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Vuki Vujasinovic on 10 years of Sling & Stone

By Seamus Byrne in Marcoms News on
"I was 23 and had a whopping two years of PR agency experience. On paper, I was far too young to start an agency or any real business."
In September, PR agency Sling & Stone celebrated 10 years of operations. With a swag of agency awards and offices in the USA and New Zealand now part of the business, Vuki Vujasinovic can't help but laugh at how brazen it seems now to have opened his own operation.
"I was at a big agency and I worked on a lot of tech brands and I loved it. It was really enjoyable," says Vujasinovic. "But I also felt like a certain type of client was hamstrung. So I kind of started the agency out of frustration at how big agencies could be kind of bureaucratic and slow to move in a world that was moving a bit faster. I don't say that to judge them, what they do is fine, but that business model just didn't work well with smaller up and coming companies."
With that in mind, Vujasinovic focused on this segment to kick off his business. Having worked closely with Ruslan Kogan before starting his own agency, he admits that this working relationship was a key part of the success he has seen in the years since.
"Ruslan changed the course of my life by agreeing to come on as a foundation client," says Vujasinovic. "He saw someone that was hungry and driven and aligned. We both worked our asses off but also had a lot of fun along the way."
Asking Vujasinovic if he can recall any moment where he realised Sling & Stone was really starting to work out, he remembers one simple yet important moment.
"I walked past a meeting room and I saw a bunch of people in the agency having a meeting without me," he says. "When you start something from nothing, that just feels so weird. Some might worry that they should be in that room, that whatever it is needs to be run past me. But you can also choose to sigh with relief, knowing there are other people that give a shit and they care about what we're building. I felt the latter."
"I've tried to scale with that little spark of that moment. To give people autonomy and freedom and valuing people being entrepreneurial within the business and not trying to make every little decision or be a micromanager."
For all the positives of the past ten years, throwing a big 10th birthday party probably would have been a very Sling & Stone thing to do. Vujasinovic recalls holding a team camp back in January, when the teams from LA and Auckland all flew to Australia and the whole team got together.
"That was the last trip for a lot of us, frankly," he says. "We work in an incredibly fast paced, intense industry. That's whether you're PR or in media. So sometimes you need a pressure reset, whether that's dinner with friends on a Saturday night or going on a holiday. And no one has had a proper reset and people are struggling right now. I am worried about the mental health tax that we're currently building up."
"Hopefully over Christmas people will get a break of some sort. As soon as we can celebrate, we will."
Asked if he has any hard-won wisdom he might share, Vujasinovic says he has two. To invite and welcome feedback and to pick a lane for your business.
"With feedback, whether within your team or with clients or from journalists, you can get your back up and get defensive or explain things away. But it's better to see that someone taking the time to share feedback is an inherently nice thing. Someone cares."
"On the second, I think the mistake a lot of professional services companies make, just due to commercial pressure, is being willing to take on anything that comes their way. I get it. But we've said no to 80% of clients that have come our way. We get a lot of inbound queries and we're polite about it but we say no a lot. If we don't say no to companies that don't match our focus, then what do we stand for?"
Back at that team camp in January, Vujasinovic spent time researching the state of businesses that make the ten year milestone and felt proud of how much Sling & Stone has achieved over and above the norms not just for our industry but for all business.
"Looking at some figures, two-thirds of Australian businesses don't survive ten years. So even just to last that long you're an outlier already. But to be growing through it and doing well is exceptional, and something our entire team should be proud of."

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