Amsterdam's inclusive creative tradition inspires the city to be a hub for communication without frontiers.
Since relocating from London to Amsterdam 12 years ago, I've noticed the city swell to become an international game-changing hub of creative excellence. Of course, it has been for decades - centuries, in fact. Amsterdam has always attracted talent from beyond the Netherlands.
With so many cultures, nationalities and languages mixing it up since the Dutch Golden Age, it's no wonder that storytelling, collaborative consumption and the art of conversation is entrenched in the city.
As the founder of a PR company specialising in the creative industry, advising both brands and brand builders on reputation management and content amplification, I find myself in a privileged position. I get a peek behind the magician's curtain when it comes to issues facing the communications industry worldwide. And it's not all smoke and mirrors. The smart agencies, whether they are led by design, digital, advertising or apps, are those that understand the relevance of authentic conversations, of listening as well as talking. Of sharing stories that are consistently well told.
I can wax lyrical until the (Friesian) cows come home about the whys and wherefores of the city's creative credentials. The fact is, there's nowhere else quite the same. Like some of our clients, we are based in Amsterdam; like all of our clients, we work across borders. From London to New York, Paris to Dubai, Shanghai to Stockholm, we have seen that no creative hub collaborates, thinks, shapes or thrives on an international stage as effortlessly as Amsterdam.
The Anglo-Saxons among us are fortunate that English is accepted as an international business language here so openly and competently. Don't get me wrong, the Dutch speak Dutch (and German and French). There's simply a readiness to communicate in English that you won't find in many other European cities. It means that any business from around the world can open an office and hit the ground running, with 15-plus nationalities working under one roof as standard. This can do nothing but positively inform the work. Wieden & Kennedy, 180 and Amsterdam Worldwide lead the charge here. Even FinchFactor, at just six people, ticks off British, Dutch, Polish and Swedish nationalities.
As a global village, Amsterdam is built bite-size but packed with flavour. This makes for a more connected, interwoven and, ultimately, stronger creative community. On the downside, everyone knows your business. The upside? You know pretty much everyone. They have worked with you, dated someone you know, shared a beer with you or spilt a beer on you. The talent pool is deep and rich. So too is the agency roll-call, both locally and regionally focused. There are those with Dutch DNA (BSUR, MediaMonks, Kessels-Kramer, Lemz), international fly-ins (Blast Radius, Arnold, TAXI, Anomaly), or home-grown Amsterdam adopters (180, Amsterdam Worldwide, We Are Pi). For many, already out of their comfort zone and living abroad, this is an opportunity to splash around, getting their feet wet as they move from one agency to another, cross-fertilising ideas, skills and vision.
Amsterdam adland has always mixed it up, with innovators and experimenters across diverse disciplines. Don't be surprised to find pop-up wine bar organisers and graffiti artists sitting alongside film-makers and social media mavens, working together on a brand platform that takes in wallpaper design, yodelling and tattoo artistry.
This cross-pollination has a lot to do with the city's success. Collaboration is key and there are plenty of opportunities to sow seeds that feed the beast. Integration - and a view that strength lies not in territorial competition but in sharing ideas - sets Amsterdam on fertile soil. A win for an agency in Amsterdam is seen, for the most part, as a win for the creative community en masse. There is always going to be jockeying for position and rivalry. However, the creative spirit strikes me as inclusive, not exclusive. New agencies are welcomed into the fold. There is potency in numbers.
In the long run, this leads to a shared responsibility for collective excellence across a varied body of work. On the world stage, the work speaks for itself, time and again. If you take comfort in awards as proof of the pudding, then chew on this. Benetton "unhate" (72andSunny); Nike "write the future" (Wieden & Kennedy); Onitsuka Tiger "made of Japan" (Amsterdam Worldwide); Philips "obsessed with sound" (Tribal DDB); and Mini "all the wrong places" (BSUR) to name just a few. All Amsterdam. And why not? When Paris is seen as French, Berlin as German, and London as British (well, English), Amsterdam is seen as European. Dutch, yes, but distinctly European. This borders-neutrality - and not in a Swiss way - is rare. It encourages foreign investment. It partners with media neutrality and breeds confidence in major brands.
The city has always been about trade. From the 15th century, when Sephardic Jews (who established the banking system and secured Holland's place on the world trade map) fled the Spanish Inquisition to the safety and tolerance of the Dutch Republic, to modern-day visionaries who are attracted to the city's prolific art and design heritage. These days, Amsterdam also trades in stories so great that they are shared again and again. That is why I established FinchFactor in Amsterdam in 2009; to be at the thumping heart of the conversation when it comes to brand communication.
POINT OF VIEW
Old master or HTML5? Old master, with benefits.
I know I'm not in London when ... grown men drink milk at lunch.
I still haven't ... been inside a houseboat. I watched one sink once, but it's not the same.
When in Amsterdam, don't expect ... wheelchair access. City-central living takes place in 18th-century canal houses, built skinny to avoid the "width-of-building" tax. If you're lucky, you'll have a lift up to the fifth floor. But only if you're lucky.
When in Amsterdam, don't say ... "You look rubbish in orange." It's the national colour; you'll see a lot of it.
Cheese or moules-frites? Moules-frites, even though it's actually a Belgian speciality.
Kerrie Finch is the chief executive of FinchFactor
Sponsored by FinchFactor.
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