Boriana Strzok will never run the biggest marketing agency in town.

“I have a simple goal,” said Strzok, 44, founder of “5ive” in northeast Minneapolis. “Use branding and advertising to support businesses with community or human-centric missions. I always knew I wanted to work with brands that tried to promote change and question the status quo. There are plenty of agencies who are genius at selling the joy of cola.”

Her clients include outfits such as county libraries, a regional organ-donation advocate, a community bank, a foundation, the health-equity initiative of a nonprofit insurer, several small businesses and clean-energy advocates.

She recently turned down a state lottery that would have been her biggest client and payday.

“I could probably make $150,000 a year or more as a chief creative officer at a large agency,” said Strzok, who ditched a big regional shop 12 years ago to care for her medically needy child and freelance from home. She was sick of long hours and a big-retail account.

“That was one of the moments when I thought I just don’t fit,” she said. “Today, we work with commercial brands who strive to be more human and inclusive, and we power cause-driven organizations who seek to improve the lives of others and promote new ideas.”

Strzok is multitalented. She trained as an opera singer and arrived from Bulgaria in 1995 at the age of 20. She had met a traveler in her homeland, a young Minnesotan, who today is her husband. She took a job at a northeast Minneapolis coffee shop, then ran the bakery counter at the old New French Café. She worked while her husband, an IT professional, went to college.

When her turn came in 2002, Strzok couldn’t afford the prestigious Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, where she was inspired by the diversity and the challenges of many working-poor students.

“MCTC is an amazing place,” she recalled, eventually earning a two-year degree in graphic design in 2002. Strzok freelanced from home for years, as she also cared for her daughter, Sophia, now 19 and a college student. She required more than a dozen surgeries in childhood.

Strzok completed her four-year degree in design and entrepreneurial studies at MCAD on a partial scholarship and signed on with that big agency she quit in less than two years.

“The advertising industry is very male-dominated,” she recalled. “The guys had the big Coca-Cola, Porsche and Target accounts.

“I started to figure out my niche. Causes like energy, children’s health and gender and racial equity. Often supported by philanthropists. But they don’t dare spend much on branding and marketing. I try to disrupt the sector. They haven’t really used marketing in their missions.”

Strzok launched 5ive in 2010, in a modest space in a former Central Avenue warehouse a few blocks from her home.

Her salary ranged from nothing to $40,000 for the first five years. The business grew slowly at first.

Today, Strzok pays herself about $100,000 and up to $85,000 to her most-veteran employees. She has built the agency to a sustainable size of around $2 million in revenue.

Her client list has ranged from LifeSource, the Upper Midwest organ-donation advocate to St. Catherine University; the Minneapolis Foundation; a health-equity unit of Blue Cross Blue Shield; the Georgetown Law Center for Poverty and Inclusion; the Minneapolis YWCA; the Great Plains Institute, a leader in navigating a clean-energy future in the Upper Midwest; and the Clean Air Task Force of Boston.

“She moved us into the digital world,” recalled Teresa Morrow, a former marketing vice president at the Minneapolis Foundation who hired Strzok for its centennial campaign and to develop an interactive website in 2014-2016. “Focus groups and surveys had told us that we had a good reputation but that we were stuffy. Your grandparents’ foundation.

“Boriana helped us with blogs, e-mail campaigns and how to use those platforms to reach the right people. The traffic doubled within five months. We moved the dial on donors, and assets grew as well.”

Margaret Stone, director of the Dakota County Library, said Strzok, on a tight budget, presented the library as a welcoming community space for exploration and assistance, from 3-D printing to building a résumé or a website, searching for a job, recording music or exploring new interests.

“What differentiates 5ive from other agencies is Boriana’s passion,” Stone said. “Boriana chooses her clients by who she thinks can have the most impact on the community, not necessarily how much they can put toward marketing.”

In 2018, Strzok’s team increased awareness and support for organ donations through the “Check the Box” campaign for LifeSource of the Upper Midwest with public-service messages on TV and social media that featured real people, from high school kids to the elderly, who want to make a difference by sharing a part of themselves. The campaign won an award at this year’s AdFed show, a rare win for such a small agency.

“I’m still waiting for when the big award shows will examine their categories and reflect the relevancy of small, more diverse shops,” Strzok said. “Smaller agencies are disrupting the industry … and a more approachable way with clients who no longer want to pay for layered and outdated structures.”

Said Donna Drewick, executive producer of Committee Films, a production house: “Most marketing agencies say they like to collaborate. However, you’re often just executing their ideas. Boriana makes you feel like a partner.

“She comes to us with a general idea, an outline, and looks to my ‘creatives’ to bring their ideas. With LifeSource we knew some of the myths we needed to demystify. You don’t have to be perfectly healthy or a certain type of person or race or age to donate. Boriana is all about human connections, collaboration and eliciting an emotional response.”