From the game-changing brushstrokes of Rembrandt to the tech innovation designs of Daan Roosegaarde and the blockbuster TV formats of Endemol, creativity – in one form or another – is the lifeblood of the Netherlands. Marry this with a pioneering history of seafaring trade and a wealth of cultures that have been mixing it up since the Golden Age and you have a rich vein of creative innovation pulsing through the canals of Amsterdam.
Since moving here from London in 2000, I have witnessed significant growth in the creative industry. Today, the city is a hotbed of digital bureaux, ad agencies, denim designers, sound studios, architects, product innovators, urban artists and more. Some are home-grown, others are international fly-ins; all are influenced by a cauldron of talent, easy access to the rest of Europe and an indisputable heritage of
Dutch design, art and architecture. That is why I chose to launch FinchFactor’s headquarters in Amsterdam in 2009, with plans for expansion early next year. As a reputation management company specialised in the creative industry, we are best-placed to advise globally on credibility, positioning and brand amplification, whether clients are located in Rio de Janeiro or Rotterdam, St Petersburg or Stockholm.
Because Amsterdam is small – think 800,000 people on an average week, without the summer tourists doubling the count – detractors find it difficult to accept that what amounts to an urban village can stand shoulder to shoulder on a global stage. And yet it undeniably does. While London is British, Paris is French and Berlin is German, Amsterdam is Dutch, yes, but also pragmatically international. This creates a neutral playing field that can work a charm on a brand intent on a global voice.
Rob Findlay, the managing director of the European office of the Japanese ad agency ADK, sees Amsterdam as an excellent base: "The Dutch market itself is often very small for most Japanese manufacturers, but the excellent infrastructure and pragmatic business environment have long made the Netherlands, and the Greater Amsterdam region particularly, a great bridgehead into the European Union and mainland Europe." Findlay cites a "well-educated local workforce able to conduct business effortlessly in English" as a major consideration for Japanese companies. "Coupled to this is an uncomplicated and constructive business culture where city governments and other authorities traditionally make a lot of effort to co-operate with new businesses setting up here."
Al Moseley, the president and chief creative officer at 180 Amsterdam, agrees: "The rich cultural diversity of Amsterdam, coupled with a global business acumen developed over the past 400 years, has helped this city become a hub for global creativity." He goes further to suggest there is strength in diversity; that our differences make us stronger: "Great global advertising needs to be driven by a rich shared insight; if it isn’t, it will end up dumbing down. Global communications are about shared cultures, rather than just nations."
A cultural melting pot brings its own challenges to any agency, but it certainly informs the work. In Amsterdam, a creative agency of more than 75 people (think 180 Amsterdam, 72andSunny and Wieden & Kennedy) commonly employs more than 15 nationalities. In my experience, this does not come as standard in other creative-hub cities. Cross-cultural creative teams allow for innovative brand solutions that truly cross borders. But it’s not easy.
At DAY Creative Business Partners, the managing partner Louk de Sévaux points out a common local/international divide. "Agencies in Europe typically service only their local market," he says. "If they are part of an international chain, they are often focusing on adaptation of existing clients and concepts. The ones that don’t are typically niche players such as DAY, or independent agencies such as Sid Lee."
‘While London is British, Amsterdam is pragmatically international’
So what makes for a healthy, global brand-agency partnership? Juggling skills and a mobile mind. "Global nomads are the best," de Sévaux says, meaning those who have lived and worked in different countries and can balance global with local relevance. Halbo van der Klaauw, the managing director of the creative production company The Ambassadors, thinks big: "You need a stellar idea that speaks to all markets. We take our cues from the movie industry."
Victor Knaap, the chief executive of the digital production agency MediaMonks, suggests a Dutch DNA leads to universal truths and ideas that travel. "We are the biggest small country in the world – we adapt easily to other cultures," he says. "Since way back historically, we have been tuned in to what other nations want."
With headquarters in Amsterdam and offices in London, New York and Singapore, MediaMonks has a formula that works. "As a nation, we have an eye for concept and design that strikes a chord the world over," Knaap says.
"When a concept works in the Netherlands, it works anywhere. The Netherlands is a pilot country. Because we have only 18 million people, testing ideas and innovation is
Take TV formats. Love it or hate it, Big Brother had a revolutionary impact on broadcasting and formulated the rise of reality television. Created in the Netherlands by Endemol, the world’s largest independent producer of multiplatform entertainment, the programme’s success has led to shows such as Deal Or No Deal, Wipeout, Fear Factor and dozens of others that have shaped our viewing pleasure with more than 29,000 hours of content distributed internationally.
As a creative hub of international significance, Amsterdam punches above its weight because the pioneering spirit of entrepreneurship rooted deep within the Dutch DNA, combined with the spirit of global citizenry, makes for a language rich in universal truths.
Kerrie Finch is the founder and chief executive of FinchFactor
See more from Adland in Amsterdam 2013