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France Special: Rosapark

France Special: Rosapark

Selena Schleh talks to Rosapark, the creative global gourmands cooking with gas.

It may only be a few years old, but the premier cru of the new wave of French boutique agencies, Rosapark, had been maturing and marinading in the minds of its founders for a while. Combining the oomph of an international network’s resources, and the freshness of an indie, it has the perfect recipe for delivering French-flavoured ads to an international audience

 

Nestled among the rooftops of the 11th arrondissement, five floors up from the bustling Rue Paul Bert, Rosapark’s terrace is a charming little oasis. Très mignon, as the French might say. With autumn approaching, the barbecue stands idle in a corner, but a few of the agency’s namesake blooms cling doggedly to their stems. Below, the light-flooded, open-plan interior has a modern, global feel – you could be anywhere from Sydney to Shanghai or New York – but the breathtaking, 360-degree view is pure Paris.

It’s a good metaphor for an agency that describes itself as “French with an international outlook”. Part of a burgeoning wave of Parisian boutiques, Rosapark has an immaculate pedigree. It was birthed in 2011, by BETC, into the guardianship of former CLM BBDO creative VPs Gilles Fichteberg and Jean-François ‘Jeff’ Sacco, and Jean-Patrick Chiquiar, former managing director of Publicis Conseil. ‘Godmothers’ Remi Babinet and Mercedes Erra helped broker the deal with parent network Havas, having previously asked the trio to join them at BETC. “We didn’t want to join [BETC], but we said if there was any way to set up our own shop, we’d be interested,” Sacco explains. “So they decided to make something from the [domestic supermarket giant] Monoprix account.”

 

 

That ‘something’ needed a name, which proved more creatively exacting than any paid brief and, contrary to popular assumption, wasn’t simply inspired by US civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Amalgamating the founders’ initials was out: they wanted a name that “belonged to everyone” and reflected both the romance of Paris and its grittier urban side. Eventually, a democratic, phonetically-pleasing, yin-yang perfect moniker emerged. But it sounded strangely familiar… “We love this lady, she’s a big symbol, but we don’t want to be compared to the amazing things she has done,” insists Sacco, who made a pilgrimage of sorts to Parks’ hometown of Tuskegee, Alabama this summer. “It was just a happy coincidence.”

“Now that we’ve raised our profile internationally, people don’t tend to go too deeply into the subtext,” chips in creative director Mark Forgan, with an unexpected Kiwi twang. Hailing from Wellington, New Zealand, he and co-creative director Jamie-Edward Standen are further proof of Rosapark’s global aspirations. Admittedly, the pair didn’t have even the dimmest idea of moving to the City of Light when they met as students working in a local pizzeria. After forging a bond in mozzarella and marinara sauce, they teamed up creatively and spent the first six years of their advertising careers at Clemenger BBDO Wellington. Moving to France was “kind of a random decision”, admits Forgan. “I think if we’d known how hard it would be, we wouldn’t have come!”

They wound up at CLM BBDO, via Y&R Paris, but, despite working on Pepsi and being part of “the best network in the world”, big agency life started to lose its charm. “We were spending more time having meetings about ads than making them… and especially being Kiwis, we’re practical people – when we’re not making things it gets boring,” says Forgan. When the call came from former bosses Fichteberg and Sacco, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.  

Since then, they’ve brought a hands-on approach to building the agency’s creative profile through work spanning every medium. The shiver-inducing Retargeting, for child protection charity Innocence En Danger, exploited ad targeting technology via a creepy voyeur who ‘followed’ 200,000 French teenagers around the web in sponsored Facebook posts and banner ads. Meanwhile, to promote watersports brand Tribord’s new buoyancy jacket, the agency offered unsuspecting consumers ‘the taste of drowning’, via cans of seawater disguised as a brand new soft drink, Wave.  

