Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
By: Ekrem Dupanović
Daniel Ackermann and Tomislav Grubišić were just over 20 years of age when they decided to start Degordian ten years ago.
This step was not a result of some strategic plan. They simply recognized the right opportunity at the right moment. Back then, Facebook wasn’t even used for marketing purposes, but Daniel and Tomislav realized that with it they could reach huge audiences with small budgets. They already had web and advertising experiences, but since they recognized Facebook’s potential, they decided to focus only on it and that was the best decision they ever made.
Had they opened a digital agency back then – and there were already a dozen of them in Croatia – today there would be no difference between others and Degordian.
That’s why they opened an agency specializing in Facebook, which no one else was doing, and as its importance grew, clients started knocking on their doors, because they were the only ones specialized in such a service.
They grew so fast that in just two years they managed to employ thirty people. Over time they realized that Facebook was just one small segment of a wider picture, so they then expanded to the full digital, and today they are more than just a digital agencies.
With the growth of Degordian, there was a need for expansion to some new areas, so they opened offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, Mediatoolkit was created, and now, Bornfight joined the family.
I talked about Degordian and its first ten years with Daniel Ackermann.
E.D.: How big is Degordian today, ten years after its founding, and what is the full service you offer your clients?
Daniel Ackermann: We should soon pass the 200 people mark, which is really a big deal. In our work we focus on close collaboration with the client, and our goal is to provide the best solutions for them strategically and creatively. In our work, we can offer our clients a wide range of knowledge and services – from digital advertising to web design and optimization, to creative strategies, social networking, and collaboration with influencers, and we have also recently created our first TV commercial.
We are very proud of this breadth because in one place we have a large number of talented experts who can offer clients the best solutions. We don’t only cover the usual services, for example, we have a few people dedicated to SEO, people who work only with motion graphics and video content, a team working with influencers, etc. This way we can guarantee very high quality and at the same time the integration of all segments of marketing, which is an advantage over some smaller agencies where a small number of people are doing. everything
E.D.: You’ve recently introduced PR services, encompassing one comprehensive communication offer.
Daniel Ackermann: Traditionally, agencies were more oriented towards creative (creative agencies) and distribution (media agencies), but I don’t think this is good practice. A creative agency would make a TV spot, the media agency would roll it out, and the job was over.
We wanted to change this – our goal is to integrate and link the entire cycle. We want to measure the distribution results on a daily basis so that we can adjust the creative and distribute a personalized message. We see this as an infinite loop that we can only maximize if we cover both.
In our strategy, we look for the missing pieces, so we could achieve even better results, and we have recognized this in digital PR that is oriented to collaboration with media and influencers. We don’t want to enter the sphere of traditional media lease as a distribution channel, because the efficiency is lower, but we want to focus on the channels that will provide the best result for the client and the digital PR fits very well as a complement to the other channels.
E.D.: If you look back after these ten years, what is the first time that comes to mind? What is the fondest memory, and what has left the biggest impression on you?
Daniel Ackermann: Back when we were starting, we didn’t have much expectations. Our first “office” was in my apartment where we didn’t have enough tables and chairs. We looked like teenagers whom no one wanted to receive for a meeting.
Our models were companies like Nivas, that had ten people, and we thought “What we could accomplish with a team of ten!!!” We didn’t even dream that we would grow so much, but somehow we have embedded in our foundations the thoughts that we still hold firm to.
First, we want to create a workplace where we all feel comfortable, where we will be happy and fulfilled, and where no one will come with anxiety.
Second, we want to give our maximum and do remarkable work. And we also want to be a top agency. We are not focused on profit (to this day we haven’t paid out a single Euro in profits), but on making something special.
Today, ten years later, we have almost 200 people and four best employer awards based on anonymous ratings of employees. These awards make me very proud, because I think that despite the fact that there are much more of us now, we have succeeded in achieving our dream – a phenomenal team who feels nice, happy, who are doing brutal projects and are working to become even bigger and stronger tomorrow.
E.D.: You do a lot of work abroad.
Daniel Ackermann: Yes. If we look at the entire group, 50% of our revenue comes from outside of the region. These are mostly US, UK, France, Canada, Australia, etc. we worked on a bunch of projects for Lufthansa globally, in Kuwait we worked on developing apps for the largest museum in the world, in the US we work for Manhattan School of Music, Vera Weng, etc.
E.D.: Your agency Bornfight won the Agency of The Year at the global awwwards show. What does this mean for you?
Daniel Ackermann: We are very ambitious and we really aim for global acknowledgments. This is proof that all of our energy and effort is recognized. We have received a lot of rewards for our work, but we have never received an award for the Agency of the Year in such a respectable competition. I feel enormous pride, and this is a great incentive to repeat something like this.
E.D.: When talking about growth in the region, are there enough people in the market? Are talents an issue like everywhere else?
Daniel Ackermann: There are never enough talents in IT, and now, when economic growth has accelerated, the population is getting older and is still affected by the brain drain. In the traditional segments there is not nearly enough talent available.
It is difficult, but corporate responsibility therefore must focus on culture and people more than ever. By this I mean that people need to feel better, and stay with a company as long as possible.
We are very happy because we have managed to create a good culture and a system in which people feel satisfied because they know that we provide them with opportunities for development and long-term business.
Employee turnover is very low, which is great, and on the other hand our people are the best brand ambassadors.
