Maria-Cristina Trepcea (pastel): “I think communication is one of the most potent tools an organization has at its disposal”

Newsroom 02/05/2023 | 13:06

pastel has grown organically and in a controlled fashion during its first years, but above all, always adapting to market changes.  Empathy is now more balanced by its representatives’ reason. They feel the brand and then add the strategic thinking, making sure they don’t miss any dimension. BR sat down with Maria-Cristina Trepcea, New Business Director pastel, and found out how 2022 went for the agency, what is new and wanted for 2023, CSR topics, trends and the Romanian marcomm industry.

By Romanita Oprea


How was 2022 from a business point of view?

2022 was a much-needed breath of fresh air for the business world, despite all the complex economic shifts that emerged. Taking the masks off, both literally and figuratively, presented both commercial and cultural opportunities in this brave new normal, and that is the glass half full with which I quenched my thirst.

For myself, as I took on the pastel New Business Director role, it was a fresh start, a new way of working, of collaborating, news ways of coming together with colleagues, partners and clients. I felt and still feel that we are building a new work culture, one that prioritizes awareness, authenticity, creativity, connection and honors our need for balance.

What were the most important changes & novelties in the agency in 2022?

Firstly, my role is new for pastel, as well for myself. Previously, the indie agency relied on recommendations for business growth and that worked well for the first 16 years. Bringing me in, however, represents a new proactive and intentional approach of going for those clients and partners that genuinely suit pastel’s agency profile, talent, expertise, driving force and value system. For me it was an act of invention, there was the job description and agreed responsibilities of course, but there was a sense of creative freedom in terms of how we would do this.

Secondly, as we expanded our client base and brought in new creative teams, growing our output and number of projects, a brilliant Traffic Manager joined our ranks to help optimize our processes and ensure our work delivery is agile and top notch.

Generally, it was a very intense year in the marcomm industry with many projects and campaigns until the last days. Was it the same for pastel?

Grateful to say that it was indeed. It was the first new normal Christmas and we could all reunite in the flesh, making events and live activations the focus of the final weeks of 2022.

Moreover, the end of the year is a particularly vibrant time of the year for NGOs and pastel birthed Asociația pastel over two years ago. This organization encapsulates the giving back ethos that has guided the agency’s “monthly good deed” practice and became its own non-profit entity.

Unlike other non-for-profits, pastel Association isn’t dedicated to a single cause, but to the cause of getting involved and contributing to those who need it most on a monthly basis. Each month brings a new cause to our attention, and we all do whatever we can to help, whether it’s raising money or donating our time to clean parks, make care packages or other forms of assistance.

Andrei Pleșu said that in Romania everything needs to be done, pastel Association is there to do what it can and to inspire individuals and companies to their bit so that little by little, we all do what needs to be done in our communities.

What about the pitches you entered?

For agencies pitches are investments and one must be strategic around committing resources and capital for the greatest possible outcome. We developed a pitch strategy when I arrived and agreed that we would be choiceful regarding the pitches we would invest in. We would seek out the clients and partners with whom we could make best use of our expertise and strengths, clients with whom we could build meaningfully long term. Two amazing pitch experiences and partners we’re creating great work with are Avon and Leoni.

What’s also great is that quite a few clients decided to work with us ‘pitchlessly’. They loved our work, they knew our competencies and they put us straight to work.

What do you wish for 2023?

I wish for kindness and collaboration. This applies to geopolitics, macro-economics, the business world and the agency’s WOW. I’m hoping that we all learn from everything that isn’t going so well and that we use it as an opportunity to become better at an individual, team, community and humankind level.

I also wish for pastel and our clients to work together closely, to develop more projects that are transformative, for the courage and perseverance to contribute towards solving the problems that matter, whether it’s within our professional environments through meaningful Employer Branding campaigns, creating awareness about the topics that matter and changing behavior so that our lives become a little better.

I think communication is one of the most potent tools an organization has at its disposal, one that empowers it to create meaning and if done well, that meaning generates impact not only in commercial terms but well beyond. I’m so excited to see that many organizations are not just measuring business KPIs but starting to give the same attention to social KPIs, working anchored in the belief that business and social impact are not separate matters, but intertwined aspects that favor each other.

What did clients want the most in 2022? Do you see any changes in their approaches?

It seems that the Great Resignation and the trend of quiet quitting has made many more organizations captivated by the need to work on their Employer Value Proposition and we’ve had many opportunities to focus on motivating and inspiring employees and candidates through our projects. We’re also excited to have multiple team members acquiring certifications in Employer Branding as this expertise becomes in higher demand.

What do you consider the latest trends that are arriving in the marcomm industry and why?

AI and big data have already changed our way of working for years but the adoption of Chat GPT is causing the greatest stir right now. And it’s a great tool if we’re able to use it in a way that empowers us to do better work and work smarter.

Sustainability is worth mentioning although I wouldn’t call it a trend. It’s a dimension of life, whether corporate, political, economic, or personal. Hopefully we’ve all reached the awareness that sustainability is a mindset we all need to practice because all resources are finite.

My favorite trend is wellbeing. The pandemic has truly brought to the fore the fact that we are fragile beings, that we have emotional needs and that powering through is unsustainable. I’m so grateful to see that the adoption of wellbeing practices both emotional and physical is becoming mainstream all over the world and in Romania as well.

It’s not just the consumer data reports that reflect this trend, my mother is a psychotherapist and she’s seeing greater numbers of people of all ages and genders seeking help with much more ease and less stigma than ever before. It’s great and it makes me so optimistic and excited to see how brands engage with consumers who are savvier in this sense, who prioritize their health and general wellbeing.

Where do you see the Romanian marcomm industry compared to the European marcomm industry?

The Romanian marcomm industry is so dynamic and creative, it has such a unique voice and point of view. When I was working in London I always felt so confident and proud of my origins and Romanian campaigns were often a topic of conversation or debate. There is a Romanian creative sensibility and it’s very distinctive and well respected. Perhaps it’s the legacy of the former regime, all the constraints we’ve confronted that fueled our creative point of view, our sense of humor and fearlessness.

Daniel Pink makes an interesting point regarding power, if you believe you have it, you’re less likely to be empathetic, to have the ability to place yourself in other people’s shoes. When you feel deprived of it however, your senses sharpen, and your awareness of others increases. Maybe our superpower emerged from feeling powerless for so long and we became acutely empathetic and insightful.

It could also be likened to Romanian internet, because we were among the last territories to have networks installed, we benefitted from the latest most cutting-edge technology, making our internet quality among the best in the world. Maybe because we were among the latest to arrive at the capitalist advertising party, we benefitted from a super growth. We were and still are eager and enthusiastic, fascinated with the freedom of opportunity and the realm of creative possibility.

Where do you believe to be our industry’s main problems and how can they be changed?

Talent or the lack of talent seems to be the greatest challenge our industry is facing. Even before the Great Resignation, a significant part of Romania’s marcomm community had left our boarders, and the industry is still working to mitigate the insufficient offer for its resources demand.

There is a great need to inspire people to join our industry but there is also a great need for the industry to see potential in new types of people and hire beyond the norm. Diversity and inclusion is not just a trend, it’s a necessary way of looking to design teams. This new way of thinking will allow us to bridge social gaps and to heal economic wounds that affects our GDPs more than we understand.

Pastel has signed the Diversity Charta and has several team members in the course of acquiring Diversity, Equity and Inclusion certifications.

We’ve also been working continuously to build and maintain a complete and well-rounded team. We look for transferrable skills and support people to grow in their roles. Dana Nae-Popa, pastel owner and managing director is a great believer that you never stop learning and she sponsors each of us to pursue courses as well as conferences and any other types of training. In order to be creative, one has to lead a rich life, but to build a creative team, one needs to bring together a plethora of complementary skillsets and mindsets, and pastel is actively working to create this ecosystem.

How much of an important role are still having the consultancy and the strategy in 2023?

This is how we work. We are creative management consultants in a way. We work very hard to understand the businesses of our clients, what drivers contribute to their success and we look for ways in which we can influence those drivers creatively via communication.

What about data and research?

Data and research are the foundation of any creative endeavor. Understanding the problem and the objectives, defining the audience, identifying the competitive framework and our opportunities within it are just the basics. This year we’ve invested in a new tool to empower us to access more local audience data and manipulating this data is an art we’re crafting in our team.

Do we still see the impact of the pandemic? How do you react and adapt?

The impact of the pandemic is undeniable, it has changed the way we think about work-life balance, the way we relate to our health and wellbeing, our priorities, our values. And these aspects have had an impact on the way we work at pastel. We work from the office 4 days out of 5 and that brings a lot of joy and connection to our lives and contributes to the quality of our output.

We’re respectful of working hours and lunch breaks, we all gather in the office kitchen around 1 o’clock and eat together. Moreover, Dana loves to organize purposeful team buildings, bringing the gang together for fun but also towards the benefit of a cause. This was a great way to mitigate the isolation and help us connect to each other as well as a sense of purpose.

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