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'Creativity and art often start in unlikely places': Exploring Albania's hidden creative potential

When I say Albania, creativity and design probably isn't the first thing you'd think of. The capital city's architecture has an intimidating simplicity to it, and the country's history is fraught.

From the end of the Second World War until 1990, the Albanian people were under the rule of the dictator Enver Hoxha, in a situation similar to what can be seen in North Korea today.

The country was isolated for 50 years. You and your family could, and would, go to jail for life if you listened to the Rolling Stones; wore blue jeans; created a DIY antenna to receive TV channels and radio stations from countries nearby or by simply implying the dictatorship was not the best thing ever. The situation remained unstable for the next decade: anarchy, pyramid crisis, and civil war, but Albania started to grow for real in the noughties.

The country is young, in all sectors. This includes the creative industry. And so, the need to bring the creative community together and initiate a dialogue about quality in the market is an exciting time.

Last month, advertisers and creatives descended on the Albanian capital for the annual Design Overview in Tirana (aka DOIT) - a celebration of creativity and communications in traditional and new media and sponsored by big names J. Walter Thompson, McCann, DDB and Ogilvy. Now the festival is in its fourth year, and the country is full of creative potential.

Renato Tata, head creative director of Ogilvy & Mather Albania initiated Design Overview, he says: “The creative industry in Albania is in the infant stage. It’s easy to understand that there is no advertising history. Role models and pop culture were missing and young people didn’t have any reference from the past.”

With regard to advertising and marketing this is evident - Ogilvy & Mather Albania was established only in 2006.

Some of the ad agencies in the country are starting to import talented people who can teach and lead the next generation of young talent. This is a country teeming with potential, and the time is now.

This is why Design Overview is so important, as it inspires and gives a brighter future for Albania and its creative scene in order to raise the standards and put the country on the map as an active part of the European creative industry, with a visible presence in festivals and awards.

One of the big themes of the festival was awards and the entry barriers that this creates for smaller markets. The cost of one entry is a couple of months' wages for a designer in Albania, and when your agency has a total staff of 10, entering awards is an unaffordable cost. Many markets are getting lost as they can't afford to get recognition and visibility in industry awards.

It was just last year that Albania, Ghana and San Mariano entered Cannes Lions for the first time (the USA alone entered 6,213 times that year).

I believe that creativity can so often be found in the fringes of society. In fact, David Ogilvy said “talent I believe is most likely to be found among non-conformists, dissenters and rebels”.

Creativity and art often starts in these unlikely places and then, as we see so often see, ends in the upper echelons of society. Bohemian (Boho) cities are a hotbed for the creative class and cultural industries.

In Richard Florida's ‘Rise of the Creative Class’ he writes: "Members of the creative class ... do not consciously think of themselves as a class. Yet they share a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit" and this needs to be celebrated.

For Charles Leadbeater, who wrote ‘Living on Thin Air’ about the creative economy, he says: "Settled, stable communities are the enemies of innovation, talent, creativity, diversity and experimentation. They are often hostile to outsiders, dissenters, young upstarts and immigrants...this can be the enemy of knowledge creation, which is the well-spring of economic growth."

It's not a surprise to learn that big marketing budgets don't land in Albania. But is this a missed opportunity?

UK and US agencies have budgets aplenty, but can these lesser known markets be a minefield for marketeers seeking new creative ideas and celebrate different cultures and people?

Inspiration is the first step. The Albanian creative community is growing, hopefully some of this potential will end up in the upper echelons one day.

Andrew Barratt is founder and head of Ogilvy Pride

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