Stockholm Syndrome: Why You Won’t Be Able to Resist Falling in Love with Swedish Advertising
Unhierarchical, collaborative, supportive and fair – Sweden is often characterised as a place where egalitarianism and cooperation flourish. And, speaking to advertising agencies, production companies and post houses, it seems that these open-minded sensibilities are also ingrained in the country’s creative industries. Flat hierarchies encourage everyone in a company to get involved in creativity. Strong social welfare encourages pioneers to take risks. Apparent competitors meet up to swap advice and share tips. And egomaniacal directors are quickly weeded out. Sounds kind of heavenly, doesn’t it? But can it possibly be true? LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with some industry experts to find out the truth about what makes Sweden so unique in the advertising world.
David Sandstrom, CEO, DDB Stockholm
On what makes the Swedish advertising industry so unique…
I think we are truly diverse when it comes to allowing different opinions, competences and backgrounds to work together. We are unique at getting the best out of everyone and letting everyone voice their opinion. It takes a bit longer and the road is a bit bumpier – but at the end I think that the most fascinating work comes out of truly diverse teams. Swedes are great at building those teams.
Is the stereotype of unhierarchical agencies fair?
It is a fair characterisation. Us for example, we work without creative directors, have almost no hierarchies and work a lot across silos and departments. However, this also comes with a lot of downsides. So it is a fair characterisation, but sometimes it’s too idealised. This is just our way of working, it’s not a secret sauce in anyway. But at the end of the day I still have a firm belief in the fact that great ideas need diversity, pollination and openness.
Henric Larsson, Founder, Chimney
On the strong welfare state…
In Sweden risk is low. In other words CMOs dare to take risks in Sweden because the labour laws mean that they can basically never lose their job. Should one become unemployed the children go to public school, the wife works etc., so the world will not fall apart. Abroad, all managers have built a temple around themselves as they struggle to defend themselves and focus on minimizing risks.
Why independent thinkers trump middle managers in Sweden…
Another unique thing in Sweden is that all employees, by default, question authorities and distrust their manager until the person can prove that they create value. That does not exist abroad, where you do as the manager says to avoid responsibility. Also, in other countries every middle manager wants to show that they are managers and have thoughtless opinions about everything.
Philip Ahlqwist, CD, Volontaire
On what makes Swedish advertising unique…
I believe the secret recipe is a healthy mix of anxiety combined with a deeply rooted interest of trying new things in our culture, much based on a necessity because of our geographically remote location, since post internet times. A saying that I think represents the mentality in Sweden is ‘when you’re through changing, you’re through’ and being such a small country we need to be agile and work accordingly to be able to compete with the world outside and strive to create state of the art communication. I also think our location up north pushes us to exceed in all creative fields, maybe also because we’re not as provoked by the world outside to some extent. This, combined with the fact that agencies have more influence deeper and higher up in our clients’ hierarchy, means there are no boundaries to what we can create and what difference we can make for our clients.
On how the local advertising industry treats the work/life balance…
I think it differs from agency to agency, but most agencies in Sweden understand that you need to offer your employees a good work/life balance for them to be able to perform well at work. The best agencies’ culture is normally not about personal prestige, but team spirit and with high demands on execution. Work hard, play hard is something that is a widely spread approach in the creative industry in Sweden and you need to fuel people’s passion, not kill it with loads of work. An insight I use is that people often get more inspiration outside of work than inside the office, so don’t keep them there.
Camp David EP Kristina Wibom & Production Manager Nicola Jones
On why a collaborative spirit makes Swedish directors a joy to work with…
Nicola: It’s never been as big a production scale as it is in London or Los Angeles, there isn’t the same money, so directors have to think outside the box and collaborate more. There were some directors that I came across in London who were like an island and didn’t give their ideas freely and were a bit sharp elbowed, where I think here there is a more collaborative, almost socialist spirit. It’s small so you can’t have sharp elbows here; everybody knows everybody. If you’re stuck you can call someone else up and they’ll suggest something to try.
Kristina: I see a lot of Swedish actors and DoPs and directors working in Hollywood and they have that reputation of being nice guys and girls who are easy to work with because of the mentality. And we’ve learned a lot from working in smaller set ups here and we’ve done a lot. They have a very high knowledge of a lot of things; they’re not just into one thing. It’s all really helpful. And that’s the nice thing about directors and DoPs who have international careers too – that all filters back and they bring that global experience back to Sweden.
Oskar Hellqvist, Abby Norm
Having a strong welfare system is never a bad thing. I don’t believe creativity can only be born in misery.
Compared to other countries our company hierarchies are a bit different. I think the best idea always should be the winner. If it comes from someone usually in charge of filing papers or a creative isn’t that important.
Brett Richards, Brokendoll
On being an Australian director in Sweden and challenging some assumptions...
I used to think that Swedish people did not work that hard. But now living here I have come to understand that they value, family, health, exercise and nature in such a balanced way that it enhances creativity and productivity. I think the welfare systems is outstanding and it really maximises the possibilities for people to get in to the creative fields regardless of gender or their socio-econmic background.