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5 Questions with Publicis Groupe CEE Lioness: Dagmara Witek-Kuśmider


Dagmara Witek-Kuśmider, chief creative officer, Publicis Worldwide Poland dug deep and shared her rich career journey as a creative turned strategy turned creative and everything in between

5 Questions with Publicis Groupe CEE Lioness: Dagmara Witek-Kuśmider

As part of Publicis Groupe Central & Eastern Europe (CEE)’s 'Embrace Gender Equity' initiative that was launched during this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8th, the company created a special series 'Publicis Groupe CEE Lioness' designed to showcase and spotlight its many female talent and leaders across the CEE region, celebrating their experiences and important roles they play within the company. Get to know the Publicis Groupe CEE Lionesses through their stories in this series.

1. Can you share your story with us, how have you gotten to where you are today in your profession? 

Dagmara> I’m Dagmara, I’m chief creative director at Publicis Worldwide Poland, K.I.D.S. foundation’s co-founder, a mom of two teenage sons, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a (rather decent) skier, an eternal yoga beginner, an avid book reader, a writer, and a keen traveller. I try to juggle all these roles – sometimes I win, sometimes I fail. How have I gotten here? It all started with an article about working in advertising, how it involves a lot of travelling for shoots and all you need is creativity and writing skills. I applied and got the job – I became a copywriter for L’Oréal, and promptly fell in love with creative work and a creative world inhabited by amazing, colourful, and passionate people as well as multiple brands.

Advertising is the kind of job that always surprises you – a new client means a new culture, a new way of doing things, a new business approach. Each brief brings an exciting new challenge, and you need to learn something new every single day.

It was my definition of a dream job but as I like to understand 'why' and 'what for', it was never just about finding an interesting angle, a surprising idea, or a new creative way of expressing it, I always try to understand the real challenge or need that sits behind the brief, the business side of things. And to be honest, somehow I couldn’t picture a long-lasting creative career then, and there were definitely no female creative directors (in the Polish ad industry) at that time -the glass ceiling seemed pretty real.

My ambition, curiosity, and the need to have it all took me to business school and two years later, I added to my Warsaw University diploma a HEC and SGH Master’s degree in marketing and Management.

I had a plan - a few years of building brands in strategic planning and a long-term vison of becoming a marketing director one day. I convinced everybody at Publicis Poland that was what I needed and that was the best way for the company to use my skills. I was finally able to create brand strategies and creative briefs from scratch.

It was two years of learning how to read data, of getting to know consumers and understanding business strategies – I enjoyed it a lot, I succeeded and finally one of the client service directors (Adam Miecznikowski) offered me the role of head of strategy for his key client – a huge, global brand. One day he took me for a walk and asked, “Dagmara, you are doing great as a planner, I want you to work for my client but I must admit that as much as I admire your strategic thinking, I wish you are still working as a creative as  you were one of the most brilliant creatives I’d  ever known.” This turned out to be one of the most important conversations in my life – it was like a wakeup call that made me realise that although I had succeeded, I just didn’t love it as much as I wished I did. I missed the feeling of excitement whenever I think about my work, and that the fact that I didn’t know any female creative directors should not mean that I can’t be one. I took one of the most difficult decisions in my life. It was not easy to admit that I wanted to take a step back. I was really lucky to be working with managers who supported me in my decision, professional development and ambition to join the Creative Directors’ Club someday.   

It was not always easy, and I worked hard. At one point, I started to work as a team with Slawek Figura, (deputy creative director, Publicis Worldwide Poland) and as it turned out, it was a great match - between my creativity, leadership skills and the need to shine, and his talent and legendary work ethic. We started to win pitches and awards and eventually became the Europe’s Hub for Vicks. 

Basically, I had to build an agency within the agency and create my own team. I became the group head, then co-managing deputy creative director. Shortly after, I co-founded the K.I.D.S Foundation and became its vice president and marketing director. I discovered that I had enough charisma to engage not only Slawek but also Dagmara Gadomska, the people at Publicis, and the whole group with the idea of business and tech professionals sharing their know-how with children’s hospitals to make them modern, patient-experience-focused places of the future.  Not only did we build a brand from scratch, but we also built a community of volunteers. I juggled my agency and foundation roles, trying to find synergy in building effective and creative communication for the foundation (K.I.D.S). We have done multiple projects all of which have transformed the hospitals brick by brick, some of them even winning us creative awards such as the 'Little Headhunters Powered by Linkedin' campaign which won at the Cannes Lions in 2022. 

