Passionate about history, innovative technologies and writing good articles, our next guest in the #WeAreModex series of interviews believes that doing PR in the tech world is nicer than in other industries. If he had the chance, Robert would have liked to be a film director, but for the moment he is smoothly ‘directing’ Modex’s Communications department. Here’s what he has to say about blockchain, journalism, PR and… specialty coffee.
Tell us a bit about your studies: high-school, University, Master’s Degree.
I was born in a small, communist style town in the South-East of Romania, where I grew up and lived, like every young Romanian in search of happiness at the beginning of the 21st century. The funny thing is that I’ve graduated from a mathematics and economy-oriented high-school, and then I made a living from writing.
After high-school I was accepted at the University of Bucharest. I became a student at the Faculty of History, my first passion which, most probably, will stay with me for my entire life. When I was 5 years old, I started learning about Romanian and Universal History. So, for me it was quite easy to choose history in college, because at that time I thought I knew almost everything about this domain. A few months later, I discovered it that I knew nothing, so in a way it was very interesting for me to learn what history represents. I then took the Master’s Degree in History of Modernism, with a dissertation paper about Sexuality in the traditional Romanian society.
Moving on to your career: when did you start working, what was your first job and what interesting projects you’ve done so far?
In 2002, I started working as a junior writer at the national radio station. It was a fantastic opportunity for me at that time: I remember that I was the very last man in the chain of hierarchy at a cultural radio show. But it all felt amazing for a 19-year-old that two months earlier was stuck in an ex-communist town with no perspective. I’ve worked for the whole duration of the university – nowadays, I’m not recommending this to anyone! – but two decades ago things were different in our society.
I had the first full-time job at Mediafax press agency. I think that even to this day it remains the coolest job I had as the entire team comprised young and passionate people. Moreover, back then Romania was becoming part of the European Union, so there was a special feeling throughout our society. That job was followed by 12-13 years of journalism. One of the most important projects I’ve headed was ViitorulRomaniei online publication, which I’ve started together with Mihai Ivascu, the co-founder of Modex and founder of Ingenium Group, a media company where I’ve worked as the Editor in Chief for several online projects. The launch of Modex gave me the opportunity to enter the start-ups phenomenon and leave journalism behind, but also discovering a new domain: PR and content creators. I have to admit that the biggest attraction was represented by the tech industry and its perspectives in the new model of a digital society.
Were there any particular challenges in your career that you had to overcome?
Yes, there were many. The biggest challenge for me was moving into the tech area to coordinate the Content and PR departments. Creating a symbiosis between those who know how to write creatively and those who know to communicate and establish a close relationship with the public was clearly a challenge. I have been collaborating for more than a decade with PR officers from several companies, I knew how things were, but after switching sides on the ‘battlefield’ I’ve immediately discovered that it was all different from how I perceived it from the outside. As a journalist, you’re responsible only in front of the public. Here, however, in the communications area, you’re being held accountable in front of the company’s stakeholders and the team you’re working with. Moreover, if we’re speaking about a startup which bases its evolution on the capacity to create a powerful brand image on the market, things get even more complicated.
When and how did you start working for Modex?
I’ve joined Modex after exiting, with Mihai Ivascu, from ViitorulRomaniei project. That was the first editorial project in Romania which aimed to show the country’s positive things in a mass-media environment focused almost entirely on negative things. While working at that project I’ve gathered an extraordinary team of young and very talented journalists, many of them who are dominating today’s market of independent and alternative media channels in Romania.
In a way, I can say that I’ve been with Modex even before the company was born. I still remember how the name was chosen, but that’s a story for another time. I was at the company’s Christmas party and Modex’s CEO spoke about how companies would become creators of their own content and how that was his wish for a future startup he would launch. At first I didn’t believe him – he spoke about a company that was supposed to write creative content by its own, with a journalistic approach – but I said ‘Yes’ anyway as I was interested in the startups’ cultural phenomenon. So I can say today that me joining Modex felt like a Christmas present.
What do you do at Modex, which are your main tasks and what do you like the most about your job?
More or less, I do what every department manager does. I’m coordinating the content writers, social media specialists and PR people. I make things work at the border between content and Public Relations. Our aim is to come up with interesting content in order to communicate that to our stakeholders, as well as to the general public. My duty is to increase the company’s awareness and to maintain the very good brand image level we’ve obtained after three years of hard work in this area. Sometimes I also write and edit texts, keep in touch with journalists or launch a pitch – things which are really satisfying. What I like the most? To write, the very simple and the main requirement for the job, I think.
What does it take to be a good Head of Communication? What qualities do you need for this?
