Oana Bulexa: “She inspired me with her magnetic energy, with her ambition to aim as high as possible”

Education, Festivals & Awards, Leadership / Mentorship, PR, Training
© Holmes Report 2012
Oana Bulexa & Gabriela Lungu at EMEA Sabre Awards, 2012. Photo credits: @Holmes Report

In March I had the idea of exploring a new topic on AdHugger, interviewing leaders from different fields of communication and professionals they mentored and helped become more than just great managers, but leaders themselves.

Gabriela Lungu has been for more than a decade an inspiration for all the PR & creative professionals in Romania and the first one to reach an amazing international career. With 18 years of experience in integrated communications, working in advertising, journalism, social media & PR, for big global networks or independent creative boutiques, Lungu considers that her most distinctive skill set is creative leadership for the new digitally driven era of earned media. And the results speak for themselves:  +150 awards & nominations won together with the teams she has worked with. She has and supported the development of innovative, integrated campaigns, branded experiences and content that excite media & consumers and incite engagement & action. She is also a cross-practice PR specialist with expertise ranging from consumer PR & brand citizenship to corporate communication & employee engagement.

More than her professional success, Gabriela always knew how to create & grow an amazing team, teach & inspire her colleagues. And one of the best examples is Oana Bulexa – a real PR talent and manager.  During her 13 years ox experience, Bulexa was the project leader of numerous successful campaigns, with an impressive track record of more than 50 international and local awards, in competitions such as Cannes Lions, EMEA SABRE Awards, Global SABRE Awards, European Excellence Awards, IPRA Golden World Awards, Romanian PR Award or ADC*RO Awards.

AdH: How did you two meet and what were the qualities you found and appreciated in Oana?

Gabriela Lungu: I met Oana in 2006, when I interviewed her for a job. I remember I was impressed by her communication skills, the way she presented herself both in her first emails and during the interview. I liked her attitude, her desire to be of help, her enthusiasm. I felt she had potential and we had good chemistry, so I offered her a job pretty much right away.

Oana Bulexa: At that time, I knew very little about the PR industry. I wrote an application email and, to my big surprise, Gabriela, whom I had never met before, wrote me back in the same day. And when I met her for the interview, our discussions were so open and natural, and she spoke so passionately about PR, that I simply knew it would be amazing to be in her team and learn by her side.  Fortunately for me, she gave me the chance to do it.

AdHWhat did you learn from one another?

G.L. : Maybe the most important thing I have learned from Oana was to consider the options more before making a decision, to think things through. I’m generally more impulsive than she is. She balances me from this point of view. Still, Oana and I are quite similar in many respects. With her I felt for the first time as if karma was finally kicking in, in the best way. She has treated me with the same attitude I believe I have treated my former bosses – with frankness, loyalty, professionalism and consideration. We made a good team. And became good friends in time.

O.B.:  I cannot use past tense. Gabriela and I know each other for more than 9 years now and I still learn a lot from her, even if we don’t work together anymore. It was Gabriela who helped me discover my vocation, after wandering for a few years in different domains without knowing what I’m really good at. It was Gabriela who made me pursuit a real career in this industry, not only have a cozy 9 to 5 job.

I learnt tons of things from her that I now try to pass along to the people I work with. But first and foremost I learnt about passion. She inspired me with her magnetic energy, with her ambition to aim as high as possible, with her determination to change the world, with her everyday thirst for big ideas. I consider myself so fortunate to have had the chance to work with her directly.

Gabriela Lungu, Integrated Creative Director & PR Specialist
Gabriela Lungu, Integrated Creative Director & PR Specialist

AdH: What are the main characteristics that separate a good PR consultant part of the agency’s team, from a good PR agency leader?

G.L. : Big picture, vision, courage, strong ambition not just for her/himself, but for the agency as a whole, determination to make things happen, desire and ability to inspire others, desire and ability to see the potential in others and help them reach that potential. They don’t create a culture of dependence, but a culture that fosters initiative and resourcefulness. A true leader ultimately creates other new leaders. That’s how you recognize them.

O.B.:  Moving from being a team member to being a team leader changes your framework completely.  All of a sudden, it’s not about doing things anymore, but it’s about leading people. It’s not about your day-to-day routine and your to-do list anymore, but it’s about a huge responsibility you have for and in front of your team. That’s why your productivity, your creativity, your empathy, your knowledge, your ability to listen, to solve things, to foresee situations, to inspire… they all get a whole new meaning. In a way, it’s like learning how to walk all over again.

AdH: How hard is it to be the leader of a PR agency in Romania of 2015?

O.B.:  The PR industry faces challenges and opportunities worlwide, not only in Romania. For years now, things have a  different dynamic, clients need advice and solutions faster and faster, they expect creativity and innovation. It’s not an easy job to lead your agency in a way that it stays competitive business wise, recruits and retains the right talent, and delivers best-in-class consultancy.

However, we consider ourselves fortunate at MSLGROUP The Practice, because we have an amazing team, with great people, talented, creative, ambitious, energetic and diverse. And when you have such wonderful people around you, it is always easy to lead them.

AdH: What international studies would you recommend? What about alternative learning? (online studies, classes, books)

G.L. : Any good leadership/ management /business school is good. I have a higher degree in Strategic Management from Cambridge; some other people went to Berlin School of Creative Leadership. After a few years of practice, it’s important to go back to school, and put some structure on top of all that experience. I admire a lot IAA Romania for bringing a bit of Berlin School to Bucharest – I hope they’ll continue that program.

