatively by constantly stepping out of her comfort zone has managed to reward her with a very eventful career, creating successful campaigns like KFC’ Little Money Big Fun.’ Moving forward, Sandra aims to bring lighthearted ads back and inspire the industry to make more joyous content that will appeal to the public and reverse the grim tone that the industry has become associated with.
LBB's Alex Reeves and Tamara Felamban caught up with her to find out more.
LBB> Growing up in Romania, what were you like as a kid? Were there any signs you were a very creative person?
Sandra> I have no idea if there were signs I was creative. I think every kid draws and sings and every kid is creative, but there were definitely signs that I was going to be trouble.
LBB> And you originally wanted to be an architect, is that right? Or you studied architecture?
Sandra> Yes and no. I remember wanting to be creative, and growing up in Romania close to the end of communism, you don't really know what your options are and you don't understand them nor do you have a big vision of what you can do to be creative. But I felt that need to be creative and so I would always question what directors did, what producers did and would I want to do that? Nobody had the answers for me necessarily and I don't think those careers were very available back then, especially for girls.
I really felt the need to express myself in a creative way but my dad wanted me to do something serious like join the police force or study law or medicine and I didn’t want to, especially because I hated authority. And then after struggling a bit with the question, I realised that architecture is both a creative and well-respected job. So we settled on that and I started preparing for architecture school.
LBB> And what changed and took you in the direction of advertising?
Sandra> I always had a close relationship with advertising because it opened up a world that you wouldn't see around you. When I was five, it was the ads on Cartoon Network with toys. I would want to play with all of them.
We had this thing in Romania called the Night of Ad Eaters. So, when I was 13 to 16, I would pay money to go see a night full of ads. I discovered the websites after that, and I would just watch the advertisements all the time. All the time.
I realised at some point that although I had a job in architecture, whenever I took breaks from projects I would go on the advertising websites and just look at the ads. And after catching myself doing that several times, I wondered why I’m not doing that. Why was I staying here, where I was quite unhappy, when I could do that? And I'm still young and I can still do it, I can still shift. So I shifted.
LBB> You shifted and became a copywriter rather than an art director, which seems like it would have been closer to architecture. Why?
Sandra> I didn't know that art direction doesn't mean actually putting pen on paper and drawing stuff. I thought it was going to be like a lot of people asking me to be an illustrator. I had no idea what it meant. And then a second thing was that I thought only copywriters get to be creative directors and I wanted to be a creative director at some point.
LBB> Early on in your career in advertising, were there any projects or any particular clients that you worked with that helped shape you as a creative?
Sandra> Yes, there were a few. Back in Romania in MRM McCann, I used to work with a leader that gave me a lot of creative freedom to do many crazy things. The Yum group, but especially KFC and Paul bakeries really diversified the way I was thinking and the way I was approaching clients, even though they lead up to the same big client. I learned how to see brands differently, and approach them in a different way.
LBB> Is there any particular campaign that really changed things, if you had to choose one?
Sandra> I think it was KFC's ‘Little Money Big Fun’ campaign that really changed things for me. It was one that I remember really pushing for because there was not much to show, it was user-generated and based on reactions from people. But my partner and I kept asking the client to trust us, saying that it will be good and it's going to work.
Everybody trusted us, including the client, and it worked. That gave me an awakening of, somehow a lot of the work is also based on the people. It's a business of people talking with people, it's not necessarily ideas. So that was very interesting to notice and to have as a lesson very early on.
LBB> You worked in Romania until 2017 and then you came to London, What was it like moving to the London advertising industry?
Sandra> It was not only moving to the London advertising industry, it was experiencing London and a new world. It was a very hard decision because I was very happy in McCann Romania but I felt very unhappy from a growth perspective of me as a person, and I really, really wanted to grow. I felt very strongly that the only way I would grow is by putting myself in other situations and trying to learn by immersing myself in them . I knew that it was going to be very uncomfortable, but that was the reason I went.
And it paid off by being very hard and by challenging me in every way imaginable, from interacting with people, to taking the Tube, to commuting way more than I'm used to, to making plans with friends in a very different way, building social circles differently, it was extremely complex. It delivered what I wanted, not what I expected.
LBB> And then, what drove you to Italy?
Sandra> I was in Publicis London and I went to Publicis Italy because I had a good collaboration with them on some projects. They were also growing a lot and needed people, and needed people who know how to work on certain projects, and they just asked me to go there and handle more of that.
Also, because the chief creative officer of the Publicis network was there. I’d have more responsibility. It seemed like a good challenge, and I went.
LBB> You've now ended up at Wunderman Thompson in Amsterdam as the CCO for the Benelux region. What drew you to the role?
Sandra>I have three offices, Amsterdam, Antwerp and Brussels. Part of it is what we already discussed –that I like putting myself in very uncomfortable situations where I feel that there's growth, not just for the pure masochism of it. So sometimes I feel like I will grow a lot by having it really, really hard. Another thing is that I don't think you're ready at any time for anything, so you better just jump rather than waiting to be ready because you'll never be ready.
Also, I’ve figured out that nobody knows what they're doing in any role. You're just figuring it out all the time. We're never ready for what's going to be thrown at us and we just need to accept the fact that shit will hit the fan all the time, every day, and we just need to have tools not shields – tools for how to deal with it.
LBB> What do you find interesting about the Benelux region?
Sandra> I don't know, I'm discovering what's interesting about the region, and it's good that I'm discovering and that I didn't have expectations. Because usually expectations are something and reality is something else. So they don't match. What I always look for when I go to change my life is people. I really love the people I talked with and I felt that we are really on the same page looking for the same things and we'll be pulling in the same direction. They're also extremely nice. When you find people that you really feel like you can trust, then that is solved.
I cannot tell you what you can find interesting in Romania because there aren't a lot of headlines. In Amsterdam there's the canals and there's this and there's that. In Romania there's interesting stuff but it's because of the people there.
LBB> What are your big ambitions and priorities for the creative work of Wunderman Thompson in the region?
Sandra> It's have fun and make cool shit. Basically, that's a general opinion based on an observation. I think as the world goes grim, advertising tends to follow lately. Before when I used to pay money to see ads, it was extremely entertaining and extremely fun. And I feel that now if it's not spam, it's drawing attention to the bad things. Which I get and I also tend to do that kind of work, so I'm not taking myself out of this conversation either. And I still tend to approve ideas that go there, just because it feels real and impactful.
But my exercise for myself first, and then maybe it will spread, is to try to bring a bit more joy and more light-heartedness and, even if it's serious, to just present it differently. It's a good thing because it's an actual job with people's lives at stake, but we're just contributing to the sea of sad. I think everybody is like me saying that they're tired of serious shit, but everyone's still doing it.
LBB> It's always interesting with creative people to get an idea of their tastes and what inspires them in culture and outside of advertising. Is there anything that you're obsessed with at the moment?
Sandra> Yes. I just realised what's inspiring is TikTok. I discover so much music through TikTok, so many trends, and a lot of films that I didn't know were out there, a lot of dances and catchphrases and everything, depending on what you're looking for. It's all there. Jokes, it's amazing, it's never ending, it's your friend, you’re never gonna feel alone. It's beautiful.
LBB> And finally, are there any messages right now that you really want to get out there?
Sandra> Just be kind. That's a message to myself first, and then to everybody else.