Creative inspiration in Scandinavia

Creative inspiration in Scandinavia

By James Kirk, Strategy Director

I recently had the opportunity to visit Copenhagen and Malmo with a bunch of creative and digital agency folk from the North West and beyond. It was a study trip and one that I’d had booked in my diary for months, I was looking forward to but was ultimately a little unsure about its likely value to me and our business.

After all, three days away from the office and family is a long time, the businesses we were due to visit were probably going to be just selling their creds to us to make themselves look great, and the other people on the trip would probably keep their cards close to their chest – because no-one wants to be open about the inner workings of their agency with possible competitors, right?

On all three fronts, I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried. It was a really inspiring and incredibly valuable three days, full of insight, challenge and fun.

We visited some awesome creative businesses who are doing some great things; ranging from UsTwo who are the guys behind the global gaming hit Monument Valley, Happy Mondays who have recently worked on the YouTubeKids app through to the national broadcaster DR who deliver the incredible dramas that we’ve all been clamouring after such as The Bridge, The Killing and Borgen. In addition we spent time with a UKTI representative, visited a beautiful co-working space and even had a guided tour of the city on a segway.

Here are three things I took from the trip…

1. Sharing and openness

Every business we visited welcomed us with open arms and shared their story with us, the good and the bad, and were equally keen to learn from us. This sense of openness and honest two-way sharing of experiences was both unexpected and refreshing. The collaborative spirit was also shared amongst the others on the trip from the UK, which led to some invaluable conversations about the shared challenges we all face running small agencies in the UK.

It is such a simple thing to do in principle, but in reality we rarely take the time to genuinely share our challenges, learning and fears with our peers. But if we can push ourselves out of our comfort zone to talk about things it can only be a good thing.

2. A focus on creative outcomes

A clear and consistent theme emerging from the trip was how Scandinavian agencies are approaching client business challenges with holistic creative thinking to achieve the right outcome, and not being blinkered by a focus on specific service lines to simply deliver outputs. This is an exciting evolution as it starts to allow true creative thinking to emerge from all parts of an agency, irrespective of whether an individual is trained as a graphic designer, strategist or digital developer. For some, this may appear to be scary as there is a chance that creative recommendations take a project away from the core in-house skills of an agency; but if our industry is to truly align itself with the changing face of the world around us then this bold step into holistic creativity is a must.

3. Bikes are good!

Copenhagen is a beautiful city. It’s full of chic bars, a thriving design and fