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Curating Excellence: 10 Years of BRAND MINDS’ Impact on Business Leaders in CEE

Avi Cicirean, founder of BRAND MINDS
Image credit: Founder Avi Cicirean on a background image from BRAND MINDS 2022; social media
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Every year, some of the biggest minds in different areas of business and across industries gather in front of an eager community of business professionals and executives to talk about the future and inspire people to achieve the best versions of themselves. The meeting place? Bucharest, Romania.

With the 10th edition of BRAND MINDS around the corner, taking place between June 2-3, we couldn’t wait to tap into the mind of its creator, entrepreneur and brand expert Avi Cicirean

What convinced him to jump from a successful career in the radio industry to organizing events for the local business world, and how did he bring the first prominent speaker to Bucharest? 10 years later, how has this journey shaped him and the community he addresses? What is his recipe for creating memorable experiences, and where is he taking the BRAND MINDS rocket next?

The Recursive: Would you walk us through the very first steps of BRAND MINDS? How difficult was it to get others onboard, what key challenges popped up in those early days, and what was the moment you knew you were onto something BIG?

Avi Cicirean: BRAND MINDS started from my interest in business education. In 2008, I was traveling to Denmark. In the airport, I read Martin Lindstrom’s book – “Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy”. As I was reading it, I thought this guy had to come to Romania to share his research findings and bring value to the marketing community in the country.

A year passed and the idea was still on the back of my mind. So in 2014, I decided to organize an event with Martin Lindstrom. I reached out and he accepted. And this is how we started, with one speaker and 350 attendees, at Radisson. It was called the marketing event of the year. People got so excited that this kind of event is happening in Romania that they asked for more. 

For the first edition, we lost some money. But the energy from the partners and participants gave us the drive to continue. And nine years later, and after 10 editions, we are the largest business events in Europe and the largest one in Eastern Europe. We had 6,500 people last year.

We also organized BRAND MINDS in Singapore in 2017. We were the first ones to bring Gary Vee to Asia. 

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You went from 1 speaker to 9 at the upcoming edition. How do you curate the speakers for BRAND MINDS?

BRAND MINDS is a business event where we focus on business strategy. So, what we aim to do is split the different functions and activities in a company and bring experts on each domain.

For Sales, we have Blair Singer, author of “Sales Dogs”; for Creativity – Duncan Wardle, former Creative Director at Disney; for Future of Work and how to hire the right people – Lynda Gratton, Future of Work Strategy Expert at London Business School; for business strategy – Renée Mauborgne, author of “Blue Ocean Strategy”; for top performance – Tim Ferriss, author and podcast host; for personal leadership – James Clear, the author of “Atomic Habits”; for Decision Making – Nassim Taleb, Risk Analyst and author of “The Black Swan” and “Antifragile”, and for Digital Marketing – expert Neil Patel.

We want to cover a wide spectrum of the business in order to help our customers achieve their desired results. Our main objective for the conference attendees is to  leave BRAND MINDS with at least three ideas that will scale up their business. 

How do you measure the complex impact of such a big event? What matters most to you?

At the end of the day, the mission of BRAND MINDS is to unite the business world. And we are keeping this in mind for each edition. 

In the past 10 years, we had more than 35,000 event attendants. And we believe that we helped them become part of an ecosystem and grow. Even if they left the company, some companies are coming back each year, which is really interesting to see.

When it comes to data collection, this is done through different mediums: we have our sales and concierge team, the social media platforms, email, and so on. We also meet with a lot of people.

For instance, we received many emails from past participants telling us how a particular speech has impacted them and how they have applied a certain piece of advice or strategy.

How is BRAND MINDS contributing to the branding of Bucharest and Romania?

The event is digitally promoted throughout Europe. We have people coming from around 80 countries, from Japan to Mexico. So, it’s an international event. One of the main advantages in organizing the event in Romania is the fact that the ticket prices are much much lower than in the West. For example, in London, such an event would cost 2000 pounds, while in Romania it is 400 euros.

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By bringing both reputable speakers and international participants, we believe we have an impact on the positioning of Bucharest as a business hub and a market opportunity.  Last year, we had more than 1500 people coming from abroad. This means we also help develop the local economy, both through business opportunities and through tourism. 

How is the 2023 edition of BRAND MINDS unique?

We believe that every edition is special in its own way, because the content is different. We bring renowned experts who haven’t been to Eastern Europe before. This year, speakers include Tim Ferriss, James Clear, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Having the opportunity to see all these big names on the same stage is an experience every year for business people and people who want to learn.

How about the future roadmap of BRAND MINDS? Where do you dream of taking the project?

First, I want to note that BRAND MINDS is not a franchise, because I am often asked which is the original event. It’s our event. But in the near future, we will have extensions of this event.

We are opening operations in the Middle East, where we are in advanced discussions with some countries.

And in autumn, we will start a tour in Romania, because we have a lot of important local entrepreneurs and business professionals who can share their ideas and experiences to help the business community to grow.

How did running such a flagship event for the regional business environment shape Avi Cicirean along the way? What were your personal takeaways?

The past 4-5 years have been quite challenging for the business event industry in Romania, also because of the pandemics and macroeconomic factors. My main takeaway during this time is that in this industry you need to have patience, resilience, and adaptability. We plan everything in advance for one year; a lot of unforeseen things can happen. 

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We have 14 people in the core BRAND MINDS team making this happen. During the day of the event, we also have hundreds of volunteers,  many people on the tech team, and so on.

You define yourself as an emotional experience visionary, among others. What role does “emotion” play in your work, and in the business world overall?

My personal background is in advertising and branding. I was the Creative Director for Radio 21, Vibe FM and Radio ZU for 14 years. In that period, I produced more than 25,000 commercials. What I can bring to the table is a kind of clarity on how to create an international brand.

Emotionally visionary means that I can create an experience. For each event, I start with the experience in mind. This is why it was very easy for me to imagine having 6,000 people in a venue,  I knew from the beginning how to create an experience for that.

An experience consists of touch points, from the moment you are buying a ticket through a payment processing platform to the moment you walk in the event venue.

What key technology innovations and trends are you using or planning to use at BRAND MINDS these days, whether in events organization, management, or marketing?

Data analytics is a big component of the marketing strategy. In the marketing team, we leverage all the data and all the points that we can, according to GDPR, in order to create more compelling ads and reach more relevant people organically or through the ads.

We have a lot of discussions here at the office on how the future will look like with Chat GPT, as well as with or without other services and tools. We embrace technology because it can ease our lives and also our participants’ lives in the near future. We don’t know what the future will look like in five years, but we know that technology can help us as humans to become smarter and better people. 

The trend we are following closely now is a blend of big data. A lot of segregated data will be compiled through AI in order to offer more accurate information on how you can target and reach customers more effectively.

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Antoanela is a Sustainability Communications Specialist and Deputy Editor at The Recursive media. From these roles, she is helping organizations communicate their latest sustainability goals, strategies, and technologies. She writes about climate tech, ESG, impact investment, sustainability regulation, and related topics.