I was eventually offered the role of chief creative officer of Publicis Worldwide Poland. It is probably no coincidence that the offer came from two amazing women (Dagmara Gadomska and Kamila Roszkowska) who had taken over the agency’s management almost a year earlier. This was the challenge I had always dreamt of. Nothing comes easy - this was right at the beginning of the pandemic, just after we had all been locked down in our homes and were all learning to work remotely. I decided that it shouldn't stop me and so I changed the structure, chose creative leaders, hired some new talents, and built an agile environment inspired by my experience working with start-ups and tech companies in K.I.D.S. foundation. Today, I’m proud to lead one of the most creative teams in CEE, a great bunch of devoted, talented, beautiful people.

Throughout this time, I felt like I was climbing Mount Everest, but this was just Giewont (a Polish mountain) and I still have a long way to go to join the Legends’ club. Having said that, it’s good to know there are higher peaks to climb.

2. What has been your most memorable experience in your career so far? 

Dagmara> Winning my first Cannes Lion. I was a copywriter back then and already working with Slawek Figura. It was a small-scale ambient piece 'Safe Child on the Net' encouraging parents in a non-standard way to take care of their children’s safety on the internet. One entry, one category, and only one chance to win. We nailed it - with a great idea and practically zero budget. We needed to be creative every step of the way. There were a lot of people helping us along the way - from looking for the right partner, (a kids’ clothing chain), through production, activation and crafting a case (the first one we’d ever done). As these things sometimes go, we couldn’t collect our Lion in Cannes ourselves – the Creative Director at the time, who had not been engaged with the project, did. But we were so proud, happy, and grateful that we decided to celebrate and acknowledge every single person who had been involved. We did it by launching our own 'golden pants' prize – Sławek made cool 3D pictures with real pants framed and painted with golden paint (some can still be found in the Publicis office). It was a story of perseverance and a great example of how a smart idea fuelled by enthusiasm and passion can ignite the whole team and lead you to victory.

3. Similarly, what was the most challenging moment and how did you overcome it?

Dagmara> Imagine this. There’s a great brief that all creative agencies from Publicis Group Poland have a chance to address – i.e., how to make people take a third vaccine jab in a world torn apart by polarising opinions and conspiracy theories. Your team comes up with an excellent idea to hack a popular TV series by using deep fake technology to bring to life two actors who had died of Covid a few months earlier. Somebody finds the money, the TV station and the production company that owns  the series’ rights say yes, and you manage to convince the families. You invest months of your best people’s time and energy in the project, you invite media and PR people on board, they invest their time too.  It’s a race against time because there’s an air date fixed and it’s final. When the episode is produced, the whole campaign is ready and then suddenly everything goes wrong. The families start having doubts, there are some issues with the agreements among all partners, somebody is unsure whether it is too political, the technology itself also raise some ethical questions. The air date is postponed. You overcome the obstacles one by one, you get a new air date and suddenly the whole landscape changes dramatically in a day.  It is now the 24th of February 2022 - Covid is not a hot topic anymore, everybody in Poland is now focused on helping the Ukrainian refugees. And you wrap up, shelve your project and deal with everyone’s disappointment.

Though in reality, they were all involved in serving hot meals at the train station, so they don’t really have time for disappointment. But you know inside that you have just invested half a year in the wrong project. Your brilliant real-time marketing has become 'too-late' marketing. How do you overcome it? By encouraging your people to come up with another brilliant idea, by focusing on a new, exciting pitch or by trying to solve the client’s latest business challenge with a unique creative solution.

This story has an epilogue – the TV station decided to broadcast the episode as a tribute to the late actors on the lockdown anniversary.  The buzz it created was enormous. Imagine what it would have been like if we had been on time…?

4. What are your most important tips on achieving success?

Do what you love to do and build a strong team of people. By team I don’t mean only your direct reports but the whole tribe of people you like to work with, whom you trust, who trust you, who will support your ideas and projects and will have your back when it calls for it. You can go quicker alone but you will go further together. It’s all about people. When you share your dreams, ambitions, crazy projects, and when you are passionate about them, there is always somebody out there who shares the same view and who will support you in achieving the goal.

5. What are your tips for younger female talent embarking on the journey you’re already on?

Dagmara> Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you are brilliant to start believing that you are and act on it. Always embrace your mistakes and failures – eventually what you have learned can become your true strength. Support other women. Persevere, keep trying, you will eventually find your way.

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Publicis Groupe Poland, Fri, 09 Jun 2023 12:05:30 GMT