Against All Odds: A Life Intertwined with War

I am a CEO of a young agency named Who Are You, which opened its doors to the public in 2019 in the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv. 2021 was a very successful year for us, the number of our customers grew, as well as the team and before the New Year’s Eve we concluded several new contracts. We had great plans for 2022. Some days before the war, I returned from a business trip to Odessa, where we launched a new project with our customer and signed one more contract.

It all changed on February 24. I woke up at 5 a.m. because of the explosions. The major war started. It was very frightening but there was no time to panic. Having made sure that all our colleagues were safe, I and Olia, the project manager, sent emails to our customers to inform them that we were in touch, if required.

The next days passed as if in a fog. When panic and fear went down, we came together to discuss what was going to happen to the agency and what we as creative specialists could do during the war. We could stop and stay in the state of uncertainty, step back and close the agency to wait for better times or fight, using our skills and experience to resist the enemy at the level of communications. We chose fighting.

Having gained a new goal, which was helping our country, we started fighting at the information front, implementing projects that would inform people on the war or help Ukrainians. It all started with the Stand With Ukraine non-commercial organizations, which we created together with our partners, the Svitsoft agency and the TOP DOG marketing agency. During the first month of the war we posted more than 400 videos and attracted more than USD 900,000 to Ukraine. Working was very hard; I had to stay in a bomb shelter and search for the Internet connection to coordinate editing and scripts and set new tasks for the personnel.

We also worked on other projects, including The War Diary documentary and having developed the identity, website and advertising campaign for the Mriya Ukraine charitable association and others. However, due to the fact that all the projects bringing us income were paused, our budget quickly ran low.

In order to survive, I started searching for new projects on LinkedIn and we became the subcontractors for other agencies. Therefore, we gained new customers and held on during this year, having managed to work with agencies from all over the world: the United Kingdom, Brazil, Australia, Germany, Latvia, Canada, Chile and Austria. We were fulfilling very different orders, from presentation designs to apartment 3D modeling, from video editing to website creation.

The great war, the tragedies of Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Dnipro…. It all happened right before our eyes. And it felt like someone was pulling the rug out from under us. But we are still fighting and hoping for a better future. Russia tried to take away our future. They managed to take a year of our lives and many of our friends who died defending our country. But they could not break us. And thanks to many people and agencies from all over the world, we can continue our work.

In the past year, I have learned three lessons that can make an agency better even in peacetime:

  • Place your business on several pillars. Don’t be satisfied with what you have achieved when business is going smoothly. Reserve a budget to find customers outside your established business or to develop new offers that will help you survive in hard times.
  • Build a team with shared values. Give them the opportunity to express themselves and implement their own ideas. Because in a crisis they can play an important role in the success of their company.
  • Develop several scenarios for possible problem cases. Don’t wait until the situation with a client darkens before you act. Develop several possible solutions and discuss them with your team and your clients. This way, your clients will know that you have a plan B they can rely on.

Until 24 February 2022, we were just a strategic communications agency. After that fateful day, we became a real family with a unique history and contacts all over the world. We can help you implement your projects: As a full-service agency that can provide all the necessary resources to bring your ideas to life. Our most valuable resources have been hard-won over the past twelve months: our resourcefulness, are our determination to make the best out of even a little and our will to never give up.

Illia Balaban, CEO Who Are You agency