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Jorg Riommi on Joining the Golden Drum Hall of Fame


Publicis’ CCO for Central and Eastern Europe tells the crazy story behind creating the ‘Moldy Whopper’, the crucial coincidences in his career, and why he feels like a bridge between cultures, writes LBB’s Zoe Antonov

Jorg Riommi on Joining the Golden Drum Hall of Fame

This year’s Golden Drum Festival 2022 wrapped up with the Golden Drum Awards Show, held on 23 September in Rovinj, Croatia. As part of the regular awards list at the festival, the Golden Drum also announced the newest member of its Hall of Fame - creative officer of Publicis Groupe Central and Eastern Europe Jorg Riommi. Established in 2010, The Hall of Fame celebrates and represents those that have had the greatest impact on the industry through their professionalism, leadership and creative innovation through the years. Jorg came to Romania 15 years ago as a copywriter and since then has worked on some of the most memorable projects in adland, expanding the agency’s reach. He now oversees 14 markets in the CEE region and stands alongside the creative visionaries in the Hall of Fame. 

With an Italo-German background, Jorg moved to Romania with the bulletproof mission of creating work that is visible, and cements the CEE region’s place on the world map of creativity. He has done that by working with numerous brands such as Burger King, Coca-Cola, Jacobs, and others, as well as earning more than 300 awards including multiple Grand Prixs - and bringing Publicis Romania to third place in the world at D&AD. 

To mark his Hall of Fame induction, LBB’s Zoe Antonov caught up with Jorg to talk about the significance of his cultural background, why the CEE region is one to keep an eye on, and the craziness behind the creation of one of his most memorable ads - the ‘Moldy Whopper’.

LBB> This year you became a member of the Golden Drum Hall of Fame. Congratulations! How did you feel about that?

Jorg> I felt old! I joke… but that is such a career achievement. I was so happy, proud, surprised, humbled. A lot of people in that Hall I respect and I looked up to when I first came to Romania in 2007. We were doing great work and by October 2007, we entered the festival - that was the first Grand Prix I won there. That stayed with me because I saw the quality of the region - I saw what the benchmark was. 15 years later to be awarded this membership is something that I am really happy about. I came as an outsider, but I was respectful and keen to get the best from the region and eventually help it reach the international stage, which it truly deserves. I see myself as a bridge or ambassador to all of these geographic boundaries that define me. I exist between west and east, north and south, so I’m a bit all over the place. But I think that's good. 

LBB> You're half Italian, half German, and you work in Romania - how does this cultural mish mash affect your creativity? 

Jorg> That's what defines me. That's how I grew up. I was born in Rome and grew up there, but always with this German background. Just before I turned 30, I started travelling a lot and finally arrived in Romania. I thought I would stay there for a year or two, but I ended up staying around 13 years. I found my third home there. Romanian culture is different, but it's a Latin culture and language too, so people are very extroverted, outgoing, and loving. There is also a Balkan touch there that makes things even more interesting. It's a crossroad between North and South, Russia and the Mediterranean, West and East, with a lot of influence from Asia as well. The Ottoman Empire affected Romanian culture too, but then there is also the whole of Transylvania, coming from Hungary and Austria. I feel at ease there – in between. I always felt like a world citizen and travelled a lot. I feel at home wherever I lay my head.

LBB> Your career started at Saatchi & Saatchi, how did that happen?

Jorg> That's a crazy story. I graduated from university with a bachelor's in communication science. There were very few of us graduating, so companies would call you up once out, especially if you scored well. I was called by a couple of companies, one of which was ENEL, one of the main energy companies in Italy at the time. Saatchi & Saatchi answered in parallel to ENEL, offering me an unpaid internship - so I dropped ENEL. Crazy guy, or just really passionate about ads? Funnily, after a month and a half at Saatchi, I received a pitch brief for ENEL and we won the client. So I found myself working at the agency that works for the client that had originally hired me. After that project, it was like a snowball [effect] and I stayed at Saatchi & Saatchi for 13 years. I worked for them in Rome, Bucharest, Frankfurt, Berlin and San Juan in Puerto Rico. That’s just where I stayed -  I also worked on projects from across the world - New York, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid - you name it.

LBB> So after the 13 years at Saatchi & Saatchi, you became creative coordinator CCE for Publicis. How did you make that jump?

