Highsnobiety’s Vuk Bojovic Talks Business Development, Cultural Trends, and Brand Loyalty

Kelcie Gene Papp
June 11, 2024
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NEW YORK - As we cruise nearer to 2025, Highsnobiety stands on the brink of a milestone - two decades of disrupting the status quo and cementing itself as a fully-fledged legacy publication in the world of fashion, culture, and innovation.

Among the architects of this cultural supernumerary is Business Development Director, Vuk Bojovic; Whose strategic vision and relentless pursuit of growth have been pivotal in shaping the publication's trajectory.

And, unlike its contemporaries, Highsnobiety's differentiation comes from its dedication to not only spotlighting what's trending or next but also understanding what makes something truly timeless. Vuk’s role involves more than just driving new business; it's about forging deep, meaningful partnerships that bridge the gap between niche cultures and mainstream appeal. Where other publishing platforms might zoom in on the puff, Highsnobiety pulls back to reveal the broader cultural context, offering a deeper dive into how and why trends emerge.

Reflecting on his inaugural year at Highsnobiety, Vuk shares, “I feel great! I work with a bunch of smart, driven, young people to offer a distinctive and authentic POV on culture to large brands. I believe now's the time to have these conversations on the highest level.”

His biggest wins of the last 12 months? In the automotive and CPG spaces. “We got to be the official launch partner for Nissan's all-new Kicks model which uses cultural pioneers to tell the story of intersections of sneaker and car design.” He shares, continuing “The other thing that I enjoyed working on was Coca-Cola's first Real Magic Creative Academy where we worked with AI artists from around the world and ultimately promoted their work at Highsnobiety's NYFW space as part of our "Not In" series that we do in key cities around the fashion week.”

As it approaches its 20th year, Highsnobiety is the cultural curator of our time for the discerning, the daring and those of us deeply invested in the future of authentic creative expression.

I sat down with Vuk to find out more about business development, advertising, his role and the politics of agency new business.

Kelcie - How did you get into Business Development?

Vuk - So I started in 2024 at an agency in New York. I was super fortunate to start when the business was small, ready to go big. I worked on the Anheuser-Busch account and any time we pitched other big new business, they pulled me in for resources. And I wanted to do it. 

I remember I was in a room with my managing director (back then, she's now a Chief Growth Officer.) And I remember being in a room when she pitched Kashi. How she was doing it, was - this woman found her calling. It’s like when you watch, a ballet and they make it look so seamless or you watch football and Messi is just - it just looks like second nature. She was just so good at sales.

The way she was asking questions, and navigating a conversation, and I wanted to do that. It was great to work closely with her and then I moved to an agency in London then onto Singapore when a previous agency bought a business out there to expand the offering and global presence. 

Talking with clients before a brief is in place is something that I enjoy. And, the purpose isn't to talk about the project itself, it's just to get them excited. Get them pumped about the opportunity. The purpose of it isn't to get anything signed or talk about budgets; just to get some butterflies going and understand that it's a long-term process. It's not like we sell insurance; we sell emotion and the possibility.

What did your day-to-day look like then, being in the US versus the UK versus Asia?

I think the US and UK are quite similar. Asia versus the West is completely different because in Asia you have one stakeholder always. And you need to understand what they want. Whereas in a typical corporate America or corporate EU environment is, a process that is managed by the likes of Accenture and Deloitte etc, and then on client side, procurement. They just enter a pool of agencies and try to find ways to cut down to go to the next round, the next round, the next round. It kind of makes sense from a data point of view, but from a point of view of operations, it doesn't.

Because you essentially look for ways not to work with good agencies. And, you look for a checklist of things instead of a relationship with an agency. It's quite different between Asia and the West because you need to understand the client and the ask and how they do business and being a white person in Asia, given I'm Serbian, I'm from Belgrade. You know, you need to demonstrate that you really understand. I mean, starting a new brand in Indonesia, a mainstream brand, has an almost greater target audience than the population of the US. So say you create a Muslim-targeted soap that uses ingredients mentioned in the Quran. So it's focused but, focused in Asia is still 500 million people.

In the US versus the UK, I think the biggest difference is that there's not as much opportunity in the UK specifically in what I was doing around consumer packaging goods. And everyone's fighting for everyone's piece. Whereas in the US, it's a bit more split.

They have their own thing and these guys do packaging and you kind of know who to call. Whereas in the UK, there are so many agencies. (I'm pretty sure London is the highest per square foot) And everyone's fighting for everything and everyone does everything so clients are confused. That's often why big clients are a lot more comfortable giving their money to one of the big four networks. And if it doesn't work, we'll reevaluate in five years. [Working at] previous agencies was eye-opening.

Would you agree that brands are becoming more vigilant about where they spend their advertising dollars, and that ROI is becoming a more prominent conversation, especially in the context of the rapid advancement of AI and its impact on the world's economy?

Brands are increasingly cautious about their advertising investments, with a growing emphasis on return on investment (ROI), particularly in light of AI advancements. However, change is progressing slowly. Despite acknowledging inefficiencies in their current strategies, many clients, including some of the world's largest companies, view a significant overhaul of their approach as a gradual process rather than an immediate shift. 

This conservative stance often stems from the pressures of meeting quarterly financial targets, especially for publicly traded companies. A crucial role of agencies is to act as consultants, challenging clients' assumptions and strategies to ensure they target the right demographics and channels. 

This consultative approach not only corrects misalignments but also fosters long-term relationships by encouraging openness and vulnerability. It's through this challenging and constructive feedback that agencies can drive meaningful change and build lasting partnerships with clients, much like the enduring relationship between Nike and Wieden.

What are your thoughts on Cannes and industry awards in general?

