Leaving aside the fact that Samuel Akesson is considered among the best creative heads in the advertising world today, he is also creative partner at a Swedish agency where there are no directors, but far from getting sunk in the chaos has proved one of the most awarded independent creative hubs around the world.
The agency is called Forsman&Bodenfors (F&B) and there’s a magical key for its success and high level of creative quality: responsibility with zero prestige.
Akesson talked in his keynote for IAB Spain’s Inspirational Festival 2016 about that structure and creative process that leads F&B to achieve such outstanding creative work as The Epic split of Jean Claude Van Damme for Volvo Trucks -Volvo test series campaign- or the Facebook showroom.
“The key to creative work is talent. I think it’s true, but there’s something also important that is the context that surround us”…”I’d like to find the best place as possible, I mean a place where I’m listened, where my oppinions are valued”…”If you are constantly worried or affraid,If you are not confident of your place in the company doing something creative is quite difficult. People that need to do things that are unconventional, need to feel safe, need to feel at home,” he said during his keynote at the Festival.
F&B’s creative partner answered also some few questions for our readers unveiling other not less important aspects of the creative process the way of working inside the agency as well as plans to expand the F&B recipe outside Sweden.
Sincerity at the core
Eastwind (EW): You’ve talked about the way you work at Forsman&Bodenfors (F&B), but still I miss at least two points. The first one keeping true, sincere to the work and your coleagues. ¿What do you think about this?.
Samuel Akesson (SA): “May be I’veen talking about it without actually using that word. Because I think it is really really important. I mean, this is in the core of all this work I’ve been talking about. Being sincere in the sense that what we are all aiming to do is solving a problem in the best possible way, focussing on the core of the idea. To me that’s sincerity in communication. Doing what is a genuine right for the problem I have.”
Feeling confortable, not “routined”
EW: You’ve talked about responisbility in the sense that each team is responsible for the results of the work they are doing for the client. There’s no director over them to decide what is right or not. Despite you’ve been talking about feeling confortable this level of responsibility is something that it is to do with not having a confortable work. How do you manage this?
SA: “First of all I wouldn’t use the word unconfortable. Everyone who woks at Forsman&Bodenfors would be very confortable in the sense that you work in a place where you feel secure, you almost feel at home, and you are friends almost like a family. In that sense I think we want to feel confortable. But on the other hand, the other way that you’ve seen the word is may be, when you are referring to the sense..this is it, I know what I’m doing, I don’t want to change, I want to keep doing what I’m doing. This is a way of feeling confortable that we really try to avoid. We don’t want to feel that way. We want to keep focused on different ways of doing things, in better ways of doing things.”
Further more than talented, colaborative people
EW: How do you find the right people to work in the agency?, how do you select the right talents?
SA: “There’s no magic formula for that really. People that we can contact, people we try to see beyond the portfolio, beyond the work they’ve done previously and also, really focus on the right personality, I suppose. Being people that they are very confortable in collaborating and I feel that is the way forward. No one have to subscribe that ideology, but if going to work with us you probably have to, otherwise it would be very difficult. So I think we talk about the way we work, and we try to get a sense if that person is willing to work in the same manner.”
Digital a great tool among others to solve client’s problems
EW: You are not a digital agency, but you’ve been “tagged” as best digital agency in 2014. How did you manage to achieve this consideration.
SA: “I think this comes back to the bottom line, to the beginning. Just trying to be sincere to the problem. So, not as a way of getting stuck into a certain way of working, but keep trying to figure out the best for solving it,then you find that your range of tools is much bigger, and willing to pick up one of these tools by association, so that’s why in that silly world we are living in it is crazy for us but not picking digital as a critical tool for communication.”
The foreign eyes that “understood China” for the cosmetic Singaporean brand SK-II
EW: You are not a Chinese agency, but I think that you probably have made one of the best Chinese ad works I’ve ever watched. I’m referring to the left behind women and the marriage market take over for your client SKII. How did you manage to get to this idea and to connect in such a nice way?. Because you are about 300 people, and you are based in Sweden, not in China.
SA: “I also think it is a lovely piece of work. I think, it is such beautiful way to rise that question. We answer in a pragmatic way. Unusually much time. It required a bit of time to send a team, there were thirteen working on it, to China and to try to inmerse in the culture and understand..Of course you can’t go to China for a week and understand one of those cultures in the world, it is not as simple as that..but we really took the problem seriously, trying to be sincere in the way you’ve been using it. So we tried to do that, we tried to understand…and I think sometimes a combination of focus on what was going on in the culture but also having an objective view, can create that sort of positive explosion. And I guess that was the magic this ad came from: trying really to understand the culture, but also remembering that we have an objective view and therefore we can see things that Chinese people might not see about themselves”.
Right research+creative magic, two main ingredients for success
EW: I have some information about your work for Volvo Trucks. I must say that I dad never seen a Volvo truck so playful and funny. Being a b2b brand the ads connect with everybody, with the people. The other question on this point is how does your client allow you to do this with the brand.
SA: “I’ll try to answer that question realy shortly. It comes down really doing the insight work properly before. Giving planning or strategic work as much time as possible. It comes down of the understanding that the people who buy the rucks would not be our target audience, is all the people that surround them who talk and influence them.
