Wine Therapy: Advertising the appeal of the desert

Hana Rado is the force behind advertising giant McCann-Erickson’s new move to Mitzpe Ramon.

Chef Dmitriy Ginzburg toasts a glass of wine with advertising executive extraordinaire Hana Rado at 2c restaurant in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Chef Dmitriy Ginzburg toasts a glass of wine with advertising executive extraordinaire Hana Rado at 2c restaurant in Tel Aviv.
Meet Hana Rado, the “Iron Woman” of the Israeli advertising world, and one of the most respected people in the business.
For over 15 years, Rado has led McCann Erickson, which is No. 1 in the Israeli advertising industry and considered the most successful agency in the country’s history.
From the heights of her office in the McCann building, she applies her rare talents to managing a staff of 400 publicists, who oversee mammoth budgets for most of Israel’s leading brands.
At first glance, hers is the typical story of a successful businesswoman in her 50s who has everything she wants. Ostensibly, she could be doing anything she pleased, living out the rest of her life in the lap of luxury.
But then comes a twist in the plot.
In 2011, Rado dropped a bombshell on the Israeli advertising world, when she moved a branch of the Tel Aviv office to the middle of the Negev desert, to the tiny town of Mitzpe Ramon. With this project, called McCann Valley, she aims to give a shot in the arm to the town and its residents.
To those who are familiar with the advertising world in Israel, nothing could be more daring. Traditionally, this industry lives and breathes exclusively in Tel Aviv.
But Rado didn’t let this get in her way. She had a vision – to establish an advertising agency in the middle of the desert – and nothing could stop her.
The goal: Discover what motivated Rado to go off into the desert, at the apex of her career.
The means: A gourmet meal at Tel Aviv’s 2c restaurant, with Yarden Merlot from the Golan Heights vineyard.
Wilderness, emptiness, camels and… an advertising office! You must admit this is no ordinary story.
Until 2011, I was confident I was a model Israeli citizen.
I employ 400 people and pay them very generous wages.
We pride ourselves on our egalitarian treatment of women [McCann’s management team is 50 percent women].
When it comes to taxes, we strictly abide by the law. I really felt we were making the best possible effort.
Then came the “social revolution” [2011 social justice protests], which was a powerful current of change.
I realized, along with many others, that we were not doing enough for our country, to make life better here.
I felt very motivated to work for change.
Why did you choose Mitzpe Ramon? For many years, I visited the area as a tourist. I asked myself, “Why is it this magical place is so deserted and uninhabited?” I fell in love with Mitzpe Ramon long before this initiative.
How did the idea come about to establish an advertising agency in the middle of the desert? In 2011 I met Michal Romi, publisher of the magazine Route 40. We sat together and shared a bottle of wine, just like we’re doing. After two glasses, she opened up and told me that due to the high cost of living in Tel Aviv, she planned to return to Mitzpe Ramon, where she grew up. She had left the town because it was too hard to make a living there. So she moved to Mitzpe Ramon with two kids, but traveled many hours each week to the Center for her job.
That sounds like a nightmare.
I had already had two glasses of wine. I said, “That doesn’t make sense. Let’s establish a branch of Mc- Cann in Mitzpe Ramon, and you’ll be the manager.”
Why did you think you would succeed? I guess I wasn’t really thinking, and the wine affected me. Then came the shock. I starting reading articles and learning the statistics, and I thought maybe I had taken too much upon myself... I always try to fulfill my promises, even those made after two glasses of wine.
At first, we thought we’d just establish a graphics studio that would provide services to the Tel Aviv office; I thought it would be easier. But only six months later, we found a building that had been abandoned for 13 years, and we rented it. After renovations, we had an office that was high quality, but deserted... At first, Michal was CEO of nothing. I had a building, a CEO and we hired a secretary, but aside from that, nothing.
Beginnings are never easy, especially in the Negev.
Mitzpe Ramon is hours away from other towns.
How are you attracting high-level staff? We quickly realized we couldn’t open a graphics studio in Mitzpe Ramon, because we found only one local designer and we couldn’t rely only on that. Then a series of incidents occurred that shaped the direction of the office.
One day, the then-CEO of McCann Digital came to me and said all the clients wanted Facebook pages, but it wasn’t worthwhile because the profits were low.
Shortly afterward, [Universal McCann Search CEO] Ophir Cohen came by, and said that at McCann Tel Aviv he wasn’t able to do search engine marketing/ search engine optimization.
