Dispatch: Dutch Agency Life

By far the most informative component of our residency program is ability to connect in person with local branding, strategy, marketing and design agencies. We can do a lot over the internet, but nothing beats one-on-one time with another professional in your field—these connections are invaluable. When we were developing the residency program, we decided that as part of the employee’s travels, they would make appointments for a visit, whatever the agency could accommodate. Thanks to some friendly emails on my part, and generous hospitality on their part, I’ve had the fortune of visiting with three companies here in Amsterdam and in nearby Rotterdam. I toured their offices, met their staffs, discussed local life and culture, sat down to eat, talked shop about branding and marketing trends, and just got to know each other. What comes of these new relationships is anyone’s guess, but we’ve now got three new friends in Europe to collaborate with and learn from. Everyone was so generous with their time, too. It was really such a pleasure spending time with everyone.

I’ll be sharing a more in-depth presentation with my colleagues upon my return, with notes about working techniques, best client practices and other inspiration, but here’s a summary of who I met and what I found:

Amsterdam, like Buffalo, is deceptive in size and shape. Its relatively small footprint does not always reflect the proximity of many neighborhoods and zones; when it seems global, it’s in fact quite local. Case in point: one of the agencies I emailed back in August just so happened to be located directly behind my apartment. In a city with such a high number of creative agencies (many of them architectural firms and traditional ad agencies), the odds of one being 30 seconds away from my front door was a charming fluke.

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Mad Consort is a small agency run by owner Anna Addison that boasts international clients across many industries, but primarily alcohol branding and package design. She works with a more or less full-time freelance writer and frequently contracts with other creatives to complete projects. Russian-born and Atlanta-raised, Anna came to Europe a handful of years ago to work for larger agencies. She decided to go out on her own and opened Mad Consort in the last few years. Her work philosophy is fun, energetic and just a little chaotic: danger is where creativity thrives, is her idea.

Anna does it all: she designs creative, runs the business and books, and strategizes with collaborators. She’s a real powerhouse. She can explain in great detail every decision made in the development of a creative product. After a lengthy discussion in her office, where we talked about clients and customers, art and design, Russia and Buffalo, we ventured out on foot and visited some sights around town: a tasty street market, the rooftop bar at the W Hotel, the magnificent museum district, and more. I took her to a truly fabulous French dinner at the stunning Duchess to cap the day off. We had an awesome time, and will for sure stay in touch. I even posed for a photo for Anna’s visitor wall:

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I also made a two-day trip to nearby Rotterdam, and I’m so glad I did. Rotterdam is a fascinating city full of modern architecture (due to its near-obliteration during WWII) and avant-garde design. There’s so much public art in Rotterdam. (I hope to have a post on the murals and installations I’ve seen soon.) It’s a city that’s been in constant reinvention. This is in stark contrast to Amsterdam’s preserved heritage, which is apparent on every street corner. I found it so beneficial to see another Dutch city, both for its innate knowledge and for perspective on Amsterdam. (Everyone’s got opinions, haha.)

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My first stop was an international agency called Mangrove. Our own Dave Horesh connected me to one of the partners at Mangrove, a creative agency who had purchased some custom pennants from Oxford Pennant. They invited me into their awesome studio for a traditional Dutch lunch of sliced meats, bold cheeses, thin breads and unknown spreads (what looks like tomato paste is, in fact, beef paste). They eat lunch together every day, supplied by the company. Their offices feel like an art studio, with tables of tools and technological devices (including a wall with one of every model of Apple computer to date) for production and play—they really get messy here, in all the very best ways. They were an awesome group, and one I intend to maintain communication with; they have an office in New York as well, which would be fun to visit. Thanks for the introduction, Dave!

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The next day, I met André from Campagne, an international agency, for breakfast in town and a brief tour of Rotterdam’s architecture and famous Cube Houses. He was a consummate host. We took a drive out to Campagne’s offices, which are nestled quietly in the countryside in a converted 400-year-old building. It’s a beautiful space, with centuries-old wood beams and traditional Dutch curved staircases.

André shared with me his company’s history which in recent years has seen expansion and downsizing, due largely to the 2008 global recession. Today, they are a team of about 25 people, and do large branding, strategy and advertising campaigns for European brands. Some of their portfolio overlaps nicely with Block Club’s, a mix of smart businesses and progressive non-profits. A lot of their work focuses on the identities of place, culture and lifestyle. André was most generous with his sharing, showing me some wonderful techniques and methods to brand development and client management.

This visit was also the result of a local connection: Campagne is part of the AMIN Worldwide, a global alliance of 50 marketing agencies, of which Buffalo’s own Jim Hettich, of Crowley Webb, is a member and officer. (Thanks for this introduction, Jim!) The AMIN connection is a big part of what André says is a necessary component of any creative producer’s work: sharing, teaching and learning. It sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? While Block Club is not (currently) an AMIN member, I’d say we’re already off to a good start on that front. 🙂