What does it take to make it in the branding industry? The Drum and Paul Wood of Twist Recruitment caught up with Nir Wegrzyn, managing partner of BrandOpus, who says it’s about understanding the use of language and striking a balance between order and chaos.
Be different, don’t succumb to what people tell you and study Ancient Greek – these are the pearls of wisdom that Nir Wegrzyn, managing partner of BrandOpus, would offer to the younger version of himself. Interesting advice from a man who considers himself something of a quirk in the industry, having originally studied for a degree in economics and, later, an MBA.
Wegrzyn’s career has seen plenty of change. He started out in advertising, working for FCB and Publicis before taking on the role of board account director at Lintas. He then made the transition to the design and branding field and spent 10 years as managing director at JKR. It was then, after a difficult period where he found himself out of work and pondering his next move, that Wegrzyn decided to set up his own agency, thanks to a rather forceful push at a party one night from Robert Saville, creative partner at Mother.
“I was thinking very deeply about whether I should join another agency, go back into advertising or set up on my own, while at a party, as one does up north,” says Wegrzyn. “And as the party was livening up, I came across Robert who asked me how it was all going. I told him it was ‘pretty shitty really’ and he took me outside, literally, and pinned me to the wall, saying ‘you will set up your own agency, now is your time’. He cleared up his diary for a couple of days and I went to Mother and spent a very long time with him going through what happened when Mother started and why and how they did it.”
For Wegrzyn, that night changed his life and gave him the knowledge and clarity to progress. He cites Saville’s intervention as the best bit of career advice he has ever received.
Thanks to that advice, BrandOpus was born in 2006 when Wegrzyn partnered up with Paul Taylor, Avril Tooley, Tina Gibbons, Louise de Ste Croix and John Ramskill. Together they amassed 65 years of experience and in the first year of opening its doors boasted a client list that included Sharwood’s, Fox’s, Belvedere and Scholl. Since then, the company has gone from strength to strength, winning six Design Effectiveness Awards and holding The Grocer’s Packaging Agency of the Year title for two consecutive years.
Having worked with such a wide variety of brands and encountered all kinds of strategic challenges, Wegrzyn finds the task of choosing a stand-out brief extremely difficult, but says Belvedere vodka sticks in his mind. “It’s an amazing brand and amazing story, going back to a time when the most expensive vodka you could buy was £12 and was called Smirnoff. One day Belvedere turns up, and all of a sudden you can buy vodka for £35.”
Belvedere invented a category, says Wegrzyn, before being bypassed by Grey Goose vodka which turned the market on its head.
“Belvedere turned up one day and was at the point of disappearing – there was also an issue with copyright, legalities and marketing. It was a mess,” he remembers. “Actually, they went to Mother first and Saville took one look at the problem and said, ‘I think you’re in the wrong place’ and gave them my number, telling them ‘you’ve got to ring this guy!’”
The depth of the issues and the task of restructuring the brand was a sizeable challenge for Wegrzyn, but he is proud that Belvedere is fighting back – the brand saw a 15 per cent growth in year-on-year sales following the redesign.
In terms of the creative market today, he feels the industry is very much at a crossroads and that many brands and clients aren’t necessarily allowing the creative process to take hold. “We’ve got big clients and brands who are obsessed with evidence based marketing, with research, with going to the consumer and working with consumers and I think everybody who works in our industry knows it does not help,” he says.
“The consumer does not know what happened yesterday, and does not know what will inspire them the next morning, so we need to find new ways of working with this modern client. We need to find a way to understand the science of why and really look to economics and neuroscience, and find a way to use these to drive creative, not to stop creative.”
Appreciating the meaning and context of language, says Wegrzyn, is key to being a success in the industry: “I think if people want to get into our industry, to understand how to get meaning into brands and how metaphors work, you’ve got to understand the source of language.”
Despite his leaning towards the scientific nature of branding, it is clear from the company name that creativity is central to Wegrzyn’s vision. “The word opus means a major creative effort,” he explains. “I always like its implication – alchemists used to talk about the opus, the major work that transforms. All of this relates to what we do. We do creative work that’s important; that transforms. Opus is in the centre of the brand.”
This outlook was met with a serendipitous encounter when Wegrzyn came across a sculpture that represented ‘the opus’ and which the artist billed as a combination of chaos and order. The meaning rang true with Wegrzyn:
“You’ve got to walk that thin line between chaos and order in order to be creative and in order to transform, and I think that is a thought that guides everything we do.”