I said, “Excellent,” and we found Maoz Dagani, a genius who grew up in Arad and was looking for an opportunity to go back down South with his family.
We convinced him to move to Mitzpe Ramon as SEM/ SEO manager.
Next I contacted Hadar Gur Aryeh, then CEO of the Regev-Kavitsky advertising agency. I had wanted her to be the CEO of a start-up, but she convinced me we needed her in the office at Mitzpe Ramon. She moved there with her husband and kids, and took the position of advertising director. So then I had three key people who could put things in motion. I had six employees, and she came at the right time, because I was missing a dyed-in-the-wool publicist.
Then Guy Oren joined us – I call him the “Digital Aspergers” – he’s a genius, truly a genius.
From that moment, we realized we were establishing an office for new media.
Eight people in an advertising office in the middle of the desert – that’s a big responsibility.
You need courage to succeed in life. A year ago, at Hanukka, I wrote a personal blog post titled “Eight candles – My eight heroes.” Today we have 35 employees, all from the Negev.
How many employees can you take on board at McCann Valley? We can take on 120 – the building is already too small, and we’ve been trying for some time to locate a larger one. Just today, after a long saga, we received word that we’ll be given a 1,000-meter hangar, and that Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund of the UK had raised funds to build offices there.
That happened today? Congratulations! It’s really good news. Think about it – 120 employees, with their spouses and children, moving to a place that has constantly suffered from negative growth.
We’re “making the desert bloom,” in the truest sense of the phrase. If another 1,000 families come, they can change the fate of Mitzpe Ramon dramatically.
What kind of people are a good fit for moving to Mitzpe Ramon? Salt-of-the-earth types with strong values who are willing to face challenges and conquer them. We’ve moved 15 families to Mitzpe, an amazing group that shares the same values.
How is working at McCann Valley different from working at the Tel Aviv office? When you’re outside the office, you’re in the desert.
Whoever goes there for the first time thinks I’m crazy.
But the moment they set foot in the office, they see an exact copy of McCann Tel Aviv. It’s an enormous, exciting difference. Inside – the same tables and chairs, the same computer screens, even the same posters. It’s like a mirage. Outside, Mitzpe Ramon; inside, Tel Aviv.
Most importantly, at Mitzpe Ramon everything is simpler and calmer, so there aren’t any attention deficit problems. What could be better?
What do you love about the desert? I’m enchanted by the desert.
Mitzpe Ramon has something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world: the beautiful, subtle landscape; the little things that transform the desert into an astonishing artwork; clean air; quiet. The chaos of the city simply doesn’t exist there.
Tell us about the population of Mitzpe Ramon.
The people here are very special.
Most of the people I’ve met here, I’d be happy to remain friends with for the rest of my life – wonderful people who have stayed here despite the difficulties, and they are many.
You didn’t face cultural resistance? Not at all. We work to integrate into the community and become part of it. For example, we run a programming course for Mitzpe residents. Any of the participants who want to work for us get preferential treatment. We pay municipal taxes and provide income for local suppliers. I couldn’t be there if they objected to our existence.
What is your vision? Elsewhere around the world, people have established businesses in distant peripheries, and those businesses became magnets for additional ventures. I would like to see other business ventures joining us, many more companies. I’m still looking for those people who will follow me in this mission and say, “Hana, we’re with you.”
At the moment, the person who gives me the most support is our chairman, Ilan Shiloah; he’s the only one. If there were other business ventures here, it would change this country.
Do you have other plans? I started in Mitzpe Ramon, and I hope that once we have 120 employees here, I’ll go on to Yeroham and build another project with 120 employees, then to Beersheba and Eilat. I want to create economically feasible businesses that will attract other ventures and entrepreneurs.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced? The understanding that you’re the entrepreneur, and you alone have to obtain all the resources with which to launch the project.
The state doesn’t help us. It’s amazing to me that I got the money to expand the office, to build space for many more employees from… McCann, a company that belongs to Americans. It’s absurd, but we’ve overcome that challenge.
Will you share a personal experience that made you proud? One day, a talented employee from McCann Tel Aviv came to me, and said he wanted to leave Israel and go live in Canada with his wife and son. I told him about Mitzpe Ramon, and the next day he announced they would move here and join McCann Valley. Today, he works here as a senior copywriter. 
Want to be a client of McCann Valley and help Mitzpe Ramon? Contact Hana Rado: