A Don Draper for the Digital Age

Expats.cz

The Kindred Group offices are buzzing. The wide open layout is lined with workstations, people busily pounding away at keyboards or in what look like important conversations with their colleagues. As Kindred Group Executive Creative Director Joseph Ali Tehranian shows me around, he explains what each loosely divided section does. From social media to public relations to advertising and more, Kindred Group covers just about all the categories in these fields. Interestingly though, they are all taken care of by independent agencies which have come together to form Kindred Group.

“Nydrle (a strategy and creative agency) was first,” he explains of the unusual concept. “We integrate all specialized communication services into one group. Kindred holds some shares in the individual companies, however, all of them stay independent. The model is all for one and one for all. It flies in the face of a traditional agency.”

Tehranian has been flying in the face of many things since he arrived in Prague in 1995. He was studying communications in London, about to finish his undergraduate degree, and was feeling pressure from his parents to return to Boston and go to medical school.

“My mom came over to London to see what I was going to do. I told her I was going to go to Prague,” he said. “I have no idea where that came from. I knew the beer, where it was geographically and that Czechoslovakia had recently split.”

Not the type of person to go back on his word, he figured he’d go for six months, work in a bar, and see New Europe. Like many expats who show up in Prague, especially at that time, the city has a way of changing even the best laid plans. He did get that job in a bar, and was considering moving on, when he met a girl who was working at McCann Erikson, a global advertising agency. He started working in the Desktop Publishing department and really enjoyed it. But he thought he might enjoy client services a bit more.

“I saw these guys, going out to lunch, meeting with people, and I thought I wanna do that!” he said. “I failed miserably.” He was offered his old job back but decided to move on, eventually joining an internet start-up, which ended up failing. At this point he thought he’d head back to the US and attend film school. While waiting to return, he began freelancing in the marketing department of JobPilot. There he met Ladislav Trpák who was leaving JobPilot to begin an internet advertising agency. This was March 2001, so quite an idea. Tehranian started out doing freelance copywriting for them, but Trpák realized the potential and he ended up hiring Tehranian as the creative director/partner.

This was Advertures, an internet and mobile ad agency the pair ended up selling to Ogilvy in July 2008. Tehranian stayed on as part of a service contract which ended in 2013.

“I thought I was going to write,” he said of his planned free time. “It’s funny how many things come out of the woodwork when you are trying to be disciplined. The dogs needed a walk, media to be watched…a whirlwind of laziness overtook me.”

His old friend Michal Nydrle (who he’d met years ago at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival) kept him occupied with some projects for his agency and Tehranian liked the atmosphere and wanted to become more involved. Nydrle had already been thinking about the model he wanted for Kindred Group and it’s something that Tehranian believes really works. In essence, each of the ten agencies retain their own clients, but can offer them the services of another agency. When more than one agency is involved, it’s a Kindred Project and the original agency acts as the lead. Current Kindred projects include campaigns for Aukro, LG and Palais Maeterlinck, a luxury residence in the French Riviera.

“This allows everyone to pick and choose custom packages for each client,” he said. “Each agency keeps its own brand, its environment and each one is highly specialized. But they can cross-sell, up-sell, and provide services other agencies can’t.”

True to most things Tehranian has done, this model isn’t being embraced by the Prague adverting community. “We’ve learned advertising is supposed to be creative, but it’s not, it’s backwards, it’s not adapting through other mediums,” he said. “I don’t think people will follow suit (with this type of business model) I think they are quietly snickering, waiting for us to fail.”

Kindred Group is actively moving forward though; Tehranian said they are opening an in-house production company by the end of the summer, and are looking to expand to the West, most likely the US as an outsource partner to creatives there.

“It’s being proved we know how to do it,” he said. “The issue we have though is people perceive us as purely digital. We have the skills but not the brand, so we are perceived as lacking some elements, like TV, print and outdoor advertising.”

Tehranian believes traditional agencies are missing the boat when it comes to digital advertising and connection.
“People are consuming content, they have more of a grasp of what’s going on than the agencies,” he said.

“People are using tablets, smartphones and there’s lots going on outside the realm of TV spots which interrupt you, not engage you. It’s surprising to me that not enough effort is going into digital interactive services. People are using the channels, advertisers are not, or using them poorly.”

And what about Prague? What changes has he experienced over the years?

“I got here as a young man with much different motivations and it’s hard for me to ascertain. I live in Bubeneč which is far enough away that I’m not motivated to go into the center,” he said. “I look at the whole world in a different way than in 1995.”