Did you know Finland is equipped with no less than 24.861 Jussis? So it is, but the one they call Pekkala is different. For many reasons. His hate of tomatoes, his love of advertising and his ambition to prove himself are just a few of them.
Ever since he was younger and learned that there's this species of human beings being paid for coming up with stories and ideas, Jussi Pekkala was sure of his destination: an ad agency. And, right now, hasan & partners is proving the best place to be: on their minds (and on their walls) they keep close to the saying "Never Satisfied". Let it be said that the independent hasan & partners is the only Finnish agency to win a Lion in Cannes this year.
In a "stiff little country" like Finland, Jussi is also different because he's always believed advertising has magical powers; those that allow you to make people think and feel. So, it needs to be treated as such. A few key work principles, courtesy of Jussi Pekkala: never give your client something he expects (they can do that on their own), never do the same thing twice & don't end up relying on tricks (even if it becomes very easy in time), don't make a hobby out of winning awards (that's not at all what brilliant advertising is about) and always try to infiltrate people's conversations through your work (relevance - is that what it's called?). And usually, getting people talking is simpler than you think - for instance, give them cruises in exchange for their worries (see the Tallink - "Complaints Booth" campaign below).
Jussi will be here in about two weeks, for the second edition of the FIBRA Awards, ready to learn all about Romanian culture and advertising. Until then, get ready to decide on your first impression of him from the stories he's shared below.
Versiunea in romana a interviului e chiar aici.
First interests in advertising
I’ve always wanted to be an ‘adman’. But to this day I struggle to understand the reality that someone pays me money to come up with ideas – I would do it for free. Every day I feel just like Ronaldo or Messi who made their passion their profession. But unlike Messi, I believe my best days still lie ahead: we’re both 30 years old and while he’s getting slower, I’m gaining more momentum day by day.
For me, advertising is something magical. Since I was a kid I’ve loved the stories that the best advertising can deliver. One good advert can take you to places you couldn’t even dream of. It can make you cry, smile or encourage you to think about the world differently. This potency gives meaning to my career. I work with magic powers and I think that’s quite cool.
But I’m not a workaholic, there needs to be something else in life besides just work. So, whenever I have a chance I escape to our holiday house in the woods (there are a lot of woods in Finland) with my wife Anna and our friends. There’s nothing greater than to relax, bathe in the sauna and sip a couple of beers by the sea side in the best possible company.
Ads you remember from your childhood
There’s one iconic Finnish chocolate bar brand called Tupla, “Double”. They have always told adventurous stories in television, they’re much more than just ads to me.
My mom said to me once that I was more keen on watching their ads than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Maybe that was a sign of my future career, who knows. And: today Tupla is a client of mine – I feel like my childhood dream has come true.
As a kid, I didn’t know that there is a job called Copywriter but I loved ads. When I realised as a teenager I can write stories and maybe even come up with some creative ideas, I was thrilled to realize: I could work in an ad agency. That is when I also learned what a Copywriter is. Since that day I’ve worked my ass off to prove everyone that I have what it takes to be the best, to earn a seat in the front row.
What did you think you’d find most difficult, beforehand?
When I was something like 10 years old, I wanted to be a flight captain. But then I realised that I’m afraid of heights. It’s exactly the same working in the creative industry: you can dream about it, but do you have it what it takes? Earlier in my career, there was this magical moment when my first Creative Director told me not to be afraid of that thought: If you have the attitude, the skills will follow. That advice has brought me a long way and I will never forget it.
First two stops: Zeeland and Bob the Robot
When I got my first job in a little company called Zeeland I didn’t know anything about advertising. But luckily one Senior Copywriter saw some talent in me and started to mentor me: he made me re-think, re-write, re-imagine every piece of work I managed to pull out of my head. It was the greatest start a junior can have.
I quickly gained some recognition in the Finnish advertising community and so my phone rang. It was time to switch to Bob the Robot, the second-best agency in Finland – after hasan & partners. It was a huge leap and again I found myself in a situation where I felt I didn’t know anything about advertising. But you learn to swim when you don’t have a life jacket.
Schools versus real agency life
To be frank, there’s no proper school for advertising or the creativity it requires in Finland. But I wanted to learn business and decided to get a BBA in marketing and sales. I think my strength is the understanding of business mixed together with the skills I’ve learned from all the creative masterminds I’ve had the privilege to work with. It’s easier to get the board members of a big bank to understand and appreciate the concept if you speak their language.
The biggest lessons you learned
The result of our work can and should be something completely different than what the client expects. You shouldn’t settle on providing the obvious – easy – solution to the client. That they can do themselves as well. But when you provide a solution that is on brief and on strategy combined with an outcome that is something completely new and unseen, you’ve succeeded.
What surprised you when you got into advertising?
All the unbelievably clever and enthusiastic people at the office. Let me explain: Finland is a stiff place. We’re pessimistic and love rules. But advertising agencies are the opposite: when you open the door, you’re among your friends. There’s people who see only possibilities and no problems. They help you improve, they cheer you up if you happen to have a bad day. It’s a privilege to work with these types of characters in this stiff little country.
