Young Leaders – Natalija Runcheva, Universal Media Skopje: There where innovation and experience meet, success is inevitable

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Agencies should definitely prioritize building teams consisting of both young professionals and established experts.

Natalija Runcheva heads the digital department of Universal Media Skopje. She joined the agency just over two years ago as its Digital Advertising Manager. She worked for all existing and potential clients of the agency, including The Coca-Cola Company, Vip, Pivara Skopje, L’Oreal, DFI… Before joining the UM team, she had the opportunity to work with PPC advertising for several startup companies from Silicon Valley, and was part of the Balkan foundation for innovation and development of startup companies in Macedonia. She graduated from philology and obtained a master’s degree in business administration at Franklin University as part of the second generation of scholarship holders from Macedonia. She took part in a number of internal and international trainings, and became the first and only Facebook Blueprint ambassador for the Macedonian market. She received this title after visiting her first in-house training for agencies from our region at Facebook’s headquarters in Dublin last year.

MM: How did your story in the communications industry start?

Natalija Runcheva: The first role I ever held in this industry was a communications coordinator within a foundation for entrepreneurship and innovation based in Skopje. Organizing regional startup events and working closely with young entrepreneurial minds from the region broadened my horizons and sparked my interest in technology. Very soon I found myself visiting online and offline courses on digital marketing in my spare time. Once I started working with Google and Facebook ads, I knew digital advertising is the sweet spot where all my skills and passions unite.

MM: Your progress in Universal Media Skopje was rapid. How does a young person of your age win such trust of the superiors and what exactly is the magic ingredient of your success in work?

Natalija Runcheva: Success is never dependent on a single factor, but rather a combination of many. I would say: timing + enthusiasm + hard work + right opportunity + challenging projects + support from the right people (both at work and at home) = success. The crucial three people factors would be your own inner determination to dedicate and razor focus all your efforts on what you do, the understanding from your closest surrounding about the sacrifices it will take to make in order to succeed, and finally, the support from your superiors who would recognize your potential and give you the boost when it is most needed. Age plays an enormous role in speeding things up. Young people who have already discovered their true calling can be really unstoppable in pursuing their dreams. They have no strings attached for a job that offers no prosperity in the long run – they simply know there is nothing to lose if they switch the company in their pursuit of self-actualization. And in the end, it seems like luck favors the determined mind :).

MM: What is the greatest challenge faced by the Head of digital in the biggest specialised media agency in Macedonia?

Natalija Runcheva: Staying at one position for a longer period of time can easily put you into a comfort zone. Luckily for me, things have been so dynamic in my work environment. I started my career at UM Skopje as a one-(wo)man show, working across a variety of different tasks, where embracing change was the only constant. So, I am not afraid of getting stale – I’ll probably never get into the comfort zone. However, what makes the biggest difference between being a team member and leading the team is that you have to think of your people first. It is no longer about whether you are willing to push yourself above your limits to meet a tight deadline, but rather are you willing to do that to your team. And my current team is really amazing – very small, but very productive and positive (even on Fridays, when things usually get crazy. We deal with workload and stress in the most human way – we communicate and discuss honestly with each other about what is the maximum one can do, and when should another member jump in and bear some of the load. I am utterly happy that there is no hierarchy barrier between us and everyone can share their own opinion without holding back. We share the pain, share the gain, and share the knowledge.

MM: What are the biggest challenges your department faces in relationships with clients?

Natalija Runcheva: One of the biggest challenges that is consistently present through the years is the lack of official local statistics and online measurement data. This is especially painful for global brands operating in some of the most developed markets in the world. By regularly conducting proprietary surveys on online usage, such as research within project Wave X, we make sure that we support our media planning process with relevant data and analysis. Additionally, there are also challenges coming from the level of familiarity with what digital advertising can do for each client. Some of our clients are quite unfamiliar with online advertising and the challenge is to bring it closer to them so they understand the basic principles and importance of being active on social media and the web. Other clients are far more advanced in this field as they have already had experience in other markets. The main challenge with them is explaining the limitations of relatively small markets such as Macedonia and Kosovo.

MM: How do you manage to catch the attention of the consumer in just a few seconds which you have on your disposal to do so? What is the essence of the approach nurtured by your team?

Natalija Runcheva: The attention span of digital consumers is shrinking significantly year after year and the right approach in tackling this challenge is personalized communication tailored by context. This means that different segments of the same target group need to be reached with a different communication depending on the context where the ad appears as well as on the device that is being used at that time. This makes the ad really resonate with the audience and increases both audience engagement and ad recall. Additionally, content should visualize and deliver the key brand message in the first few seconds to catch the eyeballs of even those who lose interest much sooner. From a media perspective, our team always tries to find the most suitable online channel mix for distribution, having in mind the target audience and the type of content that the creative department can deliver.

MM: What is it that you youngsters are bringing into the communications industry? Are you braver, feel more freedom in expressing your ideas than the generations who came before you?

Natalija Runcheva: The advantage of younger generations is that they are digital natives, they were born in this hectic new world where there is information surplus and attention deficit. They don’t have to adapt to it as this is the only world they know. They are not used to playing safe as everything around them is constantly changing and they are learning by doing. Young communication professionals bring dynamics and innovative approaches to the industry, as they are early adopters of new technology by nature and are not afraid to test new things. This makes them the power engines which redirect agencies towards new wins over the fast-changing consumer habits. Agencies should definitely prioritize building teams consisting of both young professionals and established experts as this is where innovation meets experience and success is inevitable.

MM: Do you suggest your peers to join you in the communications industry of Macedonia or rather look for a better job?

Natalija Runcheva: Anyone with excess of creative idea flow and understanding of online media who strives in a dynamic work culture would be a good fit for the communication industry. There is no doubt that younger generations have a much higher propensity for it. In fact, the majority of my classmates are either already working or have recently switched to work on similar positions. Moreover, we have witnessed the birth of many online communities focused on collaboration between digital marketing professionals in Macedonia, which is a proof of the sound local establishment of this profession bound to take full swing in the coming years. I would personally recommend it to all ambitious and forward-looking young people who want to make the best out of their future.

MM: How do you envision the future of media in general?

Natalija Runcheva: Mass media is slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past. New age audience is more individual and diversified than ever before and this requires a more specific niche approach in both communication and channel mix. Moreover, today’s audience is more sensitive to privacy and trust issues which makes it even pickier in their preference of online networks. Even giants like Facebook and Google are at stake of losing an even higher portion of their user base due to not taking privacy concerns seriously. People are also becoming more aware of the enormous amount of time they are spending online and there is a clear tendency to get the most out of the networks they choose to use in significantly less amount of time. In the long run, the biggest media players will be the ones that will best understand the need of a fast-paced audience who values their time. Very soon, getting the brand message to a greater percentage of the target audience will require many more channels of communication to be included in the mix in order to get an effective reach.

MM: What is your greatest passion outside the agency life?

Natalija Runcheva: Whenever I am offline, I try to focus my energy on relaxing and taking some quality off-screen time. I do this by keeping fit and being physically active, anything from walking in the city park to jogging or climbing Vodno is on my list. I find reconnecting with nature very soothing after the busy work days in the agency. Books on psychology, self-improvement and timeless knowledge are also part of my private life. They help me cut through all the clutter of fast and “expiring” information that we are being served through media on a daily basis, and stay on-track on my lifetime mission – striving to become a better version of myself.