 

 

But the pair are also proud of more traditional ads – such as Circus, a big, blockbuster TVC for Brother’s Next Time Label It campaign – because “sometimes that’s what’s required by the client to make a big splash”. Rosapark’s award-winning print work for Innocence En Danger is a case in point: Human Emojis highlighted the perils of social media by grotesquely anthropomorphising grinning, winking and kissy-face emoticons, while Paedophile Teddy Bears showed children snuggling up to cuddly-toy versions of their abusers. Both started life in print, but sparked huge social and online discussions.

 

Success across the (sound)board

While its creative output is impressive, what’s more noteworthy is that, despite being a relatively young company (and one in which its parent retains a 70 per cent stake), Rosapark already has a strong, distinct identity. The equity split offers the best of both worlds: an entrepreneurial boutique with access to an international network’s resources when required. “An internationally-minded French agency” is how they describe themselves, something that’s borne out by a client roster boasting an ever-growing number of foreign brands, including office supplies purveyor Brother (based in Manchester, Britain) and European train network Thalys, alongside more ‘classic’ French accounts – Monoprix, Marionnaud and Decathlon.

For Sacco, the agency’s success is down to the concept of balance, manifested in several forms – from the “three pillars of the agency” (bringing in new business and pitching for new work; cultivating relationships with existing clients; creativity and awards) to the work itself. “We don’t just want success in print, we want it in direct, in digital…” he says. Judging by this year’s Cannes, they’re well on the way: Rosapark came home with five Lions for three different projects. “That made us feel like we were doing the right thing, because it wasn’t one lucky shot in the dark,” says Standen.

 

 

On the thorny subject of awards, Sacco states that an agency that puts all its energy into winning gongs is “dead”, but it’s nonetheless an “important game to play” and has helped Rosapark quickly establish a creative reputation and attract new business. At the time of press, the agency was in the final stages of a pitch for a “very big German brand”, an opportunity generated purely through a meeting at Cannes. Another useful function of awards is recruitment, and the agency has seen the number of applicants, both from France and further-flung territories like South America, double in the months since Cannes.

Asked what work they’re proudest of, all three point to Thalys’ Sounds Of The City, which captured the sonic identities of Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels in three interactive billboards. Customers could plug in their own headphones and listen to everything from frites sizzling in a fryer to a couple very audibly faisant l’amour. The project’s channel-agnostic appeal was reflected in Lions in both the Outdoor and Promo/ Activation categories, says Forgan: “It really showed a modern way to communicate; it’s not about a category, it’s about the engagement, the experience and the creative idea.”

Sounds… also epitomised the fabled French approach to craft. Recalling the painstaking process of creating the billboards, now adorning the agency walls, Standen says: “In New Zealand, we’d come up with a great idea, run off and make it and then move on to the next thing. Whereas in France, the time is taken to get it perfect. We really benefitted from that sort of healthy negativity, from being able to stand back, look at the prototype and go: ‘I’m not really happy with that. I’m going to try something new.’”

 

 

 

Let’s go, let’s fight, let’s do good work

The agency has also taken time to create perfection in their working environment. It took a few years to upgrade from a tiny apartment in grotty Strasbourg Saint-Denis (where “prostitutes and homeless guys would be throwing kebabs at each other”), but Rosapark’s new location is steeped in decades of artisanship, housing silversmiths, carpenters and upholsterers, and studded with foodie gems such as the hallowed Bistro Paul Bert. It’s a melting pot of creativity that can’t help but inspire.

Having recently acquired another floor of the building, there are plans to grow the business beyond its current staff of 72, but Forgan insists that an aggressive Fred & Farid-style expansion isn’t on the cards: “We’re more interested in the work, having an influence on it and touching it – and also the clients not being so removed that they can’t talk to us.” Continuing to nurture the agency’s next generation of creatives, some of whom are taking their first steps in the advertising world, is another important objective. 

The ultimate goal, says Sacco, is to export Rosapark’s mindset of “embracing French culture in an international way” around the world: “We have flexibility, we have agility, we can work with English, US and Chinese clients. It’s just about ideas. Let’s go, let’s fight, let’s do good work.”

With ambitions like these, Rosapark needn’t worry that winter is coming – their creativity looks set to bloom the whole year round.

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