Regarding Cannes and industry awards, there's a paradox at play: if everyone is celebrated, then the distinction of being celebrated loses its weight. 

Awards have transformed into badges of participation for large corporations, a means for them to declare their creativity rather than a genuine recognition of innovation. The impact these awards are purported to have often translates into a display of status and financial power, rather than a true nurturing of creativity.

And, ultimately, agencies aren’t challenging anything. They never challenge the brief. You just go and do what the clients told you every quarter because if you're challenged, that means that number might go into the next quarter or the quarter after.

The benchmark for agencies now seems to be winning awards - pencils, lions, you name it. This approach doesn't foster genuine creativity or encourage questioning the status quo; instead, it reinforces a cycle of compliance with client demands, fearing that true innovation might push deadlines or upset quarterly goals. And the real losers are innovation and meaningful progress.

With all of this at play, what advice do you have with all your experience for a boutique creative shop wanting to buck the trend in developing new business?

You know, one of the biggest mistakes that independent agencies make, is thinking that all business is good business. No, it's not. It absolutely isn't because a bad client ruins your culture and your reputation. If you do bad work, people are just going to know you do bad work and they won't work with you; not all money is good money. So have target lists. A target list is key.

Where do you want to grow and how? Pouring huge sums into award submissions and lavish industry events isn't the best investment, especially when the real goal is to impact the client's bottom line. The essence of effective business development lies in strategic focus: knowing your targets, understanding how new business complements the existing portfolio, and maintaining a balanced client base to mitigate risks.

Ideal client distribution—a diversified portfolio where no single client dominates revenue—is rare but crucial for stability. Risk management involves calculated ventures into new areas, using a portion of resources to experiment and innovate within your community, creating meaningful work that resonates.

Strategically, it's about having a clear hierarchy of potential clients and recognizing the inherent risks in pursuing them, with the understanding that a strong foundation of existing clients provides the stability needed for exploration. A common pitfall is only seeking new business in times of scarcity, a reactive approach that undermines long-term success. Proactivity, a deep understanding of your market, and a willingness to take calculated risks are key to sustainable growth and resilience.

The biggest mistake that agencies make is they think of new business when they don't have any. It's too late. 

Agencies need that anchoring of a robust pipeline

Understanding new business goes beyond seeing it merely as sales; it's about nurturing a seed, a relationship that can flourish over time. Immediate projects might not always be necessary, but future needs can emerge, requiring different types of engagement.

I would say a significant oversight is not recognising the distinct goals different parts of a business may have, especially in creative industries. This diversity of aims can lead to disagreements about which clients to pursue, highlighting the need for a unified strategy. The essence of business development is clarity in the types of clients you're targeting, ensuring alignment across the team.

When venturing out for new business, having a defined objective is crucial. If the catch doesn't match the company's appetite, efforts are wasted. A well-outlined strategy is essential, acknowledging that while disagreements may arise, a cohesive and clear direction on the type of business to pursue remains key to navigating the complexities and challenges of new business development.

How do you feel about generative AI? 

I think only going to get better. And there should be transparency. AI should be used in creative ways. I was at an event some time ago, and I met Steven Sagmeister. I was like a child. I came to him, and I was like, hey, I love your work and he was saying something similar about AI. He's exploring how to leverage AI for lasting design impact, beyond just the transient allure of novelty.

Working alongside Tom Goodwin at a previous agency, I really admire his direct perspective on generative AI. It often garners attention for its novelty, but we have to acknowledge our dwindling attention spans. The creations deemed impactful today may not hold value tomorrow, emphasizing the need for AI to forge long-term solutions and not just short-lived wonders.

Generative AI's promise is undeniable, but its real test lies in moving beyond mere spectacle to solve genuine challenges, enhancing functionality in creativity and design. David Fischer (@mrsnob) and @highsnobiety are notable voices in the cultural dialogue around this.

The current fascination with AI's capabilities to produce 'cool' things overshadows a more crucial conversation about its potential to address functional gaps. It's time to shift focus from what AI can create to what problems it can solve, paving the way for meaningful innovation and lasting impact.

Impactful functionality. 

Yes, Impact. How does it create impact?

Tell me about the nature of your role at Highsnobiety. 

In my role at Highsnobiety, I focus on traditional sales within our partnerships team, working directly with major commercial brands across sectors like automotive, food and beverage, and quick-service restaurants. Our core mission is to foster partnerships and sell media and content that resonate with our audience's cultural interests. We're deeply connected with what we call 'cultural pioneers'—our main demographic—leveraging their insights to stay ahead of trends, often achieving more timely and relevant understandings than traditional, costly research methods.

Our approach is centred on cultural consulting, aiming to engage the younger consumer in authentic and innovative ways. Unlike typical agency sales roles, which involve extensive proposal writing and stakeholder discussions, my focus is primarily on client relationships. This is supported by our internal teams, freeing me from the intricacies of project management within business development.

Highsnobiety also houses HS Plus, a division that functions similarly to an agency, encompassing event planning, production, and project management, all in-house. This allows us to maintain our authority in fashion and streetwear, highlighted through flagship events in major fashion capitals. Our goal is always to forge unexpected partnerships and provide unique value to our clients, continually exploring new ways to elevate their connection with culture. How do we help clients get that clout? 

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With year one under his belt, Vuk is looking forward to a summer that’ll see “some new conversations come to fruition in categories where we haven't traditionally been in, as well as see the work that's currently in the shop out in the world.”

And, on a more personal note, he’s “pumped to run a half marathon, binge UEFA Euro, and take many rolls of film through my camera.”

One thing is for sure, we can’t wait to see what FW24 looks like for Highsnobiety and what partnerships come next.

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Kelcie Gene Papp
Founder & Editor