Doing World-Changing Work With No Agency

After senior roles at Y&R and Scholz & Friends, Serbian creative Svetlana Ćopić is combining life at a smaller agency with her own project. She tells us why "no" may be the right answer. Full disclosure: Svetlana Ćopić is something of a friend of the family. When she was the editor of Serbia’s groundbreaking New Moment magazine (founded by an agency that went on to become part of Y&R) she served with me on the Epica Awards jury. After she finally hung up her journalistic hat to concentrate on advertising, we met from time to time on the juries of other awards. So when I heard she was starting her own agency, I decided to find out more. But it turns out I was wrong – sort of. Perhaps it’s better if Svetlana explains. How did you start your career in advertising? SC: It started out of the agony of too much choice, really. I was always writing, drawing, designing, directing plays… in short, making things. But how on Earth did that translate into a single career? Then I read a quote, saying something like, “In my life, I wanted to be a writer, an artist, a director, a scientist… and I have become all that by working in advertising.” From then on, my path was set. I started as a copywriter and then had a very straight up trajectory, leading up to being a creative director in Belgrade and three more offices in the SEE region. You recently moved from your post as creative director at Scholz and Friends to a new agency, Block & Roll. Why was it a good move for you? SC: My greatest fear growing up was that I would somehow stumble into the 9 to 5 trap, which in a way I did, only it was more “10 to 10” really. Most of the time I was at meetings, handling people, office politics and clients. I was aware of the irony: as an awarded creative director in a creative agency, I felt creatively frustrated. I loved the job, but started to deeply dislike the way it was done in corporate advertising. “Creative corporation” is an oxymoron, really. The agency system is incredibly old-fashioned, robust and slow to change. Also, still very aggressively macho. Creatives, who are the soul of advertising, are notoriously overworked and underpaid. The richest people in advertising are not the creatives, but corporate suits who have never created an idea in their lives. I didn’t want to have anything to do with all that anymore, but was still passionately in love with the bright, untamed, unruly, disruptive and witty side of advertising that had drawn me into it at the first place. Following the brilliant advice from Cindy Gallop to “GTFO”, I quit my job and accepted an offer from a small and fun independent agency, Block & Roll, which was ready to give me much more freedom and flexibility. In parallel, I stared working on an idea that had been haunting me for years. That’s your passion project, No Agency. Explain to us how it works. SC:I never wanted to have my own agency. So, I created No Agency. It is a cross-national, cross-agency network of internationally recognized creatives gathered around the goal of creating ideas that add value to society and culture, while enjoying every moment of it. No Agency clients get a handpicked and expertly curated team that best suits their specific needs in a way no agency could ever match. It’s like having an exclusive temporary “agency” that has only one mission: to make something amazing from their brief. The fair and transparent fee system is turned upside down compared to the standard model – with minimal overheads, money goes to the people who actually create. No Agency is exclusively project-based and doesn’t participate in pitches, as we deeply believe they are not serving anyone. The most successful projects are based on mutual trust, deep personal understanding and shared courage to make a bold decision and stay behind it. As part of the No Agency project you recently ran a successful campaign. Can you talk us through that? SC: This is one of those projects I feel grateful to have been given a chance to work on. We were shocked to learn from the non-government Autonomous Women’s Center that only two percent of women suffering domestic violence were aware there was a SOS helpline they could call to get free and immediate legal and psychological support. In cooperation with the biggest Serbian sanitary pad producer, the SOS helpline number was printed in the one place completely hidden from male view, yet visible to every woman – at a small piece of paper holding the wings together inside every sanitary pad.

The SOS number inside the package of a sanitary pad

The SOS number is now always within the reach of women all over Serbia, regardless of their age, profession, education and place of living.

After the first 5 months, 10.5 % more women experiencing violence had reached out to the Autonomous Women’s Center for help. The number will remain on the pads as a permanent feature.

As a creative, I always believed it was my job to create ideas that change things for the better and this project has been incredibly rewarding.

What’s your ambition for No Agency going forward?

I believe people are fed up with advertising and starved for authenticity. So, we made this crucial: if we accept a brief, it’s only because we are crazy about it, certain we can create something outstanding and can wholeheartedly stand behind it. This is the only way No Agency can keep coming up with interesting and different projects that have a real and meaningful impact and inspire people. We are not growth, but quality oriented.

While it seems that No Agency is best suited for independent, young and innovative brands, we would actually love to work with traditional and global brands that feel the need to be invigorated. On a personal note, I especially enjoy working for fashion and culture brands and there will certainly be a few new steps into that area in the future.

I hope No Agency will serve as an inspiration for other innovative forms of advertising agencies and “agencies” that seem to be popping up everywhere. Advertising needs to change for the good of all. After all, happy creatives make better ideas. 

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