[FIBRA#2 Jury] Levan Lepsveridze (Leavingstone): I believe agencies in developing countries have much better chances at persuading clients to take risky steps

[FIBRA#2 Jury] Levan Lepsveridze (Leavingstone): I believe agencies in developing countries have much better chances at persuading clients to take risky steps

We've already met Levan Lepsveridze; last year he was telling us how Leavingstone was luring unsuspecting passers-by to an ad hoc Irish bar, easy to assemble on the spot, even on the busiest sidewalks. The agency made this happenfor the Old Irish beer brand, in order to bring their promise of a totally authentic Irish experience to reality.

Back then, we also talked about his agency (which started with managing a few social media accounts and went from 4 people to 120 in 5 years) bringing the first Cannes Lion to Georgia in 2015, when they launched an exceptionally overpriced craft beer and erected statues to curious buyers that actually paid for it  (heroes do come in all shapes and sizes). 

Meanwhile, they've been busy bringing a brand of canned food really close to their target (young Georgian housewives, interested in TV shows and scrolling through cute animal GIFS on the internet), by producing an online sitcom with extremely cute protagonists: a hamster family who live their lives in a miniature town built from scratch. Here's "Hungry Hungry Hamsters", an award-winning campaign at the Golden Hammer, KIAF and Ad Black Sea:

Or there's the time when Leavingstone told the Georgian overly pessimistic people to "lighten up"  using a drone, a mannequin "carrefully engineered to chill" and a flying hammock (the Georgian Hakuna Matata, a symbol for having no worries). The brand? A newly-launched light beer by the Natakhtari brewery.

So, if you dig deeper in Levan's and Leavingstone's work, you'll see how they thrive on using creative media and the unconventional, both in the digital realm and even more so offline. However, Levan's all-time favourite project isn't a crazy stunt, but a story about a friendship kept alive in spite of the Georgian-Abkhazian war, a delicate topic that hadn't been addressed by any local brand in about 20 years.

At the recent Ad Black Sea Festival, Leavingstone was named the Best Georgian Agency of the Festival. Of course, they're very proud about this. And we're possibly even prouder to announce that Levan is coming to Romania to judge The FIBRA Awards, on the 16th and 17th of November.

His story involves friends, making music, creativity, maximizing opportunities in a developing local communication landscape and the idea that festivals are the libraries of the ad industry. In terms of submissions, Levan stresses: the main idea of your campaign needs to be put forth clearly and succinctly. More on that, below.

Click pentru versiunea in limba romana a interviului.


Meeting young Levan: Business School & Yellow

Music plays a very important role in my life. It’s part of my everyday thoughts. In my student years, I used to have an indie band called Yellow. Four friends with a dream to push forward the whole Georgian music industry – I was playing lead guitar there. We were quite popular among teenagers, we were appearing in TV shows and magazines. But at some point I realized that I wasn't talented enough to make big changes in music.

After 3 years, we broke up. I often think of those times, they were extremely useful years. I grew up and learnt a lot. You know, playing in a band gives you perfect understanding of team work and team spirit. It’s not a sports team, it’s about a team involved in a creative process. Interesting stuff.

It was hard for me to decide my future profession back then, but my thoughts were - "If I learned business, I would be able to operate in any industry". I was thinking that school would give me the necessary skills for any type of initiative I’d have in future. So I went for it. My actual first job was giving private lessons - math and logic - just after graduating from school. It was fun and I gained a valuable experience in explaining and presenting complex ideas in a simple ways.


Founding Leavingstone

At first, I got interested in marketing and branding, while working as a marketing manager in the retail business. Just one year of working on the client side and I clearly understood Creativity was my passion.

Why not a choose creative job somewhere else? Well, we didn’t like any place in the country so we decided to build one. I say "we" because I was very lucky to have great partners. We were university friends who saw an opportunity in social media marketing services. Somehow, we were the first company in Georgia offering Facebook marketing services. We started as 4 friends dealing with digital content and turned into the biggest (120 employees) advertising agency in just 5 years. 