Continuous learning is even more important; it’s mandatory – the world is changing so fast; you can’t possible be a good leader if you don’t try to improve yourself constantly. I made a point of reading a leadership/management article every week (usually from HBR), and several books every year. I’ve also had 2 executive coaches, one in Bucharest and one in London – just for a few months; they’ve helped me a lot, so I highly recommend this too.

AdH:  Gabriela, what made you decide that Oana would be a good manager?

G.L. : I groomed Oana for a senior role ever since she came to work with me at THE PRACTICE.  I saw in her many things.  First of all – the ambition.  Oana wanted to be a leader. You’d be amazed how many people don’t aim that high and are perfectly happy with a less senior role. If there’s no will to lead, the rest doesn’t matter much, does it?

Of course, wanting and being able to, not quite the same thing. But Oana was definitely gifted. She had charisma and character. She became a great coordinator – very hands on, she became a mentor for others in the team, a confident client advisor, truly involved with client work. And she always cared about self-improvement – which made me think she’d do well in the future too. It was a joy to see her flourish and develop into a good manager.

Oana Bulexa, Managing Director at MSLGROUP The Practice
Oana Bulexa, Managing Director at MSLGROUP The Practice

AdH:  Oana, what was your first reaction when Gabriela proposed to you to be the Manager of The Practice?


O.B.:  I was honored and surprised.  Immensely honoured, because I knew what THE PRACTICE meant to Gabriela and the fact that she trusted me to keep it going was a huge privilege. Surprised, because even if we had prepared for this moment in advance, we didn’t know when it would arrive. We’d spoken about it, we’d make plans about it, but when the time came it was still unexpected.

AdH: Gabriela, what pieces of advice did you offer Oana at the beginning of her managerial role?

G.L. : I told her to stay away from too much harmony. To welcome a good fight for great ideas (I also told her that fighting for brave ideas is the only fight worth having in an agency). If things become too nice and cozy, and people are in agreement all the time, it means they’ve lost their edge. I told her to never loose THE PRACTICE’s edge.

AdH: Oana, what pieces of advice helped you the most and why?

O.B.:  There are so many, I simply couldn’t mention all of them. But here are the most important three:

“Never forget where I came from”. I started as a team member, then I coordinated one person, then I had a small team, before the current role. Each and every position taught me valuable things about people (colleagues and clients), about their needs, expectations, hopes, sensibilities, ambitions, challenges, worries, discontents, about what makes them tick or not and so on. Remembering all that makes my current mission a lot easier.

“Things don’t happen unless you work for them to happen”. It’s easy to wish to be the best, but if you don’t strive to be the best, it will never happen. Gabriela nurtured this ambition in me and my colleagues along the way. So we do work hard and this is why results always reward us. Being the most awarded PR agency in Romania is not easy, each and every award means a great, outstanding campaign.

“Don’t look where everyone has already looked before, be creative”. Creativity is a “microbe” I inherited from Gabriela. I never knew what it was until she spoke to us about creativity, then challenged us to be creative and preached it to clients and to the industry in general. It’s easy to settle for less, but it’s so much rewarding to aim for a big, brave idea. This is something our agency has in its very DNA and it is all because of her.

AdH: Gabriela, did you have a mentor? How did he / she help you?

G.L. : I never had a mentor per se, to supply constant guidance. I had professional coaches for that type of advice.

But I had something else, perhaps a lot more important – I had sponsors. Amazing bosses, true partners, real supporters. People who knocked down barriers for me, who trusted me, created opportunity for me and defended my talent and my decisions. I didn’t go to them with problems, asking for advice. I went to them with plans. And they helped me make those plans real. I had awesome people like that during my entire career – Mihaela Nicola & Zoltan Szigeti, Ioana Iordache & Stefan Iordache in Romania, and Colin Byrne in the UK. I owe them a lot of who I am now. In a way they have mentored me – by example.

AdH: Oana, how were your first steps as Managing Director of The Practice? What was the most important thing you learnt in your fist year? How hard was it to step into Gabriela’s shoes?

O.B.: I wish I could say they were all perfect, but of course some of them were not. I did unwanted mistakes and I’d like to think I learnt from them. I learnt to me more open with people, to discuss more about things that concerned me, to jump less to conclusions.

As for stepping into Gabriela’s shoes, she always encouraged me to wear my own shoes, that is to shape my own style and make my own way. What she did pass to me is something much more precious: her values, which I admire and believe in and try to apply every day.

AdH: Gabriela, how hard was it to leave the company you created and made such a huge success?

G.L. : Sometimes, emotionally, I feel I haven’t actually left it. And in a way, I never will. I’m still very interested in everything related to THE PRACTICE and follow its evolution closely.

Of course it was hard leaving – one of the hardest things I have ever done. But it was the right time. The company was doing great, it was about to be sold, I had a solid succession plan, a leadership team tested with great results, and I had new exciting personal plans to follow… It was really emotional and nice to be able to go to Oana and Monica and pass the baton to them.

AdH: What would you recommend to a professional that wants to go on his own and open a PR agency at this moment?

G.L. : To do it only if it’s for the right reasons. If they want to create something unique, better than what’s currently on the market. If they have a vision, and they want to further the industry. If they bring something of real value to clients and help them build their businesses.

If they go on their own just so they can be their own bosses, work less and make some money by selling the same old stuff cheaper (and unfortunately, I saw so many little firms just like that), I tell them this: don’t get too comfortable. You’ll not get to be bosses too long.

O.B.: Luckly, in communication industry agencies are much more open to listening to their employees, to embrace their ideas, to make them part of the decision. Which is amazing!

So I believe that before opening an agency of their own, the first step is to treat their current agency as if it is their own. Fight, create, innovate, change, care as if it’s their own business. Because this passion will definitely change things for the better and I have a strong feeling they will reconsider opening a new agency.