Lazar Dzamic, digital marketing expert – Creative industries lift all boats
Creative industries are a multiplier of everything that happens in other industries and can drastically increase efficiency, profitability and competitiveness of our entire economy, both internally and in the world. Another important thing is that those industries grow much faster than traditional ones. According to some World Bank data, companies in creative industries have a tendency to grow at least twice as fast as those in other industries, which confirms that they are one of the most dynamic sectors in general. Furthermore, in addition to agriculture, this sector is currently the main one in Serbia, that is, the biggest exporter.
This is how Lazar Dzamic, one of the world's leading strategists and the former head of brand planning at Google's European office, a professor of digital marketing at the Faculty of Media and Communications, describes the importance and the potential of creative industries.
In his interview with eKapija, he talks about the Serbian digital ecosystem, announces new activities and projects of the Creative Industries Council and explains which ethical challenges business people in Serbia and the world face.
Our interviewee points out that, today, it's not possible to imagine any activity without the involvement of creative industries and skills and says that "digital" is no longer used as an expression in the world.
– They say that we live in a post-digital world, as everything has become digital. We therefore no longer use the e- prefix, such as e-business, e-commerce. Everything's "e-" now, so nobody bothers to point it out, except in E-stonia (laughs).
eKapija: The Digital, Life, Design (DLD) salon is held in Belgrade on October 29, one of the world's leading conferences dealing with the influence of digital technologies in all spheres of life. What can we expect from this gathering and what will be the topic of your panel?
– DLD is some kind of a "digital Davos", attended by the biggest players in various aspects of the digital life, and The Economist says this is one of the two most important innovative conferences in Europe, which says a lot. They have this smaller "salon" model which they export to other countries and this is the first time that such a gathering is organized in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. It is certainly an acknowledgment for Serbia for its efforts in the development of the digital sphere.
The working title of my panel at the salon is "Digital Serbia – The Vision vs the Reality". Several of our prominent digital businessmen and experts will participate and we will try to provide an answer to the question of where the Serbian digital ecosystem is currently, what the development vision is and where we are still stumbling, that is, where we are not putting in enough effort. Also, a German professor will tell us how, in Germany, business expertise is brought back to the academic sphere, as it is something we lack as well. We need some kind of a reverse transfer of knowledge, because, due to insufficient investments by the state, but also some other, personal barriers, it happens that nearly all digital expertise is practically in business.
eKapija: How do you see the Serbian digital ecosystem at the moment? What are the main challenges on the road to further development and what can we expect from the Creative Industries Council, founded this March?
– One of the Council's main tasks, its meta task, it to try to address some bottleneck issues in the further development of the digital sphere. I have to emphasize that the Council is not a political body, as the members are experts in all fields and this is not a council of the Government of Serbia. Instead, the prime minister personally invited us to join. We simply believe that she means well and that she understands the field well, so we decided to help. As one of my friends said – "we can try to do something or do nothing, and we've already tried doing nothing".
The Council started gathering ideas and information about what's missing, the obstacles and challenges in various spheres of creative industries and formed specialized work groups accordingly. For example, there's a group for performing arts, which deals with the entirely unregulated status of free artists, whereas some other groups deal with a strategy of long-term financing of cultural events in Serbia – BITEF, Jazz Festival, Nisville, Exit...
eKapija: What are your main activities in the Council?
– I am personally very interested in education, that is, the way the rules of accreditation of new academic courses for professions in creative industries can change. At the moment, the official nomenclature of professions in Serbia lacks 200 to 300 professions which are quite common in the developed world. For example, there's the profession of a UX Designer, without which no interface, development, app or website is possible. Also, I teach at the digital marketing department at the Faculty of Media and Communications, but my students cannot get the title of the digital marketing manager or specialist. Instead, their diplomas say that they are communicologists. That profession is listed in the nomenclature, but the industry doesn't seek communicologists, but digital marketing managers, social media managers, community managers, SEO specialists, AdWords specialists and content managers. We can't officially and academically accredit those professions. The point is that the system is very obsolete and incredibly slow, that the nomenclature changes every ten years, and there are ten new professions each month.
The problem is that the accreditation commission, which is now turning into an accreditation agency, had nothing to do with the creative industry. It remains to be seen how the new agency will work, and one of the requirements for success is for at least a third of the members to be people from creative industries.
eKapija: What is Serbia's potential when it comes to creative industries? To what extent are they really a historical development opportunity for us?
– There's plenty of potential in this field in Serbia. There's a lot we can do and there are lots of experiences we could implement. It's important to note that creative industries are not something on the side, on the contrary. When they rise the tide, it lifts all boats and the entire economy.
Today, it's not possible to imagine anything without the involvement of creative industries and skills. Need better machine software? The creative industry can provide you with it! Need ways to improve the efficiency of the entire health system? The creative technology could help a lot, and at a relatively low price as well. There are plenty of possibilities of implementation in the power generation business, transport... For example, in one of our most important sectors, agriculture, we currently import and have no brand that can compete globally. The creative industry can turn a raspberry which costs 1 euro into a brand which costs 10 euros per kilogram.
eKapija: The Creative Industries Council has also initiated the establishment of the Serbia Creates platform, which should regularly announce and present the council's activities, but also promote Serbia's creative present and future in the world.