I think we did everything wrong in terms of managing operations :D Well, yes, after all 120 people is not a small number to manage and growth management is our biggest challenge right now.

We’ve been focusing on gaining experience and building our portfolio for the past 5 years. Currently, 85% of our clients are Georgian companies – mainly the biggest brands for each industry: banking, brewery, telecommunications, insurance and so on. I think clients keep coming to us is because they're attracted to our creative approach and they stay because of all of our hard work and good performance in terms of work.  


The developing Georgian industry. Advantages & disadvantages

Good question. In my early years, I always thought that somewhere else is better. There were stories about the European advertising industry, saying "they have 100 times bigger budgets in London" or "they always have perfectly written briefs in Amsterdam", things like that.

Of course, we’d love to have all these things, but now I can clearly see the biggest advantages of operating in a developing industry – here we have huge opportunities and it’s much easier to negotiate with clients. I mean, over here we don’t have unnecessary bureaucracy that slows down the decision making process. I believe that agencies in developing countries have much better chances at persuading clients to take risky steps than, say, in central Europe.

In our case, we've played a lot with inventing new media; new kind of medias are usually a great source of vitality. People love to talk about unusual things, they love to be the first explorers of something unusual and  to share those stories. I would also say Georgian clients are very open and courageous.


Projects. Firsts and favourites

Our first major project was actually done together with our first client – TBC bank, the largest bank in Georgia. Although it was just some social media campaigns, I played almost every role there is: creative, strategy, planning, copywriting, music direction, execution, food delivery :)

But my dearest project yet is a story about a friendship, namely two best friends who find themselves separated by war. The Georgian-Abkhazian war still remains the biggest unsolved problem for the whole country, including Abkhazia.

Unfortunately, the business sector had been silent for 20 years, avoiding the topic in public discussions. Together with the Natakhtari beer brand, which stands for true friendships, we made a first step to start a conversation about it in Georgia, through the "Friendship Without Borders" campaign.


On awards & award shows

For me, awards and festivals are most essential for gaining new experiences and knowledge. Without them, the advertising industry would be like a city without library. Our most important award I'd say is the first Cannes Lion in the history of Georgia, which we won with the Beer 34 - "Statue Just For Loving Beer" campaign. That is something that we are very proud about.


Business partner, CD, creative. What role suits you best?

I must admit, I truly enjoy the creative process: digging deep into insights that are buried in my mind and connect different concepts to one another in order to get some fresh ideas.

But it’s also very important to have a good team around you; that means you need to invest your time in building relationships and motivating your people. So being in charge of people management is among my primary roles as well. I'm trying to give the younger generations the kind of environment I wished to have when I started out.


Being a juror at the FIBRA Awards

I was aware of Romanian advertising since its early days. I remember we were inspired by ROM case when starting our agency. After discovering the ROM campaign and Adrian Botan, I started reading a lot about Romanian industry. I found that we share lots of similarities and I think at some point we will have to walk down the same path the Romanian industry did 5-7 years ago.

All in all, I hope to see lots of fresh work and am eager to learn about the small details behind those entries. I think there will be many cases with cultural insights which I find very inspiring. The challenge for me is not to miss anything important for lack of awareness concerning the local culture . But it shouldn't really be that big a deal, since Romania was similar to Georgia at some point.


What would you advise in terms of submissions? 

The case video is extremely important. From the judge's point of view, I would say they're expecting to easily understand the main idea behind the work. So it’s extremely important to make it simple, with clear points.

Apart from that, I would suggest putting additional information on a presentation board or in the body text of the entry. Judges would love to find out more details after they've been amazed by the case video.


The FIBRA Awards (Premiile FIBRA) represent a necessary local initiative, meant to set the professional standards of the Romanian marketing and communication industries while, at the same time, encouraging its further progress. Through the FIBRA Awards, we recognize, support and celebrate the value of local creativity and we continue bringing enthusiasm and courage in the spotlight of advertising debates.
The festival is organized by IQads, the Romanian media platform dedicated to local creative industries.

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