Warsaw Came Late to Advertising, but It's Making Up for Lost Time

A creative market that's out to prove itself

Warsaw is the second in a new series, "Creative Cities," which highlights markets that have been growing in strength as creative hot spots. 

By current European standards, Poland is a traditional country. This is not to say the country is a backwater. From Copernicus through Chopin to Marie Curie, Poland has produced more than its share of innovators in the arts and sciences over the years. Even so, the country doesn't spring to mind as a place that fosters mold-breaking creativity. Yet there's a rich vein of challenger ingenuity running through Polish culture, and Warsaw is the place where it comes to the surface. 

The city certainly has what it takes to draw in creative talent. It's far enough from other major centers to have its own identity and magnetic attraction, but close enough to have excellent communications. Located in the heart of Central Europe, it has strong links to the west and is also a natural hub for Eastern Europe. It's big enough to generate that stimulating capital-city buzz, but with a lot less tedious traffic and a lot more green space than most. As in other creative cities around the world, Warsaw's old warehouse district has enjoyed a 21st century makeover that makes it ideal for businesses and offices. Factor in a strong startup culture, plenty of co-working spaces and a growing network of over 500 kilometers of cycle paths, and you have the ingredients for a high quality of life for creative types. 

For many decades under the post-WWII communist regime, Poles had little need or incentive to develop a creative marketing culture—it's not that people weren't interested in buying, there was just nothing to buy. When there was, the news spread fast and it was gone in an instant. Because of this, ads were few and far between. So few and far between that marketing and advertising didn't become an industry until after 1989. Even now, the Polish government gives very little attention to the marketing industry. Nevertheless, since the early 1990s the country's dynamic economy has spun up a national advertising market that's now worth $2.3 billion and is served by 500+ marketing agencies. Well over 80 percent of these agencies and the bulk of budgets are based in Warsaw. It's the undisputed Polish hub for all international ad agencies and media houses operating in Poland. 

In terms of education, creativity and qualifications, Warsaw's talent pool is on par with other leading cities round the world. In fact, Polish agencies located in Warsaw have netted an impressive total of 55 Cannes Lions. Just this year, VMLY&R's Warsaw office took home Poland's first ever Grand Prix, Glass and Titanium Awards. And while agencies in Poland offer the full range of services that clients can expect to find in long-established mature markets, Warsaw stands out for its expertise in the more technical disciplines of analytics, data in marketing and marketing optimization. 

Marketing is a competitive industry, and marketers everywhere are competitive people. They want to show that they have their own ways to get results. That's especially so with marketers in Warsaw. Maybe it's because the city came late to the marketing game, so it has been able to start with a fresh take and without the baggage of an established marketing culture. Maybe it's because Warsaw's marketers feel the need to prove themselves and to carve out their own distinctive place in the global marketing community. Maybe it's because of certain Polish character traits that give Warsaw marketing its distinctive vibe—hard-working, resourceful, defiant and proud. 

In any event, the Warsaw marketing scene is animated by a strong challenger mentality. It's apparent in their relish to defy the norms and conventions of West European advertising. It's evident in their enthusiasm for stimulating startups. For companies looking to expand eastward in Europe, or to enlist some serious brain power, tapping what Warsaw has to offer is a no-brainer. 

Do zobaczenia! 

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Naomi Troni
Naomi Troni is global chief growth officer at MullenLowe Group.