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Finding Insight and Camaraderie In Russia — John Recker

As an international design agency, it’s critical that LPK have offices in primary consumer goods markets around the world, in order to incorporate regional relevance into the global brand equities that we manage. And although we don’t have plans to open offices in every corner of the world, there is still a need to establish collaborative links with regional resources that can provide the type of cultural, channel and consumer insights we need to build or extend brands in emerging markets.

Having previously traveled to India and Japan on similar missions, Moscow was next in line for an investigation of potential resources. My first stop was the Red Square. As I climbed out of the cab, what struck me at first was the cold—bitter, nasty cold. It was gray and windy, but most of all, brutally cold. The iconic, dolloped roofs of St. Basil’s Cathedral were nearly the only color that registered through the gray of Moscow.

The next morning, though, was a new day—a day of business, anticipation and hope—as I began my journey to find resources that LPK could befriend in our quest to deliver what’s most important: strategic brand design. I was greeted by potential colleagues with a warmth that belied the elements. Although some of the offices from the outside appeared in various stages of construction or deconstruction, what I found inside was anything but dilapidated and old-school.

There is sophisticated capability for our craft in Moscow. Although the design and creative industry infrastructure may be much smaller and less developed in terms of its scale, the capability and capacity of firms I met with were not only adequate, but in some cases inspiring. Where the frigid weather and landscape led to a cold atmosphere outside, inside I found a distinct air of authenticity and honesty surrounding the people and the work they were creating. Despite our differences in culture and environment, there was a common understanding of goals and objectives, of processes and protocols, both for developing our work and dealing with each other. We are brethren of our craft, equally passionate about creativity and business—the art and science of what we do.

One company in particular was uniquely inspiring. This agency, housed in a museum-like, renovated yacht club, was located on a waterway next to a ship-building facility. It was an oasis for the creative, serving those interested in branding and design in Moscow. In the middle of the grand foyer sat a custom motorcycle, a 21st-Century piece of sculpture. There I was met by my guide, who greeted me warmly and led me to the conference room. The room was outfitted with massive movie studio tripods for corner lights and floor-to-ceiling French doors that overlooked the waterway. A replica of da Vinci’s The Last Supper adorned one wall, juxtaposed by a mirror image of the same subject executed in a modernist style on the opposite wall—serving as an overt statement about the relative duality of art and design through time.

I sat down with the agency’s founder and had an open and honest conversation, filled with a genuine curiosity for each other’s company. Our discussion was easy, transcending the nuts and bolts of a potential commercial transaction to an aura of what really should matter. It was a creative utopia, where people are fulfilled intrinsically by their work, inspired by those around them through collaboration and like-minded camaraderie—complete with strategically sound, commercially viable branding and design that creates value. This was “profound thinking,” not just “design thinking.”

My expectation that agencies in Russia might be less sophisticated than others was shattered by our conversation. The agency was not only sophisticated, but its founder altruistic—only interested in working on things that inspired himself or his staff personally. He obviously cared deeply about his staff, as evidenced by the auditorium they housed for hosting inspirational thinkers and provocateurs related to all things creative.

After what seemed like only a few minutes, but was actually more like a few hours, I realized that I either needed to ask him for a job or catch my plane to Geneva.

Leaving this land, I was innately aware that, though it seemed to greet me with a cold shoulder at the outset, it was actually as bright and warm as the sunshine that gleamed off the windshield of the car I was in headed to the airport. Not just any car, but my new friend’s car. No cab this time. My friend would not have it. It was just not the Russian way.

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