interview by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Nelly Tomova

The Chief Operating Officer for Dentsu Aegis Network Bulgaria, on how brands can stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment

Radoslav Nedelchev.jpg

Digital advertisement is everywhere nowadays, but it – and customers' behaviour, is changing so rapidly that even established companies and brands struggle to utilise fully its potential. Radoslav Nedelchev, Chief Operating Officer for Dentsu Aegis Network Bulgaria, and his team are fluent in the language of modern advertisement. In 2019, he became Chairman of the Management Board of The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in Bulgaria, Acting CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Croatia and was elected a Member of the Supervisory Board of the Bulgarian Association of Communication Agencies.

2019 was a big year for you, professionally. How did you achieve this success?

It was a good year indeed! Behind all is the hard work of so many people from Dentsu Bulgaria. I am proud to work with my colleagues who are all very talented, devoted, full of passion and with the right skills. I am grateful for their patience, good ideas and sense of responsibility. That is the real success for me – to be part of this smart gang!

I love what I do, and I do only what I love. That is the easiest way to explain my job. I think about my career in 3 years chapters and whatever my job is, I am trying to transform the role and to bring new fresh thinking and ideas.

2019 was the last year of my current 3-year chapter. As Chief Operating Officer of Dentsu Bulgaria for 6 years now, I had my tasks and goals on how to make the company the best partner for its clients, not necessary the biggest but the best communication group in Bulgaria and to prepare ourselves for the next challenges in the digital economy. I am satisfied with the results we all achieved – our clients and partners are happy to be with us, Dentsu's client satisfaction score is above the market average, our team is also happy, and you can feel it from the minute you enter the office – with all the laughing and jokes. However, people who truly know me will say there is always a BUT after that, meaning – I am satisfied but… now what, what's next...

During the years I have built expertise, earned experience, created a network of knowledgeable and trustful relationships so I decided to invest in them not just for the sake of our company but for the wellbeing of the market as a whole. That is why I became an active member in the biggest Internet advertising association in Bulgaria – IAB Bulgaria. Last year I got the trust from my colleagues in IAB and was elected Chairman of the Management Board. Six months later, during the annual members meeting, I was re-elected!

We succeeded to expand our members' database, to make a new Code of Conduct, to set goals for providing the digital industry with strict set of rules applicable for all – media, agencies and advertisers equally. We have ambitious goals for 2020 as well, and when I step down from my Chairman role at the end of the year, I will be more than proud to show how different people, sometimes furious business competitors, can work together for the market's good. I believe this collective goodness is possible.

2019 brought me another challenge as well. I was proposed to step-in in the role of Acting CEO for our business in Croatia. Dentsu Croatia is a company with great potential and with a young and motivated team ready to conquer the world! I learn a lot from them and hopefully they learn from me too! We did some amazing things last year and in 2020 our promise is to accelerate this power and to reach the star status we deserve!

How important is advertising in our lives and what exactly is the agency role in between brands and people?

Advertising is a useful part of our daily routine. All our choices are based on facts and previous experience or recommendations. Advertising stays between all these – providing you with facts about certain product or service and based on your experience or needs you make a choice. The majority of the choices we make are repeatable and here is the beauty of our business – how to convince you to repeat your choice and prefer our brand again, and again, and again… It is all about the momentum. That is why our business as agency is a momentum business and it is all about being relevant. But here is the question – how to stay relevant in the most disruptive time for media and advertising? In time where advertising is everywhere, but people's attention is harder to earn?

I will give you an example – in 2019 Dentsu conducted a research with an interesting outcome. Every day each of us is bombarded by around 4,000 advertising messages, but only a third of them receive people's attention. When people can skip ads, they do it, and even when they cannot skip, they often look away. This makes our life as an agency and the life of our clients harder because the media and advertising experience is different from how it was in the past 10, 15 years. Now everything is in the hands of the consumers and the brands need to adapt quickly if they want to stay relevant for them!

Radoslav Nedelchev, Chief Operating Officer for Dentsu Aegis Network Bulgaria

How brands can improve their effectiveness?

That's exactly what we asked ourselves here at Dentsu. That is why, together with leading advertisers and media owners, we started the conversation for a new advertising currency, because the metrics we are currently using to measure ad effectiveness in different media channels is not 100% relevant anymore. The aim is to define a new value system and ultimately, to challenge the way the industry trades. For example – we started using eye-tracking technology to gain insights and understand how the audience really sees digital ads. These insights can help reduce ad avoidance and increase the impact of adverts. These findings are also the first step in updating how our industry thinks, measures, plans and trades media in the attention economy. Looking forward, we are confident that a universal, cross-platform standard is possible.

What is your proposal – new media currency with attention at the heart?

