With an ever-present smile that might be as easily hiding or heightening her highly driven strategy and creative courage, Gabriela is one of the global communication leaders to watch and – if you’re lucky – to learn from. I’ve been thusly fortunate, knowing her for most of her career, and I was always impressed with how she unflinchingly forged her professional path throughout it. From advertising to PR to communication and marketing and back to advertising, she knows how to create great content and drive the trends.
This is Gabriela Lungu, integrated executive creative director, creative trainer, workshop & sprint facilitator, public speaker, multiple award-winner, and inveterate jury member, living in London but working for the world with VMLY&R COMMERCE and WINGS Creative Leadership Lab.
You have always been a creative person in marcomm, and everybody can testify to that, but when in life did you show the first traits of creativity?
I’ve always considered myself creative and my parents raised me to believe in my creative abilities. I remember I was writing stories as a little girl – I was acting and singing. My sister was also drawing. Although our parents were both finance people, they fully encouraged any creative expression from us.
Have you always wanted to work in a creative industry?
In a way, yes. For many years I thought I’d become a singer and my connection with music was a constant when I was growing up. My love for my current specific creative industry started later, around age 20, after I studied advertising and PR in university.
What attracted you the most to advertising?
The diversity of the work, coming up with ideas for such different brands, from such different industries, with such different problems to solve. I felt – and I was right – that I could never get bored of it.
What made you switch to PR and even after many years of achieving performance, come back to advertising?
I really liked that in PR you could do it all – creativity, but also strategy, as well as business consultancy, relationship management, implementation, production… a wider role had its appeal back then. It has taught me so much and it has made me a more complex creative professional.
You once said that you looked at THE PRACTICE as a bet with yourself. How come?
I founded THE PRACTICE after successfully running Ogilvy PR for four years. But I was always wondering at Ogilvy: am I a good leader that drives business success, or is the success a consequence of the big, internationally famous name on the door? So with THE PRACTICE the bet was to see how much I can actually achieve without the big name on the door. Fortunately, the result exceeded all my expectations. THE PRACTICE has been such a wonderful business success story.
We are all surrounded by content and manifestations of content. What does creativity in content represent to you?
Something surprising, unexpected, and relevant, that makes me take action – be it a simple uncommitted ‘like’, or something with far bigger implications such as signing a petition or making a purchase.
What could advertising people learn from the PR people and in reverse?
That’s a subject for a whole book. But if I’m to observe one thing, then it’s how PR people must still learn from advertising the method of creativity, so they can start treating it like a discipline, not just a skill. And advertising people should learn from PR the democracy and the collaboration of the creative process.
Looking back on your career would you change anything? Why?
I remember some moments when I thought I had made a wrong decision, or a wrong move that derailed me from my path. But actually now, looking back, they were good decisions and moves that pushed me further and brought me more interesting experiences, broadening my horizon. So no, I wouldn’t change a thing.
The marcomm industry didn’t only bring you professional fulfilment but also a great husband, at the AdPrint festival. What is the secret of a happy, long marriage, in your opinion?
Keeping things interesting and fresh with intentional actions, never taking each other for granted, and never taking yourself too seriously.
You are also working together in your own consultancy agency, after some years of mostly working in different countries. How have you been managing everything?
The time apart have made us both realise how important we are to each other and how much we must treasure the time spent together. Therefore, we enjoy every minute of it. Even the occasional passionate arguments – we don’t always see things in the same way and it’s refreshing to try to change each other’s opinion.
You founded WINGS because you wanted to democratise creative leadership consultancy so that more people, from more markets and organizations, can take wing with confidence. Is it still the same? What have been your best results so far regarding this aspect?
Yes, WINGS’ purpose will always remain the same. Since its launch in 2017, we’ve been handling projects from San Francisco to Singapore, from Moscow to Cairo, and many cities in between, with people from all over the world. Up until the pandemic, we flew [the equivalent of] four times the Earth’s circumference and then some. In the last two years half of our clients have been returning clients – companies that came back to us again and again for new sessions, or for project-based consultancy, or for running our most requested sessions with new people in their organisations. We’re pleased with how WINGS is performing.