How did you arrive at hasan & partners?
Four years ago, my phone rang again. It was time to jump on a speeding train, a train which wanted to re-write the creative standards in Finland and the Nordics. It was an offer you don’t say no to.
If until then I was doing great work by domestic standards, now the benchmark was the top agencies in Europe. We’re an underdog who needs to prove its place every day – and the easiest way to do that is to let the Remington sing, to make outstanding work.
As a Creative at hasan & partners this attitude gives you the freedom, but also sets the expectation to deliver things that can travel across the world. This pushes us to think bigger. On our wall, it is written ‘Never Satisfied’ and I think we live what we teach.
For me hasan & partners is the only independent agency in Finland who has the talent and the attitude to conquer the world. For example, this year we were the only agency in Finland to win a Lion in Cannes and that proves to me we’re on the right track.
The culture & the one-team model. Advantages & disadvantages
Our one-team model at hasan & partners Group combine all the expertise from all the different companies we have in Finland and Sweden to each project. I think it’s perfect. It means I as a Creative, and the client, can have communication managers, developers, insight strategists, directors, technical directors and so on in one team led by one Client Lead. This always results in better outcomes, trust me.
In terms of culture... do we have one? No, just kidding. Our culture’s foundation at hasan & partners is equality. No one is above or below anyone. We sit together in one big room, side by side. We don’t believe in hierarchies but we believe in people. The freedom – and duty – of each and every ‘hasanite’ is to speak loudly and never hesitate to share his or her opinion. And yes, we have a Friday Bar that is also open on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If necessary, also on Saturday and Sunday.
Favourite ad projects to date
I believe we shouldn’t just create ads, but things people will talk about. So, there’s two pieces of work I’m especially proud of: ‘Complaints Booth’ and ‘Christmas Wish Center’.
‘Complaints Booth’ was the talk of the town based on a really simple idea: Tallink, a cruise operator, exchanged peoples’ worries for cruises. You just walked in into a booth, told whatever bothered you, and if the story was touching, funny or weird, you got a free cruise to make you happier.
‘Christmas Wish’ was an integrated Christmas campaign for one of the leading telcos in Finland called DNA. For the campaign we gave all of DNA’s media space to the Finns in order to publish their wishes to their loved ones in a noticeable way.
There are multiple projects I don’t want to remember but I do. For me these campaigns have been a great opportunity to learn. We all create shitty work sometimes and when the it hits the fan, you might lose a client. But you never lose your self-confidence, ‘sisu’, if you are willing to learn from every project.
The need to differentiate yourself as a creative
By never doing the same thing twice. When you get older, you start cheating. Because finding a new angle to a brief every time is hard – it’s easy to use the old tricks. I push myself and the team every time to walk the extra mile because I know there’s always something new to find. This is not the most typical attitude in Finland and I think that differentiates me from the rest of the 24.000 Jussis in this country.
Award shows and ad festivals these days...
They're more important than ever. Even though you can find all work online – presentations, talks and people – it’s good to come together offline once in a while. And what comes to winning prices and gaining recognition – it’s an impressive way to show your personal and your agency’s talent to the whole world, to your colleagues and clients alike.
For me the negative side of award shows and festivals is the ‘trophy-hunt’: people do things in order to win, not in order solve the client’s business problems. If you do excellent work for the clients, trophies will come to you.
The awards you hold highest on your list
The first award in ‘Vuoden Huiput’, which is Finland’s most significant creative design competition, which was founded by designers themselves in 1980. It was a true example of an integrated campaign and it felt so gooood to win with a campaign that had my signature style all over it. After the first win, there’s has been plenty of great victories and shortlists but nothing beats that first feeling of success.
Romanian advertising – what are you familiar with?
Top-of-mind: ‘The American Rom’. A campaign that I’m jealous of. It’s exactly the style of campaign we should do more. It plays around with the national psyche but also contains a lot of humour. Hopefully I will see more of such bold and purpose driven campaigns in Bucharest.
Romania itself: what are you curious about, if anything?
The national and creative culture. I want to dig in, see, hear, listen and learn everything I can from Romania. I believe many things are quite different from Finland – and the more you see the world, the richer your life will be. I’m sure I will come back home with memories and learnings I couldn’t get anywhere else on this planet. And: I want to taste the most traditional dish in Romanian cuisine – could it be ‘Eka on borsh’?
Judging at the FIBRA Awards
I know the judging will be one hell of a ride. It’s an honour to meet colleagues from other top agencies and have deep conversations about the brilliant work we are going to see. And of course, I’m eager to witness the whole spirit of the festival – you just feel so energetic after all the inspiration you receive. The only challenge I see is the Romanian language, but I’m sure I’ll learn.
To those submitting creative work
For me personal, well-crafted work is always something that get people talking. In other words, you have made something that strikes straight to people’s minds and hearts. It can be funny, weird, touching or something in between. In a world of earned media, utilizing the behavioral patterns of people and getting the message spreading that way is fascinating.
I’m also hoping for clever mechanics and innovative use of media. My only hint for the submissions is this: if that what you have on your table makes your hands sweat and your heart beat, it’s likely something worth entering.
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.