Local girl makes good

  • 1999-02-25
  • Rebecca Santana
Deep in the heart of Estonia's 'male-dominated society,' Rebecca Santana caught up with one woman intent on blazing a path for women in the business world.

One glance at the interior of the Hunt advertising agency offers a clue that this is not your father's advertising agency.

While many Estonian offices are reminiscent of a modern furniture showroom, Hunt's offices are painted purple. The artwork on the walls was done by the owner himself - and it's not the work of a slouch.

Instead of the standard, delicate coffee cups with a shot-glass worth of Java, guests sip coffee out of one-of-a-kind coffee mugs painted in funky colors that match the artwork.

Perhaps it's the influence of the two owners who are, surprisingly enough in Estonia's business world, both women. Lee Murrand started the agency with her friend in 1993, after studying at Tartu University.

After finishing school, she worked with the director of the Opteon advertising firm, Tales Bachmon, to whom she still refers with reverence as the grand old man of Estonian advertising.

Almost 60 agencies hung out a shingle and called themselves an advertising firm after the end of Communism. About 40 of those are left, and Murrand estimates that about 20 firms will be left when the market stabilizes.

"We have very many advertising firms, but very many have started at a level at which they don't have any knowledge or experience." She believes that the firms who do survive will have to develop a strategic partnership with a foreign company.

Hunt is a full-service advertising firm and has a portfolio of approximately 40 clients. They tend to be companies who are trying to market their product to other companies, such as Norma seatbelts or Keila cables.

Keila became the company's first client after the 24-year-old Murrand made her first business presentation to a group of Finnish businessmen in Finnish.

The company is trying to expand into market research but is finding this difficult in the Estonian economy. Many companies don't see the value in paying for something that isn't a concrete product, said Murrand. "Ideas you can't see, you can't touch them."

Advertising and market research are usually two expenses that companies drop when cutting back, and Murrand did notice a slight cutback last fall after the Russian crisis. Hunt specializes in helping companies develop an image, and many companies were reluctant to launch new products or change their image until their financial situation looked better.

But Murrand actually chose that time to abandon the company's previous name, Domeena in favor of Hunt. The re-christened company's launch party was an elaborate but off-beat ceremony held last November. Clients and other guests were treated to deer meat and vodka; water was on hand for the more timid.

Many thought she was crazy to change the company's image during turbulent economic times, but Murrand shrugs off the problems with the savoir-faire of a woman who surely heard similar comments when she launched her own company at age 24.

Although it was quite common for men to start their own businesses after the end of Communism, few women joined their ranks.

"As you know, Estonia is a very male-dominated world. During Russian times, women had to sit at home or to work somewhere at lower level or doing some simple jobs and men were in the upper places. When our independence started, it was very much in the same way because those men had experiences. But nowadays, more and more women are taking those upper places," said Murrand.

Many prospective clients call asking for "Mr. Murrand." And at the egalitarian Hunt agency, "Mr. Murrand" has been known to answer the phone on occasion when the office is very busy.

"In America, it's mainly a man's name. And sometimes, those in Estonia who have not seen me, think that I'm a man," laughed Murrand and describes a situation where a prospective client got her on the phone and wanted to speak to "Mr. Murrand." "And I said 'That's nice to hear but I'm not Mister. I'm Miss.'"