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5 Minutes with… Ioana Filip

MRM UK’s new chief creative officer on growing up in a family of engineers, her intensive crash course in small town America and why deep understanding of machine learning is crucial for creatives.

October 2022
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Having grown up and begun her advertising career in Romania before moving to Chicago for a few years, Ioana Filip lands in London as MRM UK’s new Chief Creative Officer with a unique set of experiences behind her. Along the way she even studied AI at MIT.
Ioana started as a Junior Copywriter at JWT Romania and rapidly progressed. Within six years she was Group Creative Director at McCann Romania. MRM’s Global Chief Creative Officer Ronald Ng described her career trajectory from that point on well when the network announced her appointment: “Ioana led MRM Romania to greatness, then went on to smash it in the US market and after being ranked top 10 most awarded creatives in the US this year, it’s time to come home to MRM. We miss her, our client partners deserve world-class creative leaders and I can’t wait to see what Ioana and Rikke [Wichmann-Bruun] achieve in the UK.”
In her new role as MRM UK’s Chief Creative Officer, Ioana will be tasked with leading the agency’s creative output and excellence for a client portfolio that includes Microsoft, Sanofi and the recent new business wins of Subway and John Lewis Finance. 
LBB’s Alex Reeves got her viewpoint on AI-generated art, how she still doesn’t know what she wants out of advertising and how MRM’s process is out of the ordinary.

LBB> What was your upbringing in Romania like and how did it influence the geeky creative director you ended up becoming? 

Ioana> I grew up in a family of engineers. My dad taught me Qbasic code when I barely knew basic maths. To be fair, it didn’t quite help me in my career, but it helped build a techy mindset that ran in my family. My brother and I used to play computer games all day long and some nights too. You’d think I should have become a computer engineer or some sort of software developer, but I am not that smart so… I chose piano. I’m not quite sure how the dots connected for me, but they did. That’s probably why I ended up in the creative field.

LBB> How did you first become a copywriter and what were your first impressions of the ad industry once you got into it?

Ioana> I got my first internship with JWT. It was impossible to get an internship in 2006, I tried a lot of agencies but back then nobody cared about an 18 year old who was still in school. But, I wanted the job and I also kind of needed it. I was pretty good with my video editing skills, so one day, I made a video on what I thought advertising is and why I wanted to be part of it, sent it to the CEO of JWT and she must have had a good day because they decided to meet me. They gave me an internship and then a job six months later. The rest is history.

LBB> You accelerated from junior copywriter to group creative director in just six years. What made you so eminently promotable?

Ioana> I think my previous CCOs would be best fit to answer that question. It could be that I’ve always been a hard worker and I am passionate about what I do. It could also be that I was always interested in working for complex businesses. I wanted to work on the accounts nobody else wanted to work on and when I succeeded at growing those businesses and winning awards for them, it felt extra special. I still love that. It could be that or it could also just be luck. But then again, I don’t believe in luck.

LBB> What were some projects early in your career that helped you learn what you most wanted to do in advertising?

Ioana> Let’s just say I still don’t know what I want out of advertising. Ha! I have always liked to do things that scare me, that challenge the way we work and the way we look at brands. From crop fields to sparking a conversation around an interest rate for a bank (wth, right?), to building an AI for an entire country in less than two months with pennies for a budget, to getting a CEO to risk his life in the fight against malaria. I have always liked to push for work that keeps me up at night. Sometimes out of excitement, sometimes because I get genuinely anxious about how we’ll pull it all off. We always did. Could be luck. Yet… as you now know I don’t believe in luck.

LBB> In 2018 you moved to Chicago to work at Energy BBDO. What are your most enduring memories of that move in culture?

Ioana> No matter how much you believe you know American culture, as a European, nothing can prepare you for your first pitch in Omaha. Or North Carolina. Throw in a bit of small-town Massachusetts and you’ve got yourself a perfect cultural trifecta. It’s definitely not Sex and the City, but more like a reality show on HGTV. It’s a real raw authentic look at the complexity of the American business environment and culture. If you pay close attention to it, you’ll love every minute of it. I know I did – America has given me some of the most fulfilling years of my career.

LBB> You also studied AI at MIT in 2018. What do you most often find yourself using from that educational foray in your work with clients?

Ioana> AI is such a hype word, I really wanted to understand the business part of it and understand how we can creatively enhance processes to change anything from communications to operations for our clients. Understanding all the ways that technology can be applied, how it develops and the implications of it has actually helped tonnes with work for all sorts of clients as they progress more and more into web3. I would even argue that a deep understanding of how machine learning operates is a skill all creatives need to master in the coming years if they want to stay relevant. Because it is already part of pretty much everything we do online.

LBB> And now you’ve returned to the McCann network to be CCO at MRM UK! What are you most excited about doing at the agency?

Ioana> MRM UK is by far the most exciting opportunity ahead for me. I came back to a network I am familiar with to join a brand-new energised leadership team and a process that feels nothing like your usual advertising suspects. MRM is in a unique creative position – with access to business’s first party data we can understand in depth our client’s business challenges and unlock insanely creative ways to solve them. It’s not just data for the buzz of it, it’s data for creative engagement and elevation where we identified unexplored moments and insights to put meaning into people’s relationship with a brand.
Think of it this way, if every agency is good at lighting a spark with a consumer, we can actually light up that spark and keep it going and going for a long-lasting relationship. Because we know what makes people tick every step of the way.

LBB> What projects have you recently been most proud of and why?

Ioana> I’m just over a month in, so can’t reveal too much yet about the work. All I can say is we’re already working on a couple of really exciting projects!

LBB> What has been inspiring you recently in culture, tech or society?

Ioana> Everything that has to do with AI art generation it’s mind blowing to me. The speed at which art and AI have blended in just a couple of years and just how fast people are already engaging with it is remarkable. Digital data contracts are also something that I closely watch, where celebs like Bruce Willis after retirement hand over their image rights to AI companies to use it across different entertainment channels.