Meet the Ukrainian creatives named boutique advertising agency of the year

Bickerstaff, ADC Boutique Advertising Agency of the Year
(Image credit: Bickerstaff.938)

Several things make Bickerstaff.938 (and Bickerstaff.555 for that matter) a little unusual as an advertising agency. Its name changes from day to the next, and its logo looks like a child's drawing. It's also operating from country that's facing a horrendous military invasion. Yet this creative team was named Boutique Advertising Agency of the Year at ADC Annual Awards in New York thanks to its distinct and mysterious tourism branding for Ukraine's Khortytsia Island.

We asked founder and creative director Ilia Anufrienko who Bickerstaff.595 is and how it's become a "galactic agency" despite its relatively small size. We find out what inspires him, how the team has managed to keep going... and what on Earth the ever-changing numbers mean at the end of the agency's name (see our pick of the best print adverts for more advertising inspiration).

Bickerstaff, ADC Boutique Advertising Agency of the Year

Bickerstaff's galactic team (Image credit: Bickerstaff.938)

What's Bickerstaff's story? And what's with the numbers?

The story of Bickerstaff.938 is all about contradictions – the most incredible thing in the world. Good advertising is always built on the truth, but who is your audience? What is their truth? Who is right – the wolf who wants to hunt down the poor rabbit, or the clever and agile rabbit who wants to outsmart the predator that can survive only by eating meat? Bickerstaff is about the truth, the conflict, and how they can create positive changes in our society. What good will the final idea bring to the world?

In our opinion, there is no such truth that lasts a lifetime, because having one would imply that people don't change. The numbers are here to show that Bikerstaff today and Bikerstaff yesterday are two different agencies, and we take pride in that. We explore the contradictions in life, we experiment by creating communication solutions - we don't know what we'll be doing tomorrow.

How big is the team and where's everyone based?

Our team consists of the most talented Ukrainian people. It’s a small group of 22 bright individuals. We have strategists, creatives, designers, and managers, just like a traditional agency, but with one unique feature – we don't have middle-level positions. Well, technically, according to the common rankings, we have, but overall our people are either senior professionals or juniors at the very beginning of their career. We either hire the best or those who haven't had the chance to learn how to create "conventional" advertising.

As a joke, we like to call ourselves a galactic agency because during this year we've become physically detached from any specific location. Part of our team is in Portugal, where we opened a second office that we are gradually developing. Some team members are in Poland, Germany, Georgia and the UK. However, the majority, of course, is currently in Ukraine.

Bickerstaff, ADC Boutique Advertising Agency of the Year

Part of the Bickerstaff team at work (Image credit: Bickerstaff.938)

How has the invasion of Ukraine affected the agency's ability to work?

At the very beginning, we were left without clients because the entire commercial sector in Ukraine put their campaigns on halt. The market came to a standstill, and there was a lack of understanding about what to talk about and how to make it profitable. However, after a few months, when it became clear that the Russian invasion would be prolonged and the economy needed to move on during wartime conditions, we started communicating with our clients and offered them support pro bono. 

We launched several highly impactful campaigns for Ukraine, which served as a catalyst for other brands to re-engage in communication and initiate meaningful conversations. As a result, we retained all of our existing clients and gained many new ones, not only from Ukraine but also from the USA, the UK, and Poland.

Bickerstaff, ADC Boutique Advertising Agency of the Year

Galyna Pustova, chief business development officer at Bickerstaff.123, with the ADC Award (Image credit: Bickerstaff.938)

What does it mean to be named the ADC Annual Awards' Boutique Advertising Agency of the year?

Festivals are a truly remarkable phenomenon. While we appreciate the recognition and the accolades that we receive, they are merely a result of our commitment to delivering exceptional work. Nevertheless, we are particularly proud of this award, especially considering that ADC NYC is the first festival to establish itself as a landmark of quality for an entire industry.

However, our philosophy revolves around the belief that past achievements are just that – things of the past. We have witnessed numerous instances where agencies with impressive reputations produced lacklustre work. To prevent falling into that trap, we refrain from becoming impersonal production factories and remain highly selective in choosing our clients. While we celebrate our current accomplishments, we don't dwell on them for too long.

As someone wise once said, "You are only as good as your most recent work." This quote encapsulates our approach to constantly striving for excellence and pushing ourselves to deliver innovative and impactful campaigns.

Tell us about the Khortytsia Island branding, which had already won Cannes Lions, D&AD and Epica Awards

Khortytsia is a well-known symbol of Ukrainian heritage, deeply rooted in our nation's history. However, its significance was mostly limited to the Cossacks, and there was little widespread knowledge of it. When we had the opportunity to visit the island, we experienced a profound sense of its vitality. It's difficult to put into words, but we felt it first-hand, and everyone who was present on the island could feel it too. You can sense its life force, its rhythm, its vibrant energy. That's why we made a deliberate choice not to simply talk about the island, but to inspire others to personally explore it, uncover its hidden mysteries, and truly immerse themselves in its essence.

How do you approach a campaign like this to reach such an original solution?

In practical terms, our approach is quite straightforward: we begin by seeking insights, delving into a product, and forming a strategy. Next, we embark on a quest for an intriguing idea that aligns with this strategy, and ultimately, we put it into action.

Perhaps what sets us apart in generating high-quality ideas is the presence of fear. We genuinely fear falling into repetition. Ageing occurs when one knows everything, can predict tomorrow, and falls into rigid routines. However, we approach our work as researchers. Hence, each brief, even if it appears similar to countless others we've encountered, feels new to us. We embrace experimentation, reinvent our methods, and strive to approach things uniquely.

You might pose a valid question: why reinvent the wheel every time when it already exists and functions effectively? Nonetheless, we believe that people seek our services precisely because they desire to outpace others. To achieve that, we must discover fresh approaches to age-old problems.

How was the campaign received in Ukraine?

The project received a highly positive response in Ukraine. People who visited the island emphasized the indescribable sensation that can only be felt while being there, even though it was hard to articulate. Those who hadn't been to the island expressed their fascination and motivation to discover more about its unique identity, an ignited desire to explore and learn about it.

It's difficult for me to abstract and look at this project through the eyes of the international community to understand what exactly attracted them to this project. Nevertheless, I prefer to believe that they sensed the essence, vitality, and passion behind this project.

As a small agency, we personally immerse ourselves in every project we undertake, living and breathing it. Consequently, we naturally aspire to see our emotional investment in this project strike a chord with the international audience.

Thinking about setting out on your own? See the advice we received on how to start a creative agency.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.