Srdjan Saper: I consider the UEPS Lifetime Achievement Award to be a reward for good performance in the first half. The second half is being played now, and we'll see if there's going to be extra-time or penalties. As long as someone keeps playing the match against themselves, they're still in the game.
Readers with more life experience might remember him as the front man of the band VIS Idoli. Mr. Srdjan Saper is a very versatile man. He’s been successfully involved in music, acted in films and directed TV music videos. He studied medicine, world literature, history, film and TV directing, before graduating from the University of Dramatic Arts. He wanted to direct films, but today, even though he says that the time for that had probably passed, he could have been a film producer. At one point, social engagement drew him towards politics. He’s been a successful manager for many years. He founded his first agency, Idols & Friends 19 years ago, and he’s been successfully leading the network of McCann agencies for the past 17 years, with the first ones established in Belgrade and Skopje. Today he steers I&F McCann Grupa, with agencies in eight countries across the region. He admires the people he works with at McCann and believes that they are the force that has made I&F McCann Grupa what it is today- the biggest and most successful advertising system in the region. Recently, at this year’s Weekend Media Festival, McCann Beograd was declared the Regional Agency Of The Year.
How much did you parents support you in your musical career and commitments to your band, VIS Idoli, (who became leaders of the “new wave” in the Serbian and former Yugoslavia music scene) the rebellion that you expressed through the songs that you composed and performed?
They didn’t particularly support me, but they didn’t interfere either. They believed that I knew what was best for me. Naturally, at the beginning they were concerned that it would consume a lot of my time and that in the end I wouldn’t have any “practical life skills”. However, time has shown that things eventually fell into place, and that my life choices were, first and foremost, motivated by a desire to experience as much as possible in a short time span. The Idols were, in that sense, a great experience. To be honest, I also had a lot of luck.
Your inclination towards music and the arts meant that despite being accepted to study medicine, you studied filmmaking instead. Did that steer you towards your future career in the advertising industry, due to its reliance on TV commercials?
I studied medicine, world literature, history and film and TV directing, but in the end I graduated from the University of Dramatic Arts. If I were starting out today, I’d know that University is simply a continuation of secondary school, something there to enable young people to make some sort of life-defining decisions more easily, based on the civilizational experiences of those that preceded them. At the time however, I was one of the few who had some idea about that. In that “two dimensional” time, it was believed that educational decisions were also career decisions; and for me this proved to be true; as a young director and composer I partnered with two of my friends, Boris and Tucko (Branimir Dimitrijević i Boris Miljković), and we started creating TV commercials. That was in 1984, and it marked my entry into the world of advertising.
You two started out with your first agency Soda Film, only to found a new agency, Idols & Friends, in 1995… but just two years later you obtained the franchise rights to establish McCann agencies first in Belgrade, but then in Skopje too. What motivated you to make that decision?
Tucko and I founded Idols (me) & Friends (him) in 1995; we thought that it would be interesting to transform everything that we know into something that will benefit the profession and advertisers as well as ourselves. We wanted to be free! And to have control over our work overtime. That’s how we continued in capitalism what we wanted in socialism. To discover the form that suited our entrepreneurial spirit. And that was an agency. There’s nothing better than being accountable yourself for every success and failure and assuming all responsibility. Taking on responsibility is what truly impresses me among true leaders and those who control big and small things in this world. We created an USP for our company: The right to risk! In this job everyone has to risk for a discovery of the real, big meaning. In 1997 I founded McCann agencies in Belgrade and Skopje, and later in other countries in the region.
Last year you marked 15 successful years leading “I&F McCann Grupa”, which now operates in eight countries across the region. In these 17 years, what was key to its growth? Was it the two Cannes Lions won by McCann Beograd and McCann Skopje?
I don’t think so; the Cannes Lions were a result of our success. The key factor was that we have always, in every year we were in business, managed to gather the best people. There were bad moments and months and also divine, unforgettable situations, weeks, years. McCann has always been a company where people specifically wanted to work, and not anywhere else.
We succeeded in (and probably we could’ve been even more successful) at collectively creating a feeling that working at McCann was something special; this was the result of having truly exceptional people. When our 20th anniversary comes, we’ll try getting everybody who ever worked here together; you’ll see that it’s an entire world in itself! McCann now really looks like our part of big, wide world. We have always tried to make sure it was like that, without pathos, but also without provincial moaning. We never had any sort of complexes.