Ina Karadzhova is the Creative Director of Hop Online. Born in Ruse, Bulgaria, she later moved to the United States, Chicago, where she lived until she joined Hop Online in 2011.
We finally pinned Ina down for a few moments to ask some questions about what she does, what inspires her, and how she feels about contributions of creative people in a content marketing agency.
Ina also promised to answer all other questions that we’ve left out from our readers, so please leave your questions in the comments.
What did you do before Hop Online? What was your professional road to here?
I graduated with a MFA in Textiles, but when I moved to the US shortly after, I started working as an art teacher for kids with special needs. Nearly at the same time I started studying Graphic and Web Design in a local college and after graduating changed my career path. I have spent some time both in corporate and freelance worlds, and I liked the second one better because of the freedom it gave me. I was able to take gigs and projects and use the time between them to travel.
Tell us more about your work. What are the responsibilities of the Creative Director?
Let me start by saying that I love my job in Hop Online! It spans many different areas, requires a very wide scope of skills and talents, and is tremendously challenging at times. A lot of people think that being Creative Director means doing mostly design, i.e. overseeing the creative parts of the projects – visual and/or written. Actually, it involves leading and helping to shape the entire creative vision of the company, which in a case of a startup such as Hop Online is a vital part of the business development.
At the start I was “Jill of all trades.” I produced billable work, created designs from scratch, recruited staff, communicated with clients and team-members, spent countless hours together with our CEO Paris and COO Anastasia in building our company to become as it is now. We are still doing that with a great drive and enthusiasm and are very happy to look at our constantly growing team, full of inspired and restlessly creative people, all of them experts in their fields.
What does your day-to-day life in the company look like?
It is often a mess, but a very interesting, fulfilling, result-oriented mess. A startup is almost always equal to chaos, but out of chaos are born the best possibilities. I somehow managed to combine my creativity with the discipline acquired while working in the US corporate world. In these terms, I am grateful to corporate America for the priceless lessons I learned there. Not a single person, nor a company could move and go anywhere without a strong organization, discipline and hard work every day. The latter might seem boring and troublesome to many, but luckily, at Hop Online we all are united by one idea and one goal – to create an environment which nurtures creativity, freedom and constant personal and professional development, while attracting and keeping the best experts in our industry. This shared inspiration moves us throughout the everyday challenges we face as a team and individuals.
My workdays are all different and, at the same time, alike. Most of the time I do several things at once – reviewing the latest creative concept, brainstorming a content strategy, designing a web banner or a business card, thinking about topics for articles, editing a freshly written blog post, coding HTML, training a new team-member, answering emails of clients, researching and implementing new tools.
What are your responsibilities?
I consider my most important responsibility to create and sustain an idea-friendly environment in Hop Online – to make our company known not only for high quality services and happy clients, but for constantly staying ahead, trying, testing and participating in creation of the newest trends, implementing them for the good of all stakeholders. Last but not least, having one of the most friendly, freedom-loving and open-minded teams that could possibly exist.
It may sound a bit strange that a SEO company has a Creative Director but you actually manage a team of almost ten people. Can you explain a bit more about that?
It might sound strange in Bulgaria because Creative Directors aren’t seen too often in Bulgarian companies. Furthermore, I wouldn’t say that we are a SEO company. We offer many different services in the Inbound Marketing industry, and SEO is just one of them. Content marketing, for example, is one of the fastest growing new trends, and we have a lot of content marketing projects. It is a very creative trend and requires having talented writers on the team. They are most of the people I manage currently. The others are visual editors and web developers, some in-house, some out-of-house. They are all artists in some way or another.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Delivering timely, high-quality and targeted content and educating clients about the need for such content if they wish to promote their business successfully online. Nowadays trends change very fast and it requires persistence and stamina to constantly educate ourselves. Not sinking down in the false comfort of the temporary success, but staying on top, looking forward, is the greatest challenge of my job.
You have some great talent and a kaleidoscope of interesting people in your team, how did you manage to recruit them?
I was known for my ability to meet the most interesting people long before I came to Hop Online. Some people have been joking, that it was one of my lifetime-tasks. Jokes aside, I have an eye for talent and for some time I have been the unofficial head-hunter for Hop Online. The trick here is to look for talents at unconventional places. We work in Social Media and it is a common predisposition to look for people on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Nevertheless, I have found that the most talented writers seldom have active social media profiles. They are either the quiet dorky type, sitting in some cozy room, staying aside from the fun in the streets, just observing and contemplating, or the outgoing life-of-the-party type, who is always talking to people and telling stories. Either way, they somehow skip on the LinkedIn profile. So, whenever I spot such a person I find ways to connect.
What do you think is the most important quality for someone who wants to start a career in content marketing?
Empathy. You have to be able to genuinely empathize, to walk in the shoes of your clients and their customers, in order to be able to deliver true to the core and convincing content. We are already going on a very different path than the one traditional marketing used to follow. I would recommend a great book to everyone who thinks of starting in the Content Marketing field – A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink.
What is the secret to great content according to you?
Empathy and the ability to evoke emotions. But there are some others as well. Great content:
- is expertly and impeccably written (you should be able to easily spot professionally written content in the ocean of mediocre and shallow pieces on the web)
- gives a practical answer to some specific question/s
- is based on strong evidence or analytical and convincing logic
- matches the readability level of the target auditory (if you love writing for kids, there is a chance you won’t be so excited to write about Finance, and vice versa, although I highly respect multifaceted wunderkinds, who are able to successfully cover these two topics and later produce a white paper on the Medieval Chinese philosophy – yes, we have such people on the team!).
You consider yourself an artist. Tell us more about your personal interests and hobbies?
As I said in the beginning of the interview, I have a higher education in Fine Arts. Years later I understood that being an artist is not a profession, it is a way of living. Being an artist doesn’t mean getting into a studio to draw or write or play an instrument. It is how you live – to the smallest details possible – no matter if at home or at the office. It requires a lot of courage and never-ending curiosity.
In that sense I have many interests, among which are philosophy and religion (Sufism in particular), sustainable way of living, natural homes, holistic health practices, astrology, art-therapy and many others.
What do you enjoy painting the most?
I enjoy most what I paint at the moment. Recently I have started a series of big-scale silk paintings of Eastern deities like Buddha, Green Tara, and I plan to keep working on them. I have explored different styles and techniques, among which oils, acrylic, watercolors, fused glass, mosaic, paper, felting.
You’ve lived for a long time in the United States, what do you think is the main difference between living there and in Bulgaria?
The opportunity of being able to live on two continents and travel on four is a precious gift and it has taught me the priceless lesson that it doesn’t matter where you live as long as you live in peace within yourself.
Nevertheless, I still have some observations about cultural and social differences. In the US there are a lot more possibilities and responsibilities. You learn to be responsible for yourself from an early age. Here in Bulgaria people are more used to the safety nets of friends and family. It is wonderful to have such close emotional support, but as all things, it has its ups and downs. This safety net often creates a sense of comfort, which puts our creativity to rest. It would be very interesting to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs here – in Bulgaria, due to the young yet democracy, a lot of people are still discovering the second and third level of the pyramid – namely the security of employment, health, property and next intimacy, friendship, family. But I see more and more young, confident and daring people too, and I believe that what we do here in Hop Online gives its small, but important contribution to these social and cultural changes in the country – one person, one team at a time.
Latest posts by Sabina Panayotova (see all)
- Hop Online’s Paris Childress: Content marketing is a process - October 11, 2013
- Meet Ina, Our Amazing Creative Director - October 6, 2013