REBELS AND RULERS: The Global Forum for Open Branding is an extension of our mission as Brandingmag — delivering relevant and high-quality insights on branding and marketing from international, expertly-speaking voices. The event takes place in Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, where REBELS AND RULERS becomes a hub for Eastern European business and creative growth. Brand leaders, marketing managers, creatives, entrepreneurs, and other like-minded professionals join 20 international speakers in an exploration of improvement.

Following a sound success in its first edition in 2018, REBELS AND RULERS is now at its second iteration and comes about with one of the most pressing topics in the business world — Brand Culture: Inside & Out. We have decided to dedicate a special series of interviews with our speakers to this topic, giving you a glimpse into their insights and the happenings that take place on the “branding stage” of Eastern Europe.

Luis Miguel Messianu, the creative chairman and CEO of ALMA, should’ve been one of the expert voices to tackle the theme of brand culture in this year’s program. Due to personal matters, Luis will not be attending REBELS AND RULERS in 2019 but will make an appearance in next year’s roster. Read his interview below and learn more about Luis, the event, and the other international speakers here on the official website.

Brandingmag: How do you define the brand culture of an organization, be it a for- or non-profit?

Luis Miguel Messianu: Brand culture can be viewed as a particular set of values, attitudes, and beliefs that result in a unique brand behavior, that influences the brand experience, and ultimately shapes the brand’s reputation — basically, the storytelling behind your company and how your team members engage with it and live it out in their daily work and personal lives, as in today’s environment social media exposes us all.

Bm: You are a decisive factor in the management of your brand’s culture – how do you include it in your everyday decision-making process?

LMM: As the agency’s founder, I see myself as the protector of Alma’s culture and values. In fact, I firmly believe that company culture should be part of your business plan. I set the tone and I predicate by example. We have a strong and long-lasting brand culture anchored on the pillars of curiosity, collaboration, and accountability. Curiosity is a mindset and has to do with the fact that we are a teaching and learning organization. Collaboration is an attitude that is gauged from the interviewing process and monitored during our performance review process. Accountability is connected to clearly established KPI’s through realistic stretch goals, linked to our clients’ results and performance. The notion is that we compete with our clients’ competitors, not against other agencies.

Bm: Is longevity achievable, for a company, without harnessing a sustainable, active brand culture model?

LMM: The pillars of a strong brand culture should prevail over time, allowing for flexibility, for enhancements, adjustments, and changes along the way. In order to make it sustainable you need to make sure the brand culture is scalable! The pillars of our culture are something we continuously share with our team. We promote, implement, protect, and enforce them when the team’s actions are not consistent with them. Culture is far more effective than policies or strict guidelines.

Bm: Can ethics be considered the starting point of any type of culture? If so, then what do you think of the brands that build cultures around unethical behavior? Can they last?

LMM: As we created and continually protect our own brand culture, a principled approach and a code of conduct are key. Brings to mind a great quote from Bill Bernbach, one of the founders of DDB and certainly the father of modern-day advertising: “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.” In other words, you have to walk the talk, and at our agency we certainly do. It’s the least we can do on behalf of our team and our clients!

Bm: Is anticipation of culture possible in today’s rapid commercial environment? How can a brand create behavior based on anticipation?

LMM: Ideally, a brand culture should be built around permanent values and principles. From a corporate standpoint, those values should withstand the test of time while being fluid enough to evolve at the same pace as culture. For commercial brands, their cultural pillars must reflect the evolving and ever-changing context that surrounds its consumer or customer base.

Bm: The power of CSR on (external) brand reputation is well known (and abused) by now – but what can you tell us about using social responsibility as a tool for internal culture?

LMM: Social responsibility ultimately builds wealth, and it’s demonstrated by the performance of socially responsible brands. For internal purposes, it gives the enterprise a sense of mission — a North Star that engages the team and shows them your commitment to the betterment of the world in addition to our workplace. Relevant and meaningful causes boost morale and enhance the sense of belonging!

Bm: Talent management is crucial for brand culture yet so many organizations have a superficial understanding of it and its role in brand-building. Is HR not taken seriously enough in high-level decision making? How can companies improve this and, subsequently, improve their talent acquisition and retention rates?

LMM: Culture is difficult to define but is essential to the hiring process. You’ve probably heard the current recruiting mantra: “Hire for attitude. Train for skills.” Wise advice from consultants and HR experts. What you probably rarely hear is: “Make sure you hire people who truly fit your culture.” Do it for the sake of your company and, more importantly, for the benefit of the people you hire and fire. By the way, you’ve probably heard this one, too: “Be slow to hire and fast to fire.” Another piece of solid advice.

As I mentioned before, we have three pillars in our culture: curiosity, collaboration, and accountability. Interviewing is about asking those key questions that are compatible with your own. We should stay away from the typical interview template questions: “Where would you like to be in five years?”, “Why should we hire you?”, etc. We need to create a set of questions based on our unique culture. In our case, we need to gauge curiosity and assess a spirit of collaboration as well as a genuine sense of accountability.

Bm: Can you share an example of how a brand has used storytelling as a tool for creating or steering brand culture?

LMM: Since the agency’s inception, I’ve been talking about pride, fun, and money (in that strict order). A people-first focus translates into better creative, happier clients and long-term momentum for the agency. Our main focus is to make sure that our people are happy. And it helps that we are in Miami! It also helps that we have created a fertile ecosystem that fosters diversity, and I mean ‘diversity of thoughts’ as well as ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, etc. The entire management team and our head of talent subscribe to this notion. It’s been crucial. It’s part of our DNA. We are a multicultural shop with 32 nationalities. I’m convinced that interesting ideas come from interesting people. It’s as simple (and complex) as that! And in all candor, it better reflects the changing face of America.

Bm: What advice would you give to brands looking to improve their culture and better understand their cultures’ influence on reputation, sales, and sustainability?

LMM: To take a hard (and brutally honest) look at themselves and try to define their “Why!” The reason why the company and the team wake up every morning and what keeps them awake in the middle of the night. Defining the story behind your company and your brands is key to the success of the enterprise and of your team members. Find your calling! Find your Soul!