Jorg> I was in Berlin in 2014 and there was a CEO change. He wanted to move the agency towards B2B, but I wasn't fully interested. At the same time my wife, who is Romanian, was pregnant. The two things came together and we decided to come back to Bucharest, and for me to switch from Saatchi to Publicis. When I first got the job I was just chief creative officer of Publicis Romania, but after a year and a half of doing a lot of good work, winning awards, gaining visibility (we earned ‘Agency of the Year’ at the Golden Drum), my job was extended to Central and Eastern Europe. I was given a number of markets as a coordinator first, before I stepped into the role of CCO for the region. I was overseeing not only Publicis, but also Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi for 15 markets. That was a major switch, from being CCO of one office, to coordinating the entire region, focusing on excellence, product and people. But that's what I wanted in the first place. 

LBB> 15 markets is an incredible scope! What do you think about the creativity in Central and Eastern Europe in these 15 markets? Do you see a uniformity in them, or do you believe they're quite independent?

Jorg> I think it's a very diverse area. Geographically homogeneous, but also very different in terms of culture and levels of development within the industry. There are some markets that are very westernised, like the Czech Republic for instance. Another main differentiator is the size of the markets. There are some that are really sizable, such as Poland or Romania. When the market is bigger you have more clients which makes the environment more workable. In Romania there is a lot of advertising and creative culture - I used to call it ‘the Brazil of Europe’. It's an up and coming economy with a lot of passion for creativity and a lot of knowledge for the job. So it's a very promising area.

LBB> During your time as CCO of Publicis Romania you worked on one of the most famous commercials, the ‘Moldy Whopper’. What is the story of the ad?

Jorg> The ‘Moldy Whopper’ is a crazy project with a long story that dates back to a lucky meeting with Fernando Machado, the global CMO of Burger King, who I met in Dubai by chance in 2018. I was judging the Dubai Lynx and one morning at breakfast I spotted him across the room. I didn't have any relationship with him -  we didn't even have the Burger King account, so I went to introduce myself and said ‘I have a very good idea for you.’ I wasn't talking about the ‘Moldy Whopper’ at the time, but another idea - that conversation started our relationship. 

He said, ‘Okay, I will give you my email, send [the idea] to me and if I like it, I'll  let you know." While I was judging he had written to me twice. He loved the idea. We go have some beers and finish the idea off in six weeks. We entered it in Cannes, it won a Lion - it was called the ‘Whopper No Show’. That was the start of the relationship with Burger King. 
After another six months, the Polish company who holds Burger King’s CEE franchise contacted me and said, ‘We would like to work with you guys, because we decided to reopen Burger King in Romania.’ They visit, we have good chemistry, they give us the account. Parallel to that, I took the global creative leadership position at Burger King within Publicis Worldwide. 

A few months later, I'm in Mexico City and again, by total coincidence, there is Fernando Machado, attending an advertising festival. We invited him to our meeting with all the creative directors of Publicis. He came in and gave us four one line briefs - one of them was: ‘Our food is not crap.’ As global creative director, I reviewed ideas for this from the whole world, and one of the ideas that really stuck with me was the ‘Moldy Whopper’. 

After we presented it, Fernando immediately said ‘Fuck, I love this!’. He had a problem though, as he had seen something similar years ago and was also shooting something similar with Ingo Stockholm. But at the same time, Fernando said he really liked our take on it. Some elements made it very different and fresh, such as the macro photography approach making the mould look almost beautiful - so we went with it. We introduced the concept of beauty and the beauty of realistic, natural food. This is what Fernando really loved about our take on it. 

LBB> This is one of the many awards in your career. But what do awards really mean to you and how much should they weigh in adland? 

Jorg> This is complex. I think awards are crucial for the development of talent and the industry at large. There is a sense that you need to have some sort of qualified committee that establishes ‘this’ is better than ‘that’. If you don't have that, you don't have benchmarks, references, stuff to look up to - you simply wouldn't have direction. 
In the last years or so, the creative industry has been too self-referential about this, losing touch with the reality of things by patting each other on the back. That has become a bit of a problem. The right thing to do is to celebrate the great work for clients. I don't particularly like this switch to trying to save the world, it sounds like we're trying to repay our guilt as an industry. Trying to save the world is not part of our business. The core of our business is to grow the business of our clients. Have smart ideas that sell more in an ethical and sustainable way. We're not getting stronger by doing more work that attempts to save the world because, if I'm a client, I want to see work that is relevant for me. I want to see how you sell my products and services through amazing creativity. 

LBB> What are your hobbies and passions outside of work?

Jorg> When I have the time I still play music and write some stuff every now and then. I try to spend as much time being engaged with art in all sorts of different ways, from taking my kids to exhibitions, to browsing things around on the net. Art and life are very important to me, so I also spend a lot of time travelling and seeing people. I take the time to really look at them and see them. What else? Music is a good thing. Netflix is a disaster.

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Publicis Groupe Romania, Wed, 05 Oct 2022 16:15:22 GMT