The purpose of advertising is to build bridges, to simplify things between the brands and their consumers. Yet the business of advertising itself is anything but simple. Does the same reach on TV and Digital deliver the same level of attention for instance? Currently industry considers all impressions equal. But the same 'reach' on television versus digital comes at different costs. In this environment, we should not be surprised that clients and agencies are driven by investing less money for more reach. But this isn't sustainable in the long run. That is why we preach for a new value system and a more relevant currency that will put effectiveness before efficiency.

You are preaching also for digital society that works for all in your Digital Society Index report. Is it viable?

Dentsu first introduces the Digital Society Index two years ago. Since then each year we measure economies in terms of how well they are building a digital economy that works for everyone in the society.

Our findings in the last report show that progress is mixed. People in many countries are very positive about their future in the digital economy. But at the same time, many people do not feel as if their digital needs are being met. Whether this is the impact of digital technologies on health and well-being, or the skills that are needed to survive in a rapidly changing labour market, many people do not feel as optimistic or well-prepared as we would want them to be. One in three people actually answers that they cannot remember the last time they did any digital training which means that skills are not keeping pace with the need. Similar results were presented recently by Eurostat where Bulgaria was on the bottom in the EU with only 40% of all people living in big cities having basic or above basic digital skills.

Our answer to that challenge was the launch of The Code – a school programme which brings series of digital skills workshops to young students with the main idea to support and mentor the new generation about the opportunities that digital economy can bring to them and to make a positive impact in society. We launched The Code in Bulgaria last year and now we are preparing for our second round of workshops onboarding more than 500 students from Sofia and the region in developing their digital skills and supporting their carrier growth.

Digital defines the future. What else will be an important trend to watch for in 2020 and beyond?

We believe platform-based economy, mass urbanisation and sustainable growth will be the key drivers for change going forward. These three will profoundly impact our client businesses.

Extended platform-based economy will continue to put on top all of the industrial age patterns. The end of iTunes and the birth of Disney+ in the same year are both interesting signs to watch where our industry is moving to. All businesses have been or will be totally disrupted by platforms.

Mass urbanisation will push brands towards new marketing strategies, but more importantly it will challenge them as high population density will force a complete reinvention of retail.

Radoslav Nedelchev

Finally, and probably most importantly, the sustainable agenda will be at the heart of what people expect from brands. Brands will have to move towards purpose-based businesses with a clear, credible, transparent commitment to the planet. Goods and services will need to become sharable and recyclable. Packaged goods will become unpackaged goods. Beers will be brewed where they are consumed. Cities will become zero waste zones, with carbon neutral targets. This will lead towards the Co-Economy where we co-own, co-work, co-commute, etc.

How about co-sporting as well? eSports are changing the overall digital experience.

Sport nowadays is competing for time and attention with eSports and gaming, particularly among the young generations. According to a recent statistic published by the Financial Times, the average age of golf fans is 64, for English Premier League football it is 43 and for eSports it is 25!

Formula One and NBA are now shown live on Twitch, Premier League – on Amazon. DAZN is another subscription sports streaming service platform, gaining interest and popularity year after year. So, digital is organic playfield for any sport today. On top of that, eSports are special kind of entertainment, which also gain not just people's but also brands' attention. Many brands are already utilising this trend even in Bulgaria – two of the most prominent examples from the last two years being A1 Gaming League and Coca Cola's eCopa.

Is it the same with social media? How it is changing and how companies can use this?

Everyone can say 'I am a social media expert.' Or influencer. Or brand ambassador. But this medium is not so easy to manage and is different from how it worked 5 or 10 years ago. Social media is becoming more private, more focused and more local. Social media users are choosing which content to share with whom and on which platforms. And this has its media consequences of course. More private sharing brings more trust but is harder to get organic reach. Which brings the question are the brands seen as authentic? If so, can they be part of our social media circle? If not – they are out!

Is Dentsu savvier than its competitors?

I do not know how the other agencies are doing their businesses and honestly, I am not interested in investing time to know. I feel fortunate that we are not a traditional marketing company but ideas-led, data-driven and tech-enabled business, centred around three areas: Creative, Media and CRM. Every investment we make in our future will be viewed through these three lines of business. Combined with our unique P&L culture and values we are far ahead from the others.

And – yes – due to our unique culture, values, ability to embrace and build our business around them – I can state that we have all the features of a savvy brand. Dentsu Bulgaria today is more than just a group of media, creative and CRM experts. We have created a brand which many of our clients, partners, colleagues not only identify with, but connect emotionally. More than half of our team is with the company from the very start. Some of our biggest clients are with us for more than 7 year now…

I believe clients can fall in love with their agencies! And the opposite! That is how it was in the past – in the 1960s, 70s, 80s… It is rare nowadays, but if you are an honest partner, if you love what you do, if you feel the pain or the joy of your partner, you are in love! That is how we live. That is how we work – with true love and passion. #dentsu


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