Anu Niemonen (hasan & partners): “I challenge the briefs 80 percent of the time”

Anu Niemonen is Senior Creative at hasan & partners and is one of the most awarded creatives in Finland, with presence at various Cannes Lions, Clio Awards, Eurobest, ADC Awards and Epica, both as winner and part of the jury. Now Anu is also taking up the courses of Berlin School of Creative Leadership. At ADC Focus on Impact in Bucharest she presented the public an unique case study of the projected awarded with ADCE Creative Distinction in 2018, an award given to a campaign that generates a profound social and cultural impact. The project started from a worrying statistics: each year, 7 million girls under 18 years old become mothers in the developing countries.

interview by Romanita Oprea


What made you enter the advertising world in the first place?

It’s a nice combination of business thinking and also creative thinking. I first started with different subjects on psychology and sociology in the University and then I realized that it was way too theoretically for me. I wanted to do more and kind of have the business also on the side. There is actually a funny story about how I started in advertising. We lived in Sweden and when we came back to Finland I am around ten –eleven years old and very passionate about TV series and I started to read the headlines of the TVCs. After 5-6 years, I realized I was following the same guy whose ads I loved and he is one of the partners and founders of our agency. He was among the first Creative Directors I’ve worked with.

Have you ever had a second thought about that decision?

I have a hate and love relationship with advertising. I hate bad advertising and how this industry, every now and then, concentrates on the award shows or how the clients are not brave enough. And then I think about the fact that we are or not bold enough to change the world. Can we do the things that we are supposed to do? Every now and then I hate this industry, but then I am falling in love with it again.

What is bad advertising to you?

95 percent of advertising is bad advertising. Those who only want to concentrate on sales and, nowadays, those that are kind of doing good, but that are just polishing themselves as brands. Also part of the campaigns empowering women are just more polishing the brand than actually doing good for women. Basically that tactical advertising that you see, most of which is outdoor advertising.

I like when the brands are creating value, starting a talk, doing something for the society. Of course that we need to sell things, this is our job, but it shouldn’t be only that.

You are one of the most awarded creative people in Finland. Is that hard, having that tagline following you?

I don’t concentrate that much on awards shows anymore. I want to see what my creativity is actually doing for the brands and the companies and the society, if I don’t concentrate on awards. I hate that the industry only works on gimmicks, in order to win award shows. This is one thing. Of course that creatives love winning, this is kind of „in our heart”, but right now I feel that I am not doing that. And I don’t feel it as a burden.

How are the clients in Finland? Do they try to do creative work?

The clients are not brave and bold enough. Things in Finland are way too good, so they don’t have to try. We have a very good economic situation, there aren’t enough big issues going on, therefore it’s quite easy just to do stuff and keep the creative level quite low. The good things is that we see that there are a few clients that are trying more and investing more on their marketing expertize and level.

How would you compare the advertising scene in Finland to the one in Europe?

There are a few beautiful European countries where we know that the level is high. We are good with design, engineering thinking. We have good products. But, when we are trying to do marketing out of that, comparing to Sweden, for example, where they have IKEA, Volvo, etc, great, great clients and they are doing great things, we know that we don’t have the same thing. We have good companies, but they don’t grab in the international level and, even if they do, they are not that good business wise. Sorry to say, I hope the clients don’t hate me after this.

You’ve been several times a juror in big competitions. What pieces of advice would you give to agencies entering for the first time this type of awards shows?

Do it, so that the jury can clearly understand that problem, the idea and what it’s the relevance there. And once you do that, be super straight with the results. And also focus on how it’s different than other campaigns in the industry.

How important is how the case study is written? Are there situations where the campaign won because of a very well written case study and vice-versa (one that lost due to a bad written case study)?

If we like the idea, but we hate the level of the movie of the case study we start to talk about it in order to find out if anyone knows if there is someone from the area that has more knowledge about it or knows somebody who knows more about it or from the country that we can call and ask, or we start Google it and search for the campaign itself. I wouldn’t be afraid of the level of the movies of the case studies. I know that there are companies making money from doing the films of the case studies, but I will trust the juries.

You are a big fan of integrated campaign that challenges everything. How do you challenge your clients?

Not all the clients know how to write the brief and this is kind of our job, to guide them through that. I challenge the briefs 80 percent of the time and with the best campaigns or clients that I have right now we write the brief together. It’s not like a brief presentation. We talk a lot. We have an ongoing discussion and consultation with the client.  We are trying to make the business and the peoples’ lives easier.

How do you think that the revolution in technology and the impact of digital changed the industry?

A lot. I hope AI is going to take away a lot of the small things that are taking time away from me, things like reports, etc. It’s going to keep on changing clients and agencies’ lives. And those who are not on board are going to lose the game. We know that technology and AI are going to replace a lot of pieces in our everyday life in the next 10 years, but one thing that they can’t take away from us is empathy and kindness. Those are the things that we should really concentrate on.

You are learning at Berlin School of Creative Leadership. What made you decide to take those courses and what are the main learnings so far?

I was in Bermuda and I met Tara from Google Australia and she told me about her experience at Berlin School. I came back and my chairman sent me a link, two weeks after that and not knowing my discussion with Tara, about Berlin School. I’ve been at Hasan & Partners for 15 years and I am not going to change the partners of the agency. At the same time, I am feeling that I am becoming too confident and it feels a bit too safe. Therefore I felt the need to get some kind of change. Then I searched the scholarship and I got it and I started last September. I just love it. It opens up your mind and it’s challenging the way you think.  I thought it’s going to be a lot of readings and it is, but, the contacts you get there and the way they kind of force you to dig for what you are as a person… It’s all about the leadership. It changes you a lot from the inside.

What would you advice the Romanian creative industry?

What I am thinking overall and I think it fits perfectly to Romania, is that there are too many creative people in order not to make sure we don’t do shit. We are responsible to do good work and better work and push the society and our clients and the world to a better place. If we don’t do it, who is going to do it?

How do you keep your core of creativity? How do you reignite it?

I am Fin, so I go to silence.  I walk a lot, I do yoga. I love to travel a lot. When I am abroad I always try to extend the length of the journey, to see the city, listen to people, go to art museums, etc. I read a lot.