– One of the projects which arose from the Creative Industries Council is the Serbian Creates platform. It has several aims, of which putting some of Serbia's creativity on the world map is one of the main ones. The idea is for this platform to bring together various efforts and activities of the council and to present case studies and the council's current project, while also launching a website which will gather, at least initially, 20 of the most important Serbian names, prominent people in creative industries – Ashen Ataljanc, the Nordeus game character, famous scientists, BioSense Institute's Lala and Sosa robots, violin player Stefan Milenkovic...
We will make a series of posters with their faces, names and short biographies, but also with related institutions. For example, Stefan's poster will feature the National Theater, Opera, Belgrade Arena, Exit Festival, Kolarac, so that people can understand a wider context. These posters will be put into embassies and diplomatic offices of Serbia, which currently display only monasteries and traditional wear, and nothing of the present we should be proud of, namely, culture, science... That's why it's very important for prominent Serbian people, who are active and have international careers, to be on these posters, as they are the creative present and future of Serbia.
eKapija: You are one of those prominent people. How much have you and your activities here and abroad contributed to the recognition of Serbian creative industries?
– I sincerely hope that I have. I hope that my experience in creative industries is useful, as are my connections in the world with important names, but also the principles I stand behind. The reputation is probably important in that the world can learn that there's someone in Serbia that knows someone "out there", who can teach them something. It all contributes a little, creating "soft power" and shaping perception at least a little.
eKapija: In the interviews you gave after leaving Google, you cited as one of the reasons for leaving one of the most sought after employer in the world your ethical dilemmas, that is, the challenges you couldn't just ignore. To what extent are business people here conscientious and ethical in their activities?
– That's a big global problem and the state of things is pretty bad, as we've simply fallen into the paradigm of neoliberal capitalism, where everything is measured by profit. Very few companies even consider that issue and ethics are formally reduced to corporate social responsibility (CSR), which serves as a conscience bandage and little more. If you look at the civilizational effect of many large companies on the planet and us all, what they do is so small compared to the damage they often make. One of my personal missions is to encourage discussion about this topic and I will launch a blog in English, called Mitokrata, which will deal with it.
eKapija: To what extent have blogs, social networks and other new forms of electronic media replaced traditional media like newspapers and TV in importance? Is there room for all in the market?
– The whole business model of media is now broken. The business model is based on advertising, which doesn't function anymore, as everything is much cheaper. The entire profit goes to Google and Facebook and you don't have much control over it. Advanced media persevere through having 15-20 ways of making money, with advertising being only one of them. They organize conferences, training courses, get donations, are supported by non-governmental organizations... This is a new, hybrid model, which requires a diversification of activities.
Data and the visualization of data are increasingly important. Reports on people's reactions are created, sentiments for various topics are made, people's reading habits are researched, as well as their interests, trend reports are made... All this is done so that companies can react and be relevant.
Employee structure in media is also changing and they increasingly resemble marketing agencies, whereas agencies resemble media, because ads need to be more interesting and content marketing is slowly taking over the world of advertising.
eKapija: In addition to being a member of the Creative Industries Council, you also teach at the Faculty of Media and Communications, take part in conferences, hold company training courses... Are you planning any new books?
– At the digital marketing department at the Faculty of Media and Communications, I am trying to transfer the type of knowledge which is relatively rare or non-existent here, and my task is also to prepare my students for the realities of life and work in this industry. Also, when it comes to this topic, I try to instill some ethical principles in them, as you first face ethical choices when you join a marketing agency or a team, not so much the professional ones. I also hold training courses, where I try to explain to companies how the new digital space works. Of course, the focus is on marketing teams – how to work better and stop pestering their consumers with irrelevant messages.
As for the publications, by content marketing book is currently being translated from English and should be available in Serbian in the spring, and I believe that many people here will find it useful. I'm also researching the biography of Mitar Subotic Suba, our famous electronic musician, who is not very well known here, which is a shame, because I believe he is one of our most prominent music representatives in the world. The publication should come out in June 2019, and I'm also preparing a book of fictional patriotic conversations with my father, about what patriotism means today, especially in Serbia.
The fifth, expanded edition of Cvijecarnica u kuci cveca (publisher: Heliks Smederevo), with two new chapters, has already been released. There, I explain in detail what happened to the famous Tito parody published by Mladina, which was later sold here as “the banned Alan Ford issue”. In fact, it was never an official issue of the said comic. There's also the excellent interview with Slobodan Sijan about the influence of Alan Ford on the poetics of his movie The Marathon Family.
eKapija: Are we still living in Alan Ford?
– Yes! To a large extent, yes! In a way, those references keep appearing in our cultural and media sphere. Recently, Ljubljana's Mladina showed the current Slovenian government as the TNT Group. Those references still exist because that kind of a surrealistic farce is still alive here in all spheres – in politics, media, business... Surrealism is a way of life here, not an art movement! That's one of the reasons why Alan Ford remains relevant here.
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