There’s an entrepreneurial spirit in the Netherlands, a startup way of life, that bleeds into business. It’s one reason why so many companies choose it for a European base and why many brands put their faith—and global accounts—in the hands of Dutch agencies. And it’s why Campaign landed at the Waldorf Astoria in Amsterdam for Champagne, canapés and conversation with those who know it best.
Who wants to be an entrepreneur?
Innovation is the heartbeat of a global marketing economy going through a time-warping period of exponential change. There’s no choice any longer—just an imperative. It’s a new reality that puts huge pressure on marketers and their agencies to be entrepreneurial and agile in their thinking, whether in a multinational corporation or a bike-shed startup.
Claire Beale, Campaign’s global editor-in-chief, kicked off the conversation, noting that Holland is home to some of the world’s coolest and most disruptive brands and many creative companies. But what does it mean to be entrepreneurial in today’s climate, she asked?
Lisa Hogg, European marketing director at TOMS, jumped in: "It means taking risks. You have to change and reinvent yourself all the time. You can help people connect with the risk-takers inside themselves and let them know failure is just information." Holland embraces such a spirit, said Kerrie Finch, chief executive of FinchFactor. "In this room, roughly half of us aren’t Dutch. It’s incredibly entrepreneurial to live abroad. It’s the spirit of adventure and of discovery."
Sitting in a large corporation, Eric Kramer, chief executive of GroupM Netherlands, believes the speed of early adoption, and especially tech, among Dutch consumers spurs the entrepreneurial agenda. "I don’t want a few people on innovation, I want everybody. I want it in the culture. You can’t have an entrepreneurial or innovative DNA just because you have a department for it," he said.
Kim Dingler is managing director, new media, at Talpa Global. It’s part of Talpa Media, whose founder John de Mol’s hits, from "Big Brother" to "The Voice," have contributed to the Netherlands’ ranking as the world’s third-biggest exporter of TV formats. The Dutch are entrepreneurial, she said, "but we’re not extreme risk-takers. In the US, if you go bankrupt, that’s embraced. Here, it’s not. We really want to succeed."
Interestingly, Dutch marketers have become more risk-averse over the past two years, said Marcel van der Heijden, managing director of Dept’s social agency, A Friend Of Mine. It’s the global clients "who have the balls to try something new."
Entrepreneurship has to come from the bottom, said Nic Owen, chief executive of 72andSunny, "otherwise it’s just a directive. Entrepreneurialism is believing in something so fervently [that] you will make it happen. But you’ve got to instil people with that."
John van Tuyll revealed that at Adidas, where he is senior director, global brand marketing operations and creative shoot production, "we have to be safe, but there are little projects bubbling up all the time and you need to create an environment where that’s OK." For him, "innovation is just doing things, hopefully in an environment where it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work, if 80 percent of what you are doing is right."
That balance between encouraging innovation and managing risk is a large part of research business ADK Insights’ role, said Rob Findlay, its managing director of brand and communications strategy, "because there is an unpredictability in where trends are going."
One business trend is agile working. Clients are trying it, said Gijsbregt Vijn, the managing director of Lemon Scented Tea. "But it’s still a struggle." It can also be misconstrued for "we can do everything more quickly," added Owen.
Adidas is implementing an agile approach "that encompasses everything", said Jessica Manchester, global senior manager, digital experience at Adidas Group. "It is basically mastering continuous change."
Hogg’s experience of innovation is that companies often want to do too many things. "Sometimes risk-taking is putting a plan together that you focus on and commit to. We want to be creative and innovative, but we still need to know our key performance indicators."
Owen agreed. One of the worst things to come out of the ad industry was 360-degree marketing, he said. "You want to be about 27 degrees or 45 degrees, maybe. You have to have a strong point of view, then decide to do four things really well, rather than do 360 degrees badly."
But the need to be all things to everyone springs from a panic over identity, caused by the destabilizing industry shifts, Finch said. "We’ve opened an office in Los Angeles and the convergence of digital, tech, creative, entertainment and content means a lot of companies are questioning how they position themselves."
It’s all about confidence and having faith in your decisions, according to Hogg. But brands often end up talking to themselves. "The decision [on what a brand should do] lands with the consumer," she said.
Brexit could add to Holland’s appeal as a home for international brands, agencies and talent," said Dan Colgan, international account director at BSUR. "People are thinking twice about the UK."
Findlay, whose clients are mainly Japanese, pointed to the country’s "amazing platform" in terms of logistics, connectivity and low bureaucracy. For talent, Holland’s attraction was neatly summed up by Hogg: "Where do you get to work on big brands, big companies, do amazing projects and cycle 20 minutes to the office?"
"Don't mention the bikes!"
It’s hard to find anyone who lives in the Netherlands who is not a superb ambassador for the country, such is their zeal for the culture, the lifestyle, the work—and, yes, the bikes. We challenged guests to sum up its appeal without a whisper of two-wheeled transport...
"It’s super-diverse. Having a hub here, we’re able to service digital and other departments where we can’t get the talent [elsewhere] ... you eliminate the need to have hubs and spokes across all the other markets." – Van Tuyll
"It’s a perfect melting pot of cultures without the limitations of a major city like London." – Teepe
"It’s a great base because Dutch consumers are very open to innovation and pick up new tech fast." – Kramer
"If you need to network and find someone who is a functional expert in certain things, then it has a wealth of intelligence, creativity and all these things in such a small space." – Hogg
"It’s a neutral playing field. It’s a very cosmopolitan city and very easy for different nationalities to come and work in English." – Finch
"[It] affects the culture you are able to create. People with different ideals [and] different values bring different things to the table." – Colgan
"It’s a combination of talent available and infrastructure in terms of connectivity to the rest of the world." – Leemburg
"There’s a real mixture of smart people from around the world here, so we’re getting a lot of different cultural points of view. That affects everything we do and enables us to act in a smart and innovative fashion, because we are learning, literally, from the world in one place." – Owen
"There is more talent coming to the city because we are a magnet for that." – Vijn
"For us, it’s a great base to do international work. The Dutch market is not the focus, the focus is beyond [that]." – Findlay
"It’s a lot to do with the ease of reaching the world from [here], combined with the work/life balance." – van der Heijden
"Not so big, not so small, it’s really the perfect recipe for a creative hub." – Manchester
Standing: Jessica Manchester, global senior manager, digital experience, Adidas Group; John Van Tuyll, senior director, global brand marketing operations and creative shoot production, Adidas; Olivier Teepe, partner, Cloudfactory; Kim Dingler managing director, new media, Talpa Global; Nic Owen, managing director, 72andSunny
Seated: Lisa Hogg, EMEA marketing director, TOMS; Rob Findlay, managing director, brand and communications strategy, ADK Insights; Gijsbregt Vijn, managing director, Lemon Scented Tea; Eric Kramer, chief executive, GroupM Netherlands; Marcel van der Heijden, managing director, A Friend Of Mine (Dept); Dan Colgan, international account director, BSUR; Kerrie Finch, chief executive, FinchFactor; Arjen Leemburg, senior project manager, Invest in Holland, London; Claire Beale, global editor-in-chief, Campaign