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Dream Teams: Reconciling Polar Opposites with Heli Roiha and Annu Terho

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The two SEK creative directors speak to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about their differences in pace, their love of debate and why emotions should always be put first

Dream Teams: Reconciling Polar Opposites with Heli Roiha and Annu Terho

Starting with a mutual friend and culminating in a ten year creative partnership, the energy in the duo of Heli Roiha and Annu Terho, both creative directors at SEK, is truly unmatched. Bumping into each other over and over again at parties, the two creatives finally collided when Annu moved to DDB, where at the time, Heli was already working as an art director. “Heli’s previous copy partner was a fellow student and a friend of mine,” says Annu. “Me and Heli had already met at a few parties, and I also bunked with her for a week while she was living in Berlin for a summer. So I knew her for a bit before we worked together.” Upon their first ever meeting, Heli remembers thinking “Annu is a firecracker,” something which she still firmly believes. Annu on the other hand, thought Heli was quite laid back and fun. As Annu puts it, “That hasn’t changed, but since then, I have also gotten to know her professional side as an analytic and disciplined person, who is willing to work her ass off when needed.”

In 2013, Heli needed a new copy partner, and it just so happened that  Annu reappeared for a casual bar interview over a glass of red. The shared love for the vino served as a foundation for a great friendship. From there, they started off with some mutual clients and worked with some other creatives. Annu one day stumbled upon a pitch with another art director, which she felt wasn’t going anywhere. “The process was complicated to say the least,” she admits. “We ended up talking about that case with Heli over a glass of red wine (again!) and we immediately came up with a winning concept idea. After that we have been inseparable.”

That first project they worked on together was a pitch they won as a team, but also one with a lot of “things that no one had made before,” so the process was filled with constant excitement. “Will it work, or is it going to be a disaster?” was the question at the forefront of the making process. “It was immediately all over Finnish media and not necessarily in a positive way. Everyone in the field was talking about it, so it was a quite action-packed start of our collaboration,” explained Annu.

This dichotomy of firecracker and laid back, has consistently carried through in the work style of the two. They identify each other as polar opposites in more ways than one. “Which is a great thing,” says Heli. “It gives us more views on every matter.” Annu, as the faster paced one of the two, knows she loves to get things done immediately, whereas Heli likes to think first and act later. “Her analytic mind balances my impulsivity,” says Annu. “And as my analytic mind balances Annu’s impulsivity, Annu’s impulsivity nurtures my mind. Annu kind of goes everywhere, which means that I also get to explore places and ideas I wouldn’t have thought of without her. After which, I am the one who does all the analysis, which is the right way to go from all the different paths,” says Heli. However they both know that regardless of their differences, they find the way to consensus quite easily and their goals remain shared on every level. “We’ve learned to take the best of both of us,” shares Annu.

But of course, with all the benefits, there are downsides to being as different as the sun and the moon. “Annu can’t stand that I’m slower than her and sometimes I can’t stand that she can’t stand things. So yes. We really frustrate each other at times, but we have learned to tolerate those annoying qualities, cause we both know that the benefits undoubtedly win,” says Heli. Annu promptly agrees: “Oh my god, she can be soooo slow! I’m trying to come to terms with it but it’s definitely not easy. I started to practise yoga to gain more patience.” And while yoga is one thing which helps keep the balance, the other crucial element of consistently reaching creative agreements despite the differences is emotions. “Emotions are something that keeps us going,” says Heli.

Heli adds that , they’ve had some intense debates and battles -which she really loves. “After a passionate debate, the work always gets better. Fighting about your point of view makes you dig deeper into it. I also think that we are quite equal in these battles, and that makes both of us stronger. Being able to show your emotions…really ALL your emotions, is vitally important to the working process. There should be nothing left unsaid.” Annu agrees, pointing out that they know each other so well now, that they are almost “like an old married couple,” which is also what they are known as at the office. “We have had so many battles,” explains Annu “that nowadays we don’t even need to have them that often anymore. We know what the other one thinks even before we ask.”

All of the talking, fighting and thinking inevitably leads to amazing work - and when it comes to that, the duo has some great ones under their belts. “Together we have made two campaigns for Zalando and they’re both something we’re very proud of. We were single minded in all the decisions regarding those campaigns and shared a mutual passion for the work,” says Heli. Annu also points to the Zalando Pride campaigns as their proudest moment, expressing her appreciation for how “they combine both commercial and human rights point of views in an effective and creative way.” Heli also adds that she will always be, and has always been proud of every single pitch presentation that the two of them have worked on side by side. “Every time, I feel there’s some kind of unearthly energy in them.” 

This unearthly energy floods every aspect of the creative relationship. This is why they both think everybody should have a creative buddy in adland! For Heli, among the biggest benefits of having Annu by her side is having somebody who really knows her, and somebody she’s able to trust -which subsequently eases the workflow. “ When you have someone you can really trust without question, you don’t have to stress about the work so much anymore. You know that you will crack it, regardless of the time limit and the question at hand,” continues Annu. 

When talking about their most challenging project together, a funny story resurfaces. “A couple of months ago, we decided to spend a one week holiday together with our children,” (somehow along the way they both manage to have kids with a one-year age gap) “and a couple of days before said holiday, we received a pitch brief from a very interesting potential client,” says Heli. “We thought we shouldn’t use up our holiday for working, but rather relaxing and spending time with the kids,” continues Annu. “But when we were back at work, there were only three working days before the deadline. Even though we didn’t speak about the brief on our vacation, we somehow managed to make a winning pitch presentation. We are so happy and excited about this project! Sometimes the best way to create something special is to take some time off.”

Going off of how they  work together, bring their kids together, and how they inspire and constantly challenge one another, it’s clear to see that this creative duo is unable to get enough of each other. “I think Annu has made me stronger in many ways,” Heli says. “And faster with my decisions (even though she still thinks I’m slow.) Her passionate energy is very contagious. She has also taught me to sometimes put myself first and be more demanding - something that I was not at all good at before in my life.” 

“I’ve learned a lot from Heli,” adds Annu. “To be more patient and analytical, think first and act second. Not to mention all the learnings around visuality and creating more in a conceptual manner, not just inventing separate ideas.”

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SEK, Mon, 22 Aug 2022 16:40:44 GMT