Sling & Stone may not be a large network, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in purposeful, niche work for some of ANZ’s most promising start-ups. It’s also a model agency which others can look to when it comes to cultivating a healthy, happy work environment. At the core of this modern management style is Vuki Vujasinovic (pictured above), an empathetic leader who took a three-month pay cut last year to ensure that his entire team went without redundancies, pay cuts, and furloughs. Just last month, the agency announced that it was acquired by VCCP Business, resulting in a combined technology billing of US$40 million.
What does this acquisition mean for Sling & Stone’s clients and the services you offer them?
I think we’re at a unique point in time, where we can create a highly sought-after global specialist service. The challenger brands, disruptive innovations, and high-growth tech businesses in the world are shaping the future of everything—how we live, how we work, and how we play. No one has nailed the combination of scale and skills required to help those types of brands everywhere. Joining part of the VCCP Business group means we can help to make that happen.
What this means is the global scale that we now have, working alongside sister agencies Method, Harvard, and inEvidence. Additionally, it means the strategic and creative firepower of VCCP and a host of specialist agencies in research, brand development, and more. So our clients get the same obsession and experience we’ve always delivered, but with the added scale and skills of a larger group.
What does more indie outfits being acquired mean for the industry? Is this a positive ‘trend’?
Great question, because I know there have been lots of arguments on both sides of this coin in recent years. I think in years or decades gone by, with a very limited pool of potential acquirers, agency owners didn’t have many options. And going down this path did mean major changes to the way they ran their businesses. But things change. It’s clear that there are lots of groups out there that not just appreciate but truly value entrepreneurship. They want to capture and fuel that gumption, not to inhibit it. In that sense, I think the trend of more networks and groups empowering entrepreneurship is a very good thing.
How did culture factor into your consideration of potential acquirers?
Alongside growing what we could offer our clients, culture was at the top of my list through this process. There are a lot of different paths open to growing agencies these days—a lot more than when Sling & Stone launched in 2010. And I completely understand why some agency owners might not prioritise culture—because other things could sit higher than that for them. Plenty of potential acquirers absorb, assimilate, or dissolve the cultures of teams or groups they bring in. That’s quite simply not the path we chose.
We have built something special, and it was critical for us to have a partner that understands and appreciates the magic of this agency. Someone who wants to put rocket fuel behind that and see it fly. Jo Parker and the VCCP Business team truly get that. They’re people-first, they support unique and thriving cultures, and we’re so excited to be in a group like that.
What advice do you have for other independents out there who are looking to be acquired?
Put simply: focus. Don’t be a jack-of-all-trades. Figure out what you are both good at, and you enjoy doing. The cross-section of that is where the magic happens and where you should invest all your energy, resources, and time.
How has the pandemic shifted the way tech and start-ups are communicating in ANZ?
Things were different when we started the agency in 2010. If you went home to your parents and told them you got a job at a start-up you were more likely to be met with tears of fear than tears of joy.
That’s changed a lot in the last decade. The pandemic has absolutely accelerated this, because tech companies and start-ups have become centre stage. They’re not creating nice-to-have innovations. They’re literally shaping the future of everything. No industry is left untouched by technology, and the best work in this space is making people’s lives at work and at home much better. We’re so glad that we’ve been able to play a small part in that.
What’s changed especially since the pandemic is that tech and start-ups have to now understand that they’re a much bigger part of our economy, and certainly a major part of every economy’s future. For job creation, for wealth creation, and for innovation that touches people’s lives, their roles are critical. With that newfound importance comes responsibility. They have to communicate in a way that understands they are no longer just interesting, but they are now also important. The responsibility that comes with this has been the biggest and most important shift. You’ll see the implications of this play out for years to come.