by Mark Tungate (@MarkTungate) Every month we profile a Creative star making headlines in their home market. This month, meet Levan Lepsveridze, co-founder and creative director of Leavingstone in the country of Georgia, (in the Caucasus, not US).
When Georgia makes news, it tends to be on the dramatic side. Over a few short years, the country has struggled for independence, been invaded by Russian troops, and suffered an apocalyptic flood. Not to mention a related incident in which zoo animals escaped and wandered the streets. Talk to local marketers and they’ll quickly mention the need to rebrand the country, focusing less upon its problems and more upon its food, wine, architecture, culture and — of course — creativity.
The good news
Local Agency, Leavingstone, may be the kind of good news Georgia needs. The outfit took a Bronze in Cannes last year and was a winner at the local Epica Days Festival in December 2015, a spin-off of the international Epica Awards. The agency’s quietly charismatic co-founder, Levan Lepsveridze, points out that, since Leavingstone was established only five years ago, its staff has grown from four to 70. He describes it as “a creative digital agency”.
“These days you may say there’s not much difference between a digital agency and a traditional one. But when an idea starts with digital, I believe it enables you to build a much more organic engagement. You have to create something really valuable if you want your audience to find it, appreciate it and share it,” he says.
Lepsveridze and his partners set up the agency straight out of business school. “Five years ago, there were no branded Facebook pages in Georgia. So we started out managing the social media account of TBC Bank [one of the country’s largest brands, after winning a tender]. That was our breakthrough.”
“Inventing new media”
From that point, Leavingstone began to expand. “We started an internal development department because we needed to create Facebook applications, mobile applications and games for the bank. This led naturally to viral videos using the power of social media.” Although the agency’s background is in digital and social, he continues “Right now, I think it’s all about inventing new media. We try to make strange or bizarre things in order to engage people.”
For example, the agency launched a new craft beer for local producer, Natakhtari, at an outrageously inflated price, provoking consternation and social media buzz. The handful of beer fanatics who actually bought the brew were contacted and honoured with temporary statues in the centre of town. This was the operation that earned the agency a prize at Cannes.
More recently, Leavingstone created a fake “anti-pollution police force”, clad in jumpsuits and gas masks, who stopped drivers and threatened to fine them for high exhaust emissions.The resulting viral drew attention to the traffic problems facing Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city.
Clients want to stand out
“We find that, the more we innovate, the more we convince our clients to come with us,” says Lepsveridze. “They encourage us to be as outstanding as we can, because they want to stand out, too. When we won the tender from TBC, we started out doing small things. But then we said, ‘It would be cool if we could do this, and this, and this…’ and luckily they were receptive.”
He remembers the moment he knew the agency was onto something big. In 2011, it launched a Facebook app for Bank Constanta, a bank with rural roots that wanted to target urban consumers. Based on the insight “We’re all from the countryside”, the app encouraged Facebook users to replace their profile pictures with characters clad in traditional rural costume.
“At one point, we had reached quarter of the country’s Facebook members,” he says. “That was when I realised that we had really good work — that we should be making case films and entering awards.”
Looking in the wrong places
That Georgia has only won Bronze at Cannes doesn’t mean the country lacks creative talent. But it may be that other agencies are looking for creativity in the wrong places.
“We focus on youth. I mean, teenagers who have bright ideas. Fortunately Tbilisi is a small city, so when somebody is doing something cool you find out about it. We have people from rock bands who write great lyrics; we have artists who are doing crazy things. We like to start working with people straight out of school and have them grow with us.”
He points out that the local industry is small and still developing. “The oldest big agency I can think of right now is only 10 years old,” he says.
Perhaps Leavingstone will end up fostering talent that will go on to create a new generation of agencies. “In fact, we encourage startups within Leavingstone. If somebody has an idea and they need an office and support, they can do it with us. We believe in freedom and we allow our staff to do what they love.”
He says this entrepreneurial spirit comes from the fact that the founders were educated at business school — and not ad school. “We see our role as helping brands develop innovative ideas that will improve their results. So we’re business consultants, too. It’s more than communications.”
Mark Tungate (@MarkTungate) is the editorial director of the Epica Awards (@EpicaAwards), the only global creative prize judged by the specialist press. A British journalist based in Paris, Tungate is also the author of six books about branding and advertising, including Luxury World and Adland: A Global History of Advertising. He has a weekly column in the French magazine, Stratégies, and has written for leading newspapers and magazines in the UK and the US.
This “Global Headline Makers” column, which profiles creative stars making headlines in their home markets, is syndicated monthly with permission from Epica.
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