“We realized that the best way of selling a truck would be talking to people that do not buy a truck. The family members that would say look that ad realy cool on TV, or someone else saying, listen, I don’t want to drive a truck that it is dangerous, that want to be in the safest place in the work, so talking to people around them and there getting into the core of the communication was a sort of initial insight for selling trucks, I think for us.
“Beyond that, again its some kind of creative magic that I don’t know realy how it works. I and the team did an amazing job. I don’t know how they came out with it but we realy did a good job.”
EW: You’ve got just three hundred people, and you also do research, in which way?.
SA: “We have 300 hundred people and this is correct, but there are subsidiaries so the ad agency is a hundred and thirty people may be, so it is smaller than that. Yes we have researchers, we have a team of researchers, may be four, something like that, we have three or four planners, these people focus on this aspect of the job, but it really comes down from everyone, because it is a collective way of working, we all have to try to get inmersed in the problem and in the understanding of the problem…”
Growing but keeping true to the no directors structure
EW: Leaving aside that an agency is a cretaive hub, it is also a business. When you think about scale, are you thinking also about growing?. In which way?
SA: “Yes, we are. Recently we formed a partnership with MDC Partners…they are not the holding company, I don’t know what the name it is, I’m affraid…but for all we are aboard of the ship it is to be able to grow…and really try to export our way of working, ’cause we do feel that people are interested in it abroad, we do feel that what we are doing do makes a difference and sometimes may be pushes advertising forward, so we are excited about trying to bring that out on a big scale, and trying to work that way, more globally and internationally. So yes we are trying to do that…”
EW: Are you thrying to gain scale from the botttom to the top, or else are you thinking about being purchased by a big multinational?
SA: “You have to try to analise yourself. It is very difficult, but we tried to and we realized that the one thing we have had that was unique was the way of organizing the agency, the way of working. That was unique, that was different.
“We realized that was the reason why we are doing a relatively good work, so that’s why we need to stay really true to that and if we are going to grow, if we are going to export ourselves that’s what we are going to export the idea of working collectivelly, organising the agency, where everyone has responsibility. If we loose that, it doesn’t matter what the name of the agency, we are going to loose the quality and we really need to hold on that, so that’s what we are trying to do.”
Awards, a fun tool to test your level against other agencies
EW: What does it mean an award to your agency?. Is it just a price or something else?
SA:“I don’t know. I think that awards and prices are very strange… I mean its a little bit strange focussing on them, but on the other hand, of course, they are important in a sense that there’s not so many ways to objectively rating the quality of the agencies, so we have to accept that these are the tools, these are the ways of doing it.
“So, by looking how well we are performing in the award shows, we know how we get, a sort of rate of ourselves against other agencies around the world. So in that sense is a tool, but also of course it is fun, it’s fun to get someone saying you’ve made a good job. So that’s one of the motivvating factors in all the work.”
About Samuel Akesson.-
Born in Katrineholm (Sweden) on 2nd May 1979, and trained as a graphic designer a the Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm, Samuel Akesson, has a long and multi awarded career in the ad industry where he has worked in some of the best agencies in the world like MADE; Leo Burnett London; Scholz&Friends (London and Berlin); and in Fallon London, inmmediately before joining Forsman&Bodenfors in 2009.
With his works before starting off at Forsman&Bodenfors he earned more than 25 coveted advertising awards from Cannes, D&AD, Clios, Epica, BTAA and the Creative Circle.
Currently Creative Senior Partner at Forsman&Bodenfors (Göteborg -Sweden-)he has worked while at London among other clients for Sony, Orange, Cadbury and the BBC -radio I-.
Now at Forsman &Bodenfors he works for a row of clients including Tele2, Ikea, or If Insurance.
In 2008, he was considered “Creative Futures” por the Creative Review and “Young Gun” by the ADC New York. He has been also ranked 8th in the list of the most awarded Art Directors in the world.
Headquertered in Göteborg (Sweden) Forsman&Bodenfors is currently an independent agency wit around 300 people working in it (around 130 of them in th creative field).
Forsman&Bodenfors has been awarded the Independent agency of the year (2015)recognition at Eurobest, Most Awarded agency by the Gunn Report in different fields, including digital (2014), Independent agency of the year in 2014 at Cannes Lions, The One Show, ADC etc.. as well as Interactive Agency of the Year by the ADC 2014, among other recognitions.
Campaigns like the live test series for Volvo Trucks (including the Epic Split of Jean Claude Van Damme)-Best in show 2014 at the ADC Awards- or the Facebook Showroom for Ikea -Titanium at Cannes Lions 2010- are among the most awarded creative stuff by this agency that has achieved over 200 international awards and in the latest cannes Lions Festival 2016 alone, returned home with 16 Gold Lions in the case.
Related Eastwindmarketing links (videos):
Inspirational 2016- Forsman&Bodenfors the adagency with no directors
(Samuel Akesson’s keynote at Inspirational16)
Interview with Samuel Akesson Forsman&Bodenfors
Related external links (videos):
F&B works showed by Samuel Akesson in his keynote at IAB Spain’s Inspirational16