Meet Rainer Plank, the Head of Operations at Zooom
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
We recently caught up with WNW Member Rainer Plank, the Head of Operations at Zooom in Los Angeles, who opens up about his career path, the relationship between Zooom's two offices in Los Angeles and Fuschl am See, and how Zooom's unique origins inform its trajectory. Founded by Ulrich Grill, who used to be a professional hang-gliding pilot sponsored by Red Bull, Zooom "attracts a lot of outdoor enthusiasts who typically use the products we promote for their own adventures," as Rainer tells us. "This is probably why we are able to promote our clients’ products with authenticity and passion."
We also ask Rainer how he caters his own creative leadership approach to allow his left brain and right brain to coexist. "I fear they don’t coexist at all. Managing the agency mostly requires my left side and the talented creative directors, art directors, and designers we hire make my right side completely redundant. Naturally, I put part of the blame on WNW for making it far too easy to find talented creatives. MEAN."
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did your path lead you to Head of Operations at Zooom in Los Angeles?
This literally happened by accident. Sometime in 2005, when I had just finished my degree in Film Production Management in Cologne I was moving back to Vienna. After a long night of packing all my belongings and an eight-hour drive on the Autobahn I stopped by in Fuschl* for a job interview with zooom. At that point, I felt pretty sleep-deprived and it didn’t help that I arrived too late either. At any rate, things (somehow) worked out smoothly and I started working for zooom Austria soon afterward. Half a year later I relocated to Los Angeles to open our US office. I’ve appreciated living in California ever since :-).
*small village in Austria near Salzburg and main office of zooom.
We run an event series called Overshare, where we interview successful creatives and entrepreneurs about their career challenges. What were a few definitive moments or turning points that had an impact on who you are today?
Our first few years in business were smooth sailing. We had a stable customer base, cool projects to work on, and fixed retainers. Spoiled as we were I got ‘comfortably numb’ until we unexpectedly lost two large accounts despite highly successful campaign rollouts. This, in turn, taught me an important lesson never to take things for granted and to better balance project management & business development.
Another challenge for us was to determine the scope of our agency services. In the beginning, our strategy was mostly driven by our biggest clients, to be honest. They had ever-expanding needs and we tried to cater to all of them. Today, we are more narrowly focused on branding, campaign development, and content production and collaborate with specialized partners in other areas.
Describe Zooom in a couple words.
What separates Zooom from other agencies? What about the culture of zooom makes it an ideal place for potential hires to work?
Our founder Ulrich Grill used to be a professional hang-gliding pilot sponsored by Red Bull. Being an avid photographer, he later started his own photo service agency in Austria. In essence, he managed Red Bull’s International athlete & event shoots and organized the content distribution through redbullphotofiles.com*. Over the years, our shop grew into a legitimate advertising agency offering branding & positioning, campaign development, and photo/video production services as well as content distribution to outdoor brands. As a consequence, we attract a lot of outdoor enthusiasts who typically use the products we promote for their own adventures. This is probably why we are able to promote our clients’ products with authenticity and passion.
*Now known as “Red Bull Content Pool.”
You’ve been at Zooom for a little over 10 years. How have you seen the identity of zooom evolve over the years?
In the early years, we offered the same services in the US as in Europe and spread ourselves too thin with a much smaller team. Over time, we focused our services on branding & campaign development and photo/video production while collaborating with specialized partners in other areas. Apart from that, we became more consistent in targeting clients in our main verticals, which are the outdoor & photography industry as well as selected Fast-Moving Consumer Good Brands (Red Bull, Bundaberg, …).
As for the latter, we partnered up with the consulting firm Entity X and offer branding & marketing services to the Medical and Recreational Cannabis markets in the US. This is an exciting, new industry and we recently succeeded in winning one of the few medical grower & processing licenses in the State of Pennsylvania. Sports & drugs … who would have thought ;-).
Which campaigns are you most proud of?
Probably the launch of “Red Bull Illume”, an international photo contest for action & adventure sports photography in which the winning images tour the world in stunning outdoor exhibits. Over the past 10 years, this event grew into a huge contest with +35,000 image submissions from over 120 countries. It shines the spotlight on the people behind the lens and has helped kick start the careers of previously unknown photographers. This event, in turn, attracted large sponsors such as Sony, Leica Camera, etc.
Being in a leadership position, how do you cater your approach to allow your left brain and right brain to coexist?
I fear they don’t coexist at all. Managing the agency mostly requires my left side and the talented creative directors, art directors and designers we hire make my right side completely redundant. Naturally, I put part of the blame on WNW for making it far too easy to find talented creatives. MEAN.
For someone entering the field of advertising today, what do they need to succeed? What would it take to succeed at Zooom specifically?
Advertising now encompasses so many different fields of expertise that it helps to specialize early on and aim to become an expert in an area you are passionate about. That’s not to say that you should focus yourself too narrowly. Areas such as branding, content creation or digital media marketing or even verticals such as sports & photography are broad enough to give you ample room to grow.
Is there a lot of communication between the Fuschl am See and Los Angeles offices?
Yes, as far as our larger international clients are concerned. We also brainstorm and pitch for selected accounts together. The majority of the projects are handled independently by the local teams though.
What do you see as the similarities and differences between the creative scenes of Fuschl am See and Los Angeles?
The creative is mainly driven by the differences in design aesthetics between Europe and the US. In general, the European brands we deal with tend to have more of a product focus and present themselves as leaders in technology & product quality. US brands – on the other hand - tend to be more lifestyle-focused and aspirational. This, in turn, calls for a very different copy & design aesthetic. Of course, you’ll find a lot of examples that contradict what I just said …. just think of Red Bull Energy Drinks, which is a client of ours that originates from Austria.
Zooom is offering co-working space within its office on Abbot Kinney in Venice. What can you tell us about the space, location, and atmosphere?
We have a beautiful office space right at the corner of Abbot Kinney & Venice Blvd and are offering work spaces to talented freelancers (designers, art directors, creative directors programmers, illustrators, you name it) for $800/month. The idea is to bring like-minded people together in a feel-good work space, inspire each other and hopefully also collaborate on upcoming projects. Freelancers can rent a space on a month-to-month basis or for longer term. Whatever fits their needs. If that sounds of interest to anyone reading this, just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll show you around.
Who's your most significant creative or entrepreneurial inspiration?
Maybe Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. His book “Let my people go surfing” is a real inspiration for how to build a thriving brand based on authentic values and caring for the environment. He’s probably one of the most reluctant business men ever and driven by an ecocentric approach of doing business.
What do you do when “Not Working”?
Riding my old 1972 Peugeot road bike until one of us breaks down (we tend to take turns), cooking for/with friends, and playing piano when no one listens.