Hail to the Kingsday
Setting up shop in the middle of a recession is not for the faint-hearted – and nor is it for the pessimistic. For all the industry’s received wisdom that straightened economic times make for lean, hungry start-ups, success is next to impossible to achieve without optimism and a sense of belief. The creative shop Kingsday was founded in 2011, as Amsterdam (like the rest of Europe) was mired in recession – and now that things are looking up in the city, Kingsday’s glass-half-full spirit means that the agency is truly blossoming. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with founding partners Sander Volten, Sicco Beerda, Eric Ytsma and Bram de Rooij to find out more.
LBB> Kingsday was founded in 2011 as Amsterdam was in the middle of a recession – umm brave! Did you have any qualms or concerns about setting up during a financial crisis?
Sander Volten (MD)> Crises are the best times to start up; in fact innovation often starts in times of crisis because people are looking for new ways of making money. Creatives, production companies and clients alike. And even real estate owners!
Starting from scratch in a recession makes you hungry as hell – and feels like an almost irresistible display of optimism. Passion is one of the key ingredients in our creative environment and if you are hungry it shows. We are willing to do more in less time and we strive for perfection in every written brief and in every encounter.
Also, it makes you prudent, as you tend to be a bit more cautious with your own spending and investments. Most importantly however: clients are looking for ways to cut costs, by creating new kinds of work or by working in a different way.
LBB> What were the key lessons that you learned starting up in a challenging environment? How has that experience influenced the culture at Kingsday?
Sander> Staying positive! I think that ‘growing against the odds’ in an industry that’s taking heavy blows creates a sense of working together for a common goal and a good feeling of togetherness. We encourage our whole team to think entrepreneurially.
A great opportunity for us and our way of working is how the crisis has unleashed a new era of openness for multinationals – through social media the value of conversations with your customer is what your communication strategy is about. This area has been our playground for many years, but we’re really capitalizing on this right now.
LBB> How big is the agency now and how much has it grown since you opened?
Sicco Beerda> We currently employ 24 people. It’s a relatively small team, but we can be a giant within hours if we need to be due to the wealth of freelance talent in Amsterdam.
We made a conscious decision to grow steadily, so that people have the time to blend in and we’re able to maintain our Kingsday culture. Our agency culture is incredibly important to us and I guess it can be defined as the best of Dutch and the best of international. The Dutch part of our culture could be summarized as a pragmatic approach and the ‘flatness’ of the organization. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and we avoid hierarchy.
The international side to our culture is defined by ‘thinking big’ – very high levels of ambition both for creativity and for innovation. We intend to keep setting the bar higher and higher as we go on. And of course the special magic you get when different nationalities and their cultures collide makes interesting work.
LBB> What sparked off the idea to found Kingsday in the first place? What were your original goals for the agency and how have they evolved?
Eric Ytsma> Being raised in digital, we evolved in the opposite direction compared to many other agencies. They were incorporating the digital discipline by hiring digital people, adding 'digital' to the menu. We built our agency on the belief that brands can only grow when you get rid of the divide between traditional advertising, digital and PR. Brand building, interactivity and reputation really go hand in hand. And because of our digital roots we understand that if you’re vying for people's attention, you had better create something interesting!
Also we’ve also found a bit of a niche – at least here in Amsterdam – insofar as we are one of the few full-service creative agencies that include social in our offering. This makes us surprisingly unique in Amsterdam.
LBB> We’ve noticed a really interesting blossoming of Dutch agencies with a really exciting energy and big ambitions. Why do you think that is? Is it a result of the economic situation?
Sicco> If Wieden+Kennedy can make great global work coming out of Amsterdam, why can’t young Dutch agencies? And why can’t we? Apart from that, modern campaigns really have the opportunity to come from anywhere, made with any budget. That’s the real digital revolution.
In terms of economics the big brands are developing less and less local work. Their agencies make work for the whole world.
And this story has been told many times of course, but there is something wholly unique about the amount of international talent walking around in Amsterdam. It’s refreshing to see that something special has rubbed off on the native Dutch advertising scene and now there is a second (or third) wave of new agencies starting up with a Dutch / international DNA. We’re pretty happy to be part of this trend.
LBB> With a name like Kingsday, there's no denying the agency's Dutch roots and identity!
Bram de Rooij> We think Kingsday (and Queensday before the King came to the throne in 2013) embodies some great Dutch values: hospitality, entrepreneurship and a celebration of life. We want every day to feel like Kingsday.
And it gives us a perfect reason to throw a big party once a year.
LBB> The editorial team at LBB has really fallen in love with your, err, floral sector (?) work for the Dutch Flower Council and Funnyhowflowersdothat.co.uk – we've really loved the contemporary and playful ideas that capture or trigger an emotion without being clichéd or sentimental. What were these projects like to work on?
Bram> This won’t come as a surprise, but they were really fun to work on. Everybody likes flowers. Really, everybody. There’s no other product category that gives so much satisfaction. And the people at the Flower Council continuously challenge us to come up with work that feels fresh and different. They have small budgets, so they know we all have to be creative. Our strategic approach defies boredom: instead of one big 30-second ad we get the chance to make lots of different pieces throughout the year. As a creative person that keeps you interested. And as a consumer you’re constantly being entertained. I guess everyone’s a winner.
LBB> What are your ambitions for Kingsday? Where do you want to see the agency in another two years? Ten years?
Eric> We want to keep growing at a steady pace and to continue being a great place to work at and work with. And we'll keep focusing on our ambition to get rid of the divide between advertising, digital and PR. Because that's where new opportunities arise. Crossing borders, mixing disciplines and getting out of your comfort zone. That's why we will keep on expanding our national and international footprint with a healthy mix of Dutch and international clients and staff.