Andre Filip of ELA

We Spoke to Andre Filip of ELA About How to Build a Successful Service Business

As part of my series about the “5 Things, You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Andre Filip, the CEO and Founder of ELA (“Everything LA”), a global creative advertising agency headquartered in Los Angeles.

He founded ELA in 2004 to capture the spirit, culture, vibe, and attitude of LA, where creative ideas are born and where his creative energy for advertising began. A creative visionary with strong business acumen, his more than 15 years of experience spans innovative campaigns for clients including TikTok, HBO, Disney, Starbucks, Paramount Pictures, Universal, EA Games, NASCAR, Showtime, 20th Century Fox, ABC, and Bravo.

Andre also serves as the Board Chair for Easterseals Southern California.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started my career at Seiniger Advertising. I made myself a “low risk” by asking for an internship so I could learn and absorb as much as I could. The great thing about that agency was that it was a creatively led entertainment agency. Tony Seiniger, known as the “Godfather of movie advertising” created movie posters and trailers for all of the major studios. I knew that if I wanted to learn, I needed to surround myself with the best, and to me, there was no better place than that to be exposed to advertising; but not just any advertising, feature film advertising.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

In the movie business, we move at the speed of sound. We produce, create, and execute at a very high level against seemingly impossible deadlines. I didn’t know any better, so to me, that’s just the way advertising was. In addition to that, you have to be able to switch creative gears quickly. You may be concepting a kid’s movie at 9:00 a.m., then a horror film at noon, followed by a drama at 4:00 p.m. I guess I was lucky to be exposed to the speed mixed with creative diversity. Working in this type of environment also taught me a lot about getting your head in the game quickly. You may not be in the headspace to think of a kid’s movie poster and messaging, but there is no choice. I think that the lesson also taught me a lot about being an entrepreneur. You may not feel like tackling something at a particular moment, but you do it anyway.

My “aha moment” was when I was speaking to my general market advertising colleagues and I heard about their timelines. They had several week deadlines, while I had several days — and that’s when it hit me. What if I created an agency that took the speed and high level of execution of entertainment and brought that to general market advertising? What if I could combine the general market strategy with entertainment storytelling? This “aha moment” was the birth of ELA, the marriage of entertainment and general market in a creatively led strategic agency.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When you first start out, there are no funny mistakes, only scary ones. Why? You have so much invested in what you are doing; any fail or mistake seems like the end of the world. However, as you develop a business, failing is part of the process. I think the biggest mistake any entrepreneur can make is not applying the key learnings from their mistakes. Recognizing why something happened is one thing, but applying that knowledge is critical. To me, this is a life strategy as much as it is a business strategy.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?

My vision was to create an agency that remained creatively led while breaking down the wall from entertainment into general market. I knew that if I could get in front of brands and show them a new way of working and a different breed of agency, that I could make a mark on their business. My purpose was personal, yet client-driven. I wanted to do things in a different way and change the game.

What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?

We have a clearly identified brand and a brand book that guides our culture and our decisions. Ironically, many businesses are asked to develop brands and brand books for their clients, but don’t develop their own. You have to take a look inside your four walls and develop your own brand and find your way. However, a brand book that defines who you are and why you exist is meaningless without a consistent focus on bringing it to life every day. Taking a stance is important.

We have defined principles that guide our culture and our decisions, along with a style that is unique to our company and gives everyone in our agency something to champion. We are constantly reminded of our brand in both big and small ways every day. Each person on our team works to embrace and act on our key values, our spirit of being, and the principles that guide us as an agency. This approach permeates how we work with our clients. We ensure that when we are starting a new relationship with a client, that they understand who we are, how we think, the style in which we work, and how we see the world, beyond their brand. This is the type of strong bond and partnership that is needed and critical to working together. Clients must really understand who you are beyond a capabilities deck. The way in which you do something is just as important as what you do. Defining our brand helps define our culture and ultimately builds something greater than itself.

Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

I don’t think people have a goal problem; they have a distraction problem. If I had to choose one principle, it would be to stay hyper-focused on your goal and your vision and not get so distracted that you lose sight of your greater North Star. That is true in business and personal life. Distractions kill vision more than lack of passion or desire. I always go back to a great quote by Robert Heinlein, “In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia, until we ultimately become enslaved by it.” I think that sums it all up for me.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I think the hardest thing for a business owner to face is failure. Both big and small failures. Nobody can prepare you for that feeling. But I realized that I signed up to do something that will require a tremendous amount of sacrifice and the resilience to get through anything. As time goes on, it doesn’t get easier, you just move on from it quicker. I never once considered giving up. I knew I set out to do something and that no matter what, I would do it.

So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?

I think that my passion for creativity, my team, and our clients help me navigate through the landscape. We always push ourselves and our clients to think in new ways and to try new things. Good enough is never good enough. We always push the work to be better. We are students of advertising every day. We mold things, break them apart, and put them back together better than we found them. This constant striving to do our best and push ourselves has been critical to our success.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Put yourself in the client’s shoes. What is best for them? What would you want if you were the client? Then, figure out a way to deliver on that.
  • Do more than what’s asked of you. If you have a cool idea, don’t keep it to yourself because a client didn’t ask for it or because they didn’t pay you for it. Go beyond what’s being asked. It’s a personal value as much as it is a way of conducting business.
  • Stay flexible. Don’t be so rigid that you break. Your plans and your business are organic. You need to give them the oxygen and flexibility to expand and be open to new ways of doing things and more efficient ways of getting to your destination.
  • Get your ego out of the way. Stay open and keep learning. You have to stay on the bleeding edge of what is current and adapt accordingly. You don’t always know it all, so don’t take it personally.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I would say that Tony Seiniger had the most influence on me. He took the time to mentor me, to teach me and to show me how he did what he did. I will always be grateful to him for inspiring and teaching a young kid who didn’t know much. He helped me open my eyes to what great can look like.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Meditation. I believe that the mind is the biggest component of success and really anything in life. We need to nourish our minds, relax our minds, clear our minds. It’s so critical to stay mentally grounded, clear and pure. I think if more people meditated and understood the power of their minds the world experience a huge shift toward good. We must take care of the mind, body, and soul.

How can our readers follow you on social media? @elaadvertising on Instagram, LinkedIn Facebook, and Twitter. Thank you!