What does WINGS represent today for you?
A source of great professional satisfaction, a way of sharing my know-how to help other professionals, and a welcome distraction from, yet a complement to my everyday job.
How has the pandemic changed your plans and how much did it impact you personally?
The thing I hate most about the pandemic from a professional point of view is the lack of that magic that can only happen when bright people work together in the same room. Creative collaboration is simply not the same online. Creative training and inspiring people are not the same.
From a personal point of view, I’ll just mention one plus and one minus of the pandemic. The minus – I developed a condition called “bilateral frozen shoulder” that will probably take years to fully heal. The plus – we now have a “fur-baby”, a little Pomeranian dog called Pixel, the cutest thing you’ve seen, and a massive source of daily joy.
You once said that people are the ones that offered you the greatest satisfaction, but also the biggest disappointments when you were an entrepreneur in Romania. Can you please develop on this?
Sure. It’s still the case, by the way. It wasn’t linked to being an entrepreneur in Romania – it is something I still experience working in a people-based industry. Simply put some people are great and kind and full of good energy, and others are unscrupulous assholes. Some people are constantly trying to lift others, others are condescending chauvinists. Fortunately, the industry (and the world) seems less and less inclined to tolerate the latter group.
How do you fight off the disappointment?
I now bounce back faster than in the past by remembering other situations that seemed desperate at the time they happened, and [turned out to be] completely insignificant or sometimes even positive in the present…
What offers you these days the balance between life and inner peace?
My brilliant husband, our cute dog, our home in our favourite neighbourhood in the whole world.
How important is for you to be a true leader, not just a manager?
Very. They’re both important, but the vision, inspiration and energy that true leaders have are things that I have a lot of admiration for.
What don’t people already know about Gabriela Lungu, the professional?
I doubt that there are things people who followed my career don’t know about me – I’m an open book and definitely guilty of oversharing on social media.
What are your main passions?
My family, London, my work, traveling, fine food and a good history drama.
More about Gabriela Lungu
20+ years of integrated expertise; one of the few creative professionals who have worked successfully in advertising, PR and social media, creative commerce, brand experience & activation, as well as client-side in brand marketing
15+ years of creative leadership experience across different countries, markets and cultures, including regional (UK & EMEA) and global roles. A motivating and engaging people manager, hands on creative director (creative strategy, development and execution for the integrated era: purpose-driven, culturally relevant, earned-centric, commercially effective)
150+ awards and nominations; Jury President for Clio Awards (PR), Dubai Lynx (PR) and Eurobest (Glass, Brand Experience and Activation, Creative e-commerce), and jury member for Cannes Lions (twice – PR and Creative eCommerce), D&AD (twice –Direct and Integrated), Effie UK (three times), Luerzer Grand Slam, Campaign Big Awards, Festival of Media Global Awards, SABRE PR Awards, Ad Stars Asia (three times), Creative Moment (three times), Golden Drum, and others.
Entrepreneurial, commercially minded, with strong business acumen; currently running WINGS CLL; has run successfully in the past two agencies: a European office of a global comms network, and a creative consultancy she founded in 2009 and then sold to Publicis Groupe seven years later while it ranked globally as one of the most awarded agencies of its kind
Creative transformation trainer, with a passion for growing people’s skills, conducting training sessions, idea sprints and creative workshops for companies around the world. For this work she was awarded Independent Consultant of the Year 2018 at the Women in Marketing Global Awards, London
Engaging speaker for top international and local industry events (including Cannes Lions School, D&AD Academy, Festival of Marketing) on topics such as creative excellence, creative leadership and culture, integrated communication, brand citizenship and purpose, gender and cultural diversity and inclusion, entrepreneurship as well as several others.
Worked on top-tier brands, covering a wide range of industries such as FMCG, beauty & personal care, food & beverages, retail, luxury, travel, consumer tech, automotive, sport, entertainment, consumer finance, health & pharma, education, and NGOs.
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