Istvan Bracsok: Our world became super fast, so being relatively slow and expensive is not an option

In the beginning of October, 16 independent agencies from all around the globe, joined forces in a collective they named by The Network. (Actually, they originally named it another way, but you will find more about this intriguing story below). Their aim is to transform the way advertising industry meets the needs of the market nowadays. Each of the founding partners remains fully independent, while co-owning a share in the network.

We are really happy for the opportunity to speak about that, and much more, with Istvan Bracsok, Chief Creative Officer and Founding Partner at White Rabbit Budapest and since this Autumn - a Founding Partner at by The Network.

Istvan is one of those frank and genuine people, who still keep a positive view on the world and passionately believe in a change for the better. Enjoy the interview!

Hi Istvan! Let’s start from the happy occasion for this interview. Just a week ago, you and a long list of prominent names from the industry, launched the first of its kind global network of independent creative agencies. In the midst of a pandemic, while most of the businesses are going more conservative, you’ve actually decided to start something new. Tell us more about by The Network and the idea behind it. How did you join?

Hello! First of all, thanks a lot for this opportunity. It’s great to be here in Bulgaria, even if it’s a virtual presence. :)

Yep. You’re right. We live in a super chaotic yet super exciting era. It seems that only one thing is permanent: change. That’s why we decided to make something totally new. Because we think that we shouldn’t go with the change; we want to be the change. But this change didn’t start with the Pandemic. It started way before. Pandemic just made things more visible and painful, like a catalyst. Many clients are pretty unsatisfied with the structure that big agency networks offer. Our world became super fast, so being relatively slow and expensive is not an option anymore. We all need to be fast and cost effective. And we need to come up with ideas which engage the audience. Btw, idea. It's a super important word. Especially in our industry. This is our only currency. We should never forget that. But it seems that this is something that the "big boys" have forgotten. Anyway, the idea behind our new Network is super clear: we’re offering a brand new network system to our clients, which fits to the new era what we are faced with. The world around us changed completely, so the agency network structure or system can not remain the same. We've known Per [Per Pedersen, former Gray Global Creative Chairman, Founder of byTheNetwork, who assembled the collective. Ed.] for years, so we just started a conversation about the possibility of making something cool together earlier this year, and look how it developed! Hahaha!

You have been part of Saatchi&Saatchi, DDB and JWT - how do you feel about the traditional agencies? Do you believe that the model of by The Network is the future of the creative industry or it’s more like an additive that will make the landscape more diverse?

Well, there are still a lot of agencies that are stuck in the old ways of thinking about their added value. As an agency, you operate in an industry where your assets walk in and out of the door every day. Unsurprisingly, the value you bring to your clients comes down to what enters and exits the door. Not one agency can house all the talent required to deliver the best solution for every business out there.

The agency model as it currently stands follows traditional corporate structures and linear processes. It worked fine for the industrial age. A little consolidation tinkering and restructuring have allowed it to stagger on as the information age took hold. However, client requirements are already calling for teams consisting of an infinitely diverse list of specialties. Still no single agency can provide that. However, the network of the future can, or rather I would say: it can be done by The Network.

That really sounds right, but still as you also noted - the traditional global agency networks are structured as hierarchical organisations. And in your manifesto you state that by The Network has “no fancy headquarters, no fat cat salary executives and no horde of controllers”. It sounds like a more democratic style of doing business. Do you believe that this model can really compete on equal foot with the current Big 6?

Look, a kid in a dorm room created the largest social network in the world. Imagine what a coordinated network of rock-stars can do – without having tons of CFOs sniffing around us. The next big successful agency network is going to be one that manages to build a network of experts working transparently, efficiently and distributed together.

So, can we compete with the Big 6? We all believe so. However, we can not foresee the future, but it feels that we are on the right track.

And let me tell you a story. Last Thursday afternoon a special cake delivery was made by us at The & Partnership HQ in Soho, London. The cake was decorated with a big ‘&’ and a card that read:


We never in our wildest dreams thought we would get so much attention as we did when we launched ourselves as &TheNetwork last week. But as you know we did. Maybe because of our new approach to what it means to be a network, maybe because we built on true collaboration and a new and future-facing kind of creativity, maybe because we remain 100% independent without the backing of one of the holding companies of the past. With fame comes lots of great things but also unforeseen issues. Like your claim that we infringed or deliberately attempted to pass off as being you by using an & in our name. Something we would never even consider. The time is not for fighting among agencies and the & is not that important for us anyway. So, here’s our old &. It’s now yours. Take good care of it and enjoy the cake.

All the best

by The Network

We are now proudly called by The Network. [by The Network was initially named "& The Network", but after WPP's The & Partnerships claimed the "&" , the newly formed collective decided to simply rename the agency and move on gracefully. Ed.]

This is a weird story, no doubt about it. And I think it shows that by The Network is taken seriously even by the huge WPP.

Yes, it clearly shows it and also now you have a fun story to tell about the start of the network for years to come. :) Speaking of years - do you have any future plans yet to grow by The Network in terms of partner agencies from different countries, including Bulgaria? And how would you choose?

Yes, we are open for any new partnerships, and our most important criteria is: proven ability to meet the highest creative standards. Every new serious applicant will be checked by the Founding Members of by The Network, and we will decide together if the applicant fits or not.

What is your observation on the advertising landscape in Central and Eastern Europe? We tend to believe that we are lagging the more mature markets, but do you believe that this gap is closing in terms of creativity and quality?

Honestly, I can not really see that this gap is closing. We have some ’boom’ periods, we have some cool agencies and great talents, like the guys at McCann Bucharest, Y&R Warsaw and Prague, Noble Graphics in Sofia, my friends from Vokshod, and TutkovBudkov or Windfor’s and Leavingstone from Tbilisi, etc., but what I can not see is the consistency in creating super high quality stuff. On a daily basis, I mean. There are peaks, a few amazing ideas, but that’s all. We are much better than this. Seriously. But we need to work much, much harder to prove it. Everyday.

You have been a member of the jury on numerous creative festivals. And there’s been a lot said about the winning creative works, but what makes a losing creative work? Assuming that most of the agencies send their best works, what do they most commonly lack to get a prize?

Hahaha! You can not imagine how crap stuff can be entered by agencies sometimes. Even into the biggest festivals! I’m not kidding! But anyway, the submitted work must be unique, like something i’ve never seen before, must be super smart, very well crafted, cutting edge, up-to-date and most preferably they should have a purpose. But most importantly: they must give you goosebumps. Without having just one of these criteria, this stuff is not going to win. Yep. It’s a tough business. :)

In White Rabbit you say that great ideas not only create value and drive business, but also “leave their mark on the culture, motivate people, expel evil forces and make this world a happier place”. Life is rapidly changing these days and globally there’s again a great shift of power. 2020 is the year of the pandemic, but also many countries are at the verge of economic and political crisis. Are we all looking for solutions in the wrong places and how can we put creativity in action to really expel evil forces and make this world a happier place?

I think the power of creativity transcends whatever problems are facing us. I truly believe that we will enter a new “time" post the pandemic and creativity will blossom. We’ve all lived in a pressure cooker for the whole of 2020 and we need to let some steam out. 2021 is going to be all about reconnecting, doing things the right way, appreciating the simple things and never taking things for granted, it’s going to be a very interesting time.

What is the best thing you stumbled upon these days?

The ’Pocket Whip’ app. Truly amazing!

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Continue reading: You can also check Istvan's top 3 Hungarian ads in our Top Three section.