For Ruxandra Serban, founder and CEO at Erka Synergy Communication, setting up her own business came as a natural step, just as her parents followed their entrepreneurial path many years ago. With a cumulated turnover since 2004 of EUR 18 million, Serban made her entrance on the French market last year. Her agency is now ranked among the top 25 agencies in Romania.
By Anda Sebesi
How did you enter the Romanian business scene and when?
I founded Erka back in 2004, but I made my entrance in the business world since childhood. I can say that I have had the chance to be a second generation entrepreneur, as my parents started their own business back in 1991. At that time, businesses were seen as pejorative, proof of failure rather than success. The truth is that my parents became entrepreneurs under the stress of circumstances. Together with them, I had the chance to attend different fairs, rounds of negotiations with suppliers and business partners and get involved in launching their shops. I saw them working from 7 am to midnight. I liked getting involved my parents’ business, but most of all, I had the opportunity to hold all the positions within my parents’ company: from the purchasing department to sales. During that time, I instinctively gained a lot of professional experience without putting in significant effort.
My entrance to the business world came as a natural step: after graduating my studies in France, I came back to Romania with the intention of launching my own business. And thus, Erka materialized in the summer of 2004. Also, it is not by chance that most of Erka’s customers come from the retail sector. Advertising gives me the opportunity to combine the entrepreneurship with creativity. I can say that entrepreneurship is in my DNA. I like the unconventional and in many integrated campaigns that I proposed to my clients over time, there has always been an unconventional component that made the difference.
Why did you decide to launch such a business in Romania?
After my graduation, I needed to choose between either investing in my family’s business or getting a job in a large company. But soon, I realized that both options didn’t resonate with me: I couldn’t develop as fast as I wanted to, I could not make my own decisions and reporting to my superior was something I couldn’t avoid in a large company. It was exactly what I didn’t want to do. During my stay in France while completing my studies, I worked for a BTL agency in Paris that had a subsidiary in Strasbourg, the city I lived in. Initially I suggested to them to launch together a subsidiary in Bucharest, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. So, I decided to call the shots and do what I wanted – to launch Erka, a BTL agency at first. Today it is a 360 degree agency with 33 specialists in online and offline communication.
Recently Erka extended its operations in France. What was the reason behind this move and what are the main services that it offers on the French market?
I decided to launch an agency in France because I wanted a larger “playground”: more clients, more competitors, more performance and more creativity. It has a similar portfolio of services as in Romania: integrated marketing and communication services (strategy, creation, digital marketing, print and production). At present, 70 percent of the services sold in France are generated in-house in Romania. Meanwhile, the Romanian team benefits of the experience and skills of the colleagues from France. I chose France because it is the European center of creativity in fashion and the country where there is a big effervescence in the start-up world and digital marketing. Plus, retailers like Decathlon, Sephora or kiloutou have launched exceptional retail experiences there. This enables us to give a fresh air to our services, especially when it comes to online strategy, customer experience, fidelity and events. We will be able to propose marketing automation campaigns and data oriented strategies in the near future to our clients.
Who are your clients in France?
We address all the clients as we do in Romania, from start-ups to multinationals. I have always liked to come with less conventional solutions and mostly we have had very good results. We have clients with whom we have been working since 2005 or 2009, the moment when they launched their first shop.
How difficult is for a Romanian company to go international and what are the main obstacles it faces? How difficult was it for you to make this step?
I decided that my agency from France should be a French company. It is easier from both commercial and administrative perspective. It is well known that Romanians do not benefit of very positive image capital abroad. People become skeptical at first, but in France, like in Romania, quality services, promptness and equity are “musts” for me. I have a double responsibility in France: that of increasing the business of Erka and of contributing to the improvement of Romania’s image there.
What was the most difficult moment for your business and how did you manage to surmount it?
The most difficult moment for Erka was back in 2015, when one of our customers at that time, Domo, exited from the market. It was a double shock that unsettled us a lot, but it also made me more mature and forced me to make much more strategic decisions for Erka. Today, we are ranked among the first 25 agencies in Romania and we have a market share of about 1.5 percent.
What are your plans? Do you intend to make acquisitions on the local market? How do you intend to develop the French subsidiary of Erka?
For 2017, I intend to enhance the digital department. At present we grew our number of specialists from 4 to 15 while the number of clients and the turnover generated by the digital division has doubled so far. I estimate that it will triple by end of this year. In addition, this year I intend to offer the opportunity to my employees to become shareholders of the company, a step that will be made soon. As for next year, we intend to offer our clients marketing automation services and to continue to offer disruptive solutions for the Romanian market, mainly in the digital sector. They will help us offer 100 percent measurable and effective solutions for our clients.