I think that if you can make a team work smoothly together, without depending on you as a manager, it means you’ve created something solid, you’ve done your part. It’s hard for me to say, given my job, which per se skills one needs. However, I believe that you can’t be Head of Communication in a modern tech company if you’re not inventive, if you’re not creative or you don’t have leader skills, even if sometimes that means not being the nicest guy in the room. From my point of view, a Communications Manager with no writing skills, with no creative vision or one that hasn’t written an article once in his life doesn’t deserve to be Head of Communication in a company which is part of the new wave.
Bill Gates said: “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.” How important is the PR department for a company nowadays?
Well, this sounds so Bill Gates. I disapprove this statement. If you know how and when to spend on PR, or – more importantly – on who to spend it, you will never get down to the last dollar in your pocket. Otherwise, the above statement is a nice quote that highlights our important job nowadays.
David Graeber, one of the 21st century’s brightest minds, has put Public Relations on the ‘bullshit jobs’ of our society. In his work titled ‘Bullshit Jobs’, he criticized the capitalist system and explained that the world needs to change its paradigm and focus on the true working people – the ones who reap the coffee beans, who bake bread, who deliver pizza and so on. Well, anthropologist David Graeber was right, but the capitalist world functions only through jobs like these which can only be found in the imaginary, and the late intellectual anarchist knew that. That’s why being a PR is the daily job of the world’s richest person, Elon Musk. Every day, the founder of Tesla and Space X does just that: PR, launching newsworthy information in media, publishing on his Twitter account.
Is doing PR in tech harder than in other industries considered more appealing: fashion, automotive, cinema, aviation?
I don’t know if it’s harder, but for me it’s nicer because we’re talking about the most exciting domain of our generation – whether we like it or not. Our children would rather have a smartphone than a car, they prefer to live by positioning themselves in relation to a social network rather that the real world. “I’m going for a coffee in a certain place because there I can do a nice Insta story which shows me there, in that cool cafe”. The issue here is that not only the new generations do that, but also us.
When communicating in tech, the hardest part is to convey to the general public, in an easy-to-understand manner, what the company is doing. To translate the specifics of the tech industry into an easy reading language for the public. That’s harder to do for the newer industries than the older ones, already known, because that specific language hasn’t been invented yet. We’re doing just that now by communicating: we are inventing a new language.
What do you like the most about Modex as a company?
I am glad that Modex is one of the main players from the blockchain sphere, a company that is taking this revolution further. Ever since inception, blockchain was all about revolution, about giving power back to the people, that power taken by centralized organizations such as banks or states. A revolution which started in 2008, when the big financial crisis happened. Once things calmed down, people were needed to do real work, individuals who could build something, and I believe that Modex is a team of men and women who come into this blockchain area and build stuff for the future.
Without doubt, the future will be digital, and blockchain plays a big part in all this. It’s a technology that protects data, it’s about interoperability between emerging technologies that are slowly starting to take over our private and public lives. What I like the most about Modex is that it offers companies, public and private, the possibility of moving to blockchain. Once these enterprises will start using blockchain, so will their customers. So let’s say that blockchain is the revolution, and Modex is the solution.
How would you describe the working environment at Modex?
We are in the middle of an evolution from a startup to a corporate company. It still has the startup vibe, but it comes with some big company rules. Besides that, it’s an eclectic atmosphere, with developers and IT people work alongside business specialists and creative minds. It’s quite interesting and sometimes challenging for everybody, but the international mentality and the strong wave of tech that’s coming after us, as human beings, shake things up in an original and attractive way.
If you were to turn back the time and start your career all over again, would you do the same thing or something else?
No, I wouldn’t do the same, because we only live once. I would do everything differently because this contrafactual cliché proposal it’s an opportunity to see something else. Jokes aside, I would have liked to be a film director.
Your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I’d like to have more time to read books, especially literature and history. To watch movies, especially art movies, old and new, or cycling competitions like Tour de France, Giro or Vuelta and to imagine myself in those fantastic places… But with so many things to do nowadays, I don’t always have time to fully enjoy these hobbies. Also, I like to drink specialty coffee and to make and serve very good espressos to other people, and thus make them happy. I enjoy travelling, and I prefer those cities with a lot of history.
I’ve spent my communist childhood enjoying interactive Globe and Terra maps and I’ve imagined myself, in a Jules Verne manner, visiting Africa, exotic islands or wild and remote areas, but those places are not for me in the real world. So, visiting historic places like Rome’s Forum, the Berlin wall, Nevsky Prospekt in Sank Petersburg, Beijing’s Tiananmen Square or Place de la Concorde in Paris it’s exactly what I liked the most.