25 years – on what cost? What could be accomplished/achieved in Bulgaria for 25 years? What events and celebrations are you planning on the occasion?
Maria Gergova-Bengtsson, Owner & CEO: Twenty-five years is a journey from timid, uncertain steps to the realization of bold dreams – to celebrate 25 years as an agency serving global companies and brands in a large region such as Europe, the Middle East and Africa. My dream was and still is to prove that the products and services coming out of Eastern Europe are at the world level. A long time ago, Sony had a similar dream, when Made in Japan sounded like Made in China. I want “Made in Bulgaria” or “in Eastern Europe” to sound like Made in Germany. I believe that with the strong and talented team we have at UP, this goal is possible. We will celebrate UP’s quarter century by organizing the first UP Network Agency Retreat with a unique mix of knowledge, fun, nature and friendships. Our guests will be both partner agencies, clients and friends. We will have inspiring speakers, meditations, mountain walks, a gala dinner and, of course, a great party.
What is your opinion on the advertising market looking back from where you have started and how do you assess your journey so far?
Maria Gergova-Bengtsson, Owner & CEO: Looking back, the advertising, digital and PR markets are becoming more and more one. Clients are looking for more holistic solutions, and although we’ve started as a traditional PR agency, today our approach is 360-degree communication solutions. This requires continuous learning and capacity development of the agency and the people on the team. On the other hand, many and varied innovative products are constantly coming to the market and our team is constantly testing and evaluating what to use in our daily work to be better, more efficient and achieve better results. For example, we use 4 different innovative platforms for influencer marketing alone. On the other hand, in-depth knowledge of the industry you work for is extremely important to achieve good results, so we have focused and developed knowledge, experience and capacity in several key sectors:
- Fast moving goods;
- Public sector;
- Defense and security.
How is the agency’s business changing and what are the new services in demand?
Maria Gergova-Bengtsson, Owner & CE: Our business has changed in several ways:
From 100% business in Bulgaria for the last two years, 50% of our business is from international communication services, we’ve started with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe, and now we cover 90% of the Europe, Middle East and Africa region through our partner network. Currently, our team includes people from Vienna, Rotterdam, Berlin, etc.
World quality – in order to guarantee sufficiently high quality, we have taken the important step of worldwide certification of our services. This year we became the first agency in Bulgaria and one of the first in Eastern Europe to be certified by ICCO.
- We have invested in a strong analytics and insights team that works with top products like brandwatch to add value both in developing communication strategies and measuring campaign results, benchmarking against competitors, etc.
- Employer branding, EVP development and employee engagement strategies – we invested an additional resource to develop the agency’s capacity in this direction. Developed EVPs for our clients were implemented globally.
- We have developed our own methodology for creating culture branding strategies – it is increasingly valuable for brands to become part of people’s lives, and this is especially true for Gen Z.
- Client Service Excellence – we invested in training team members in the so-called AAR – After action review, with the aim that both we and the clients learn both from the implemented campaigns and projects, and from each other. We believe that everyone goes through their own path of gaining practical knowledge and this accumulated knowledge should be shared and benefit everyone – the agency and the client.
How do you keep a big client? And also how does an “old” agency win a “new” client?
Nikolay Sabev, Business Development Manager: Long-term partnerships have always been a major focus in the agency’s successful development. Our customers are also our partners – we grow and develop together. The retention of customers, as well as the winning of new ones, happens thanks to an honest and professional relationship between the two parties, as well as high quality of the services provided.
Of course, a critical factor for successful business development is the constant striving to improve the opportunities offered to our customers, as well as the implementation of modern methodologies during the work process.
What are the crisis communication focuses during the past three difficult years, what necessarily had to change and how did these three years trigger the change much faster?
Maria Gergova-Bengtsson, Owner & CEO: Difficulties make us stronger because they make us think and act quickly. For example, for years we have been talking about creating a chain of agencies for Central and Eastern Europe, but everyday life always pushed the topic to the background. The pandemic was the pressure to do it immediately and activate a new strategy for geographical growth when we were not sure of growth within the Bulgarian market. We’ve also quickly created new services like podcasts and webcasts, innovative metauniverse events, and more.
The big player in the market – social networks? Are influencers the new players in the market and is their position sustainable? What is the place of traditional media?
Maria Gergova-Bengtsson, Owner & CEO: Traditional media will continue to be part of the communication mix, but more and more funds and attention will be devoted to other communication channels, such as influencers for example. And they, in turn, depending on the campaigns, will be divided into fewer but famous individuals with a large number of followers or a large number of micro-influencers with fewer followers but a higher engagement with their audience. For each campaign, specialists must find the right mix of communication channels: own channels, traditional media, social media, influencers, etc.
What would be your message to your customers, colleagues, team?
Viktoria Solakova, Head of Operations & Culture: To clients: Bet on quality and professional service, look for a partner who understands you and your business, not an agency. To colleagues/team: Inspire and change the environment in Bulgaria and be an example that motivates and enthralls on the path of professional and personal development.
What does the medium term strategy of the agency/group include?
Victor Savkin, Head of Finance & Strategy: Our strategy is based on three fundamental elements: In the first place are people – their talent, knowledge and skills. In business with high added value is the team – it is at the center of competitive advantage and is a major asset. On the one hand, we will continue to invest in the development of our personnel, on the other hand, we will monitor the level of satisfaction of each member of the team.
- When we have some of the best talent in the market, we can deliver creative, innovative and measurable results to our increasingly demanding clients. Caring personally for the client’s cause unlocks incredible synergy to benefit not only their communication goals, but also their business goals.
Long-term employees and clients of the agency allow us to open new horizons for our business. Within the last two years, we have managed to add more than 10 innovative products and services not only in Bulgaria, but also in 30+ countries in EMEA.
At the heart of our strategy are the fundamental values of United Partners, which make it objective, measurable and achievable.