E.D.: How did it happen that you are the best employer for four years, and you still can’t always find people you need?
Daniel Ackermann: The market is very small and we are big. Occasionally, we need a person closely specialized in a position for which there are only two or three candidates in the entire market. As I have already said, culture is very important for us, and the person must be a good fit for the company and the team, so this also causes problems for us.
There are few candidates, and even fewer who would suit us.
E.D.: And what then?
Daniel Ackermann: That’s a huge problem. Agencies abroad solve it by importing experts, but Croatia and the region are not attractive yet, and the legislation is not adjusted.
We found the solution in focusing on the development from within. In teams we build a whole pyramid – from interns to seniors. We invest heavily in better and faster development of our people, and enabling them to progress further.
It’s a win-win situation because people develop and progress faster, and Degordian gains talents and knowledge.
E.D.: You talk about very low employee turnover. How do you manage to retain them in today’s market, when fluctuation of talents and good staff is a mass phenomenon to which our industry is definitely not immune?
Daniel Ackermann: Our people are daily approached by head hunters, Facebook, Google, US agencies, and so on, offering them jobs. We do many activities to make people happier, but I think that by far the most important thing is to care for people and to really think about how to make the workplace better.
What do we do about that? A lot. For example, last year we cancelled collaboration with a number of very profitable clients because we weren’t a good fit in terms of cooperation and relationship.
Projects and profits aside, but if people are frustrated and dissatisfied, it makes no sense to pursue them. In Degordian, we appreciate transparency, so we have introduced Degordian Express (internal newsletter), we maintain regular quality time meetings with administration (anyone from an intern level to managerial staff can come and ask anything) and we also have Pero Ždero (a Google form for anonymous questions that we are obliged to read at our board meetings, and answer them in front of everyone).
Also, we are constantly investing in our offices, in the ambience and education and we make a lot of effort in advanced selections to detect people that will culturally fit with us. There are also many small surprises, events and activities where our aim is to enable as much time out of everyday business.
We are trying to promote a healthy lifestyle, through sport and healthy diet. We are currently significantly improving our development platform where everyone will have defined development goals and materials custom-tailored for individuals, etc. We are very proud of our activities and the feedback they receive from employees – and they mean a lot to them as well.
E.D.: Is this the key moment in hiring someone, because if you hire a wrong person you can never make them into a good colleague, regardless of how much you try, or their “training” would cost too much. How do you actually employ people, do you have some special strategy?
Daniel Ackermann: Everything starts much before the actual employment – it starts from culture. We must define it in order to know what kind of persons can fit in and who do we look for.
After that, you need to define the selection process itself – we test the culture fit, we do a psychological test and a test of knowledge and potential.
We go so far as to do the same for the students, because it is our ultimate goal to hire them if they prove themselves.
E.D.: Can we have a tour of the Degordian, so our readers could get a feel for the company? What departments and teams do you have?
Daniel Ackermann: Account team that leads and agrees projects, then Project Management, under which we have marketing (video, influencers, social media..) and production (web, mobile…) teams.
Then there are Social Media & Digital PR team (social media is our oldest service), Digital Advertising, Web Analytics & Optimisation, Content & creative strategy team (video team, designers, copywriters, creative strategists), Backend and Frontend Development, UI & UX design, QA, iOS & Android, HR, our internal marketing, finances…
E.D.: You have offices in Zagreb, Belgrade and Mostar.
Daniel Ackermann: We opened the office in Bosnia and Herzegovina seven years ago, and in Serbia six years ago. Both offices are very successful – Serbia now has a staff of 46, BiH has 15 people, which is remarkably respectable for each of these markets.
On some projects, we from Zagreb provide support to them, but more and more often they provide support to Zagreb office. I’m very proud of all three offices.
E.D.: When we look at the entire region, what is Degordian’s biggest competitive advantage? What makes you stronger than other agencies? Better structure, better rounded set of services, quality people…?
Daniel Ackermann: We have several advantages, but there are two main ones.
The first is serious scope of services. There are a lot of full-service agencies employing a dozen people and claiming they can do everything well. In reality, this means that they are focused on two or three services, and the rest are outsourced. We are an agency that has almost 200 people and many segments. For advertising we have a team of 15 people, for social media 30-40, we have close to 70 people in production, which is really a lot of segments that enable integration with other services and meet our client’s standard of quality. I think that no one else in our market can do that except Degordian.
The second advantage is our culture and people. Our people live digital, and they live the projects we do. They always look at what we can be done differently and better. It often happens that we take over a project from a client, and receive feedback saying that over the past year of cooperation with their former agency, the team working with them had almost completely changed.
It infuses uncertainty and at the same time drastically reduces the quality. We have a stable team that has been working for the same client for years. This is a huge advantage, and clients appreciate it more and more.
E.D.: Where do you see Degordian in two, three, five years?
Daniel Ackermann: We will continue to grow. The 2019 has just started, but it already looks very good.
We have enormous plans and it seems that the pieces are settling in well. In the long run, we want to make something really big. In the first ten years, we created this from scratch, my great desire is to continue the same thing in the next ten years and make an even bigger story. Something that no one has done here before, something that is not only locally but also globally best.
We want to create a global agency that will have offices in New York, London and Hong Kong, where we will work with global clients and win global prizes. This is a great ambition, perhaps difficult to accomplish, but I believe we have good potential and we will do all in our power to achieve it one day.