A ‘Very creative director’ Vanja Blumenšajn and a ‘Super managing director’ Iva Kaligarić talked with Lider about Señor's success, future plans and trends in the domestic advertising market. Read more below.

Sandra Babić: During your speech at ‘IdejaX’, you mentioned that you were particularly pleased to have received awards for campaigns you’ve executed in your own way. How would you describe 'your way'?

Vanja: In everything we do, we think about improving the industry scene as well. Agencies are partly responsible for many problems in the industry as well; from taking part in too many pitches and fulfilling client’s requirements without question, to lack of effort. Maybe it's sort of a David-Goliath syndrome in me, but I think it’s great that an agency with much fewer employees than its competitors became Agency of the Year in the region on 'BalCannes' or now on 'IdejaX', or the most efficient independent agency according to the Effie index. We believe, perhaps a bit selfishly, that by setting higher standards and improving client-agency relationships, we help everyone - including ourselves. We choose projects that resonate with us, where we can give and feel significant contribution; projects that benefit the client, but also the audience they’re intended for; smart projects that engage consumers rather than underestimating them. And we work with people who recognize this and know how to appreciate it. Naturally, the more trust and involvement in the process from the very beginning - even in detecting challenges before locking in the brief - the better. Of course, we love doing small silly projects as well, as long as they’re relevant and interesting. Otherwise, what’s their point?

Iva: I love socially responsible projects. We strive to launch or support a project aimed at a better and fairer society every year - from fighting for human rights, helping marginalized members of society and children, to healthier entrepreneurship practices.

Sandra Babić: Is the quality of marketing communication a reflection of clients or creatives?

Iva: Communication as such is a reflection of the relationship between clients and creatives. There is still a great deal of mistrust on the market, forcing clients to announce pitches and reduce their risk in decision-making, simultaneously reducing agencies’ motivation and sustainability. Our take on the solution to this distrust is going to pitches very rarely - without intensive mutual communication and understanding, optimal results cannot be delivered. Señor's approach to projects and results so far has been to showcase the effectiveness of our method, so clients often approach us with a desire to make a shift in their category, a priori being open to new and bolder solutions. We enter collaborations only after both sides get to know each other - meeting key people, visions, values and culture is important, and we encourage clients to study the steps that precede a project in detail. Our approach to their scan is just as detailed, of course.

Vanja: The answer is, of course, somewhere in the middle. Communication is the way it is because of everyone included in the process. We often hear: this client is like this, that one is difficult, this one has no budget... but I think Señor's specialty is taking an impossible situation, but then finding the right angle and making a good thing happen. For example, Outdoor Akzent briefed us for a small billboard campaign to promote the importance of large areas, and we created ‘Say it out loud’, a campaign that connected the offline and the online, crashed servers and was named the best digital campaign of the year on MIXX awards. It’s a good example of how, if you’re not happy with a brief that you get or a particular situation, you can try to make something that you are happy with - and sometimes you succeed at it. The easiest thing to do is to point your finger at the other side. There are, of course, some lost causes too - but recognizing this and finding a compatible partner is wisdom all in itself.

Sandra Babić: How did COVID-19 influence the market - in the business context, as well as in the context of communication quality? Can the market use some lessons learned during the pandemic?

Iva: During the first half of the year, COVID had silenced communication - only to, then, ignite it in the second half. The first part of the year helped us strengthen long-distance customer relationships, as we were no longer just doing marketing for them but also served as business partners that shared their experiences in managing people and business, looking for internal marketing solutions, suggesting product development solutions and tailoring financial solutions to overcome the crisis (longer payment deadlines e.g.). The second part of the year gave clients some tailwind.

Vanja: Extensive research has shown that people expect significantly more help from brands in their everyday life during the pandemic, rather than just giving discounts or promotions. So I think the conclusion is that we should focus on connecting with consumers, see how our products and communication can improve their lives, and thus continuously build a long-term brand image. In the hardest of times, empathy and understanding come into play. Brands are turning to society and this holds the greatest value. Zagrebačka banka, for example, took a back seat with their own products and instead focused on helping the affected tourism sector entities with their '#firsttime' campaign.

Sandra Babić: Have you been hiring lately and do you plan to? Which segments do you feel achieve the most growth (creative, digital)?

Vanja: That’s a big problem for the entire industry. It seems to me that we struggle with having a youthful appearance - the “sexy image” has been slightly taken over by startups, so it takes more effort to attract promising young talent in all areas. And perhaps it’s also a generational thing, where young people nowadays have less patience to learn and become experts at what they do. This is a job that requires breadth but also a specific skill set and knowledge and there is no talent that can save the world without learning and experience. At Señor we always have at least a few juniors in all areas. We see it as an investment, sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't, but it's up to all of us to raise our successors. It is especially difficult to find seniors who have the combination of knowledge and motivation we look for here at Señor. At the moment, we’re looking for a creative director and maybe after reading this someone will recognize himself/herself in it.

Iva: We leave behind us what was probably the most unusual year of our lives, and certainly, the most unusual one in Señor's history. Dealing with the challenges of working from home and in an uncertain business environment, the focus was to make up for the projects we lost during the lockdown in order to maintain the working conditions, salaries, avoid cuts and even be able to hire new colleagues - and that is perhaps our biggest success this year. We know many other agencies that dealt with these challenges. From the very beginning, we’ve had continuous employee growth, and we’re now approaching the number twenty.

Sandra Babić: Is there a special project that was the turning point for Señor?

Iva: Iskon was a turning point for us, one of the biggest telecom operators, with whom we immediately clicked and started doing great things. The collaboration, which has lasted for almost a decade now and has dominated the telecommunication category at 'IdejaX' (seven, eight golden prizes). The first campaign has certainly helped open some new doors for us. Perhaps I would single out ‘Iskrena vina’, ‘Tisućaši’… projects where we dove deep into the core of the product, not just the brand.

Vanja: We work on very different projects, from TVC campaigns to digital projects, packaging, branding, annual reports... but what they all have in common is a dose of intelligent humour and an insight into life that can be easily understood. That’s crucial as without it, communication is not communication. Quality pop that reaches the audience, but is not stupid and banal is the hardest thing to achieve. It is the holy grail we always seek out. I love campaigns such as ‘Iskon Casting’, ‘Iskrena vina’, ‘Wiener platforma’, but also self-initiated projects such as ‘Umjetnost feedbacka’, and many others.

Sandra Babić: What are your further plans?

Iva: Continuous work on improving internal processes, searching for new talents, strengthening relationships with existing clients and making new connections, strengthening digital communication and further specialization in branding, working on socially responsible projects. In other words, we’ve recognized our strengths, now is the time to nurture them but also continuously examine and perfect them.

Vanja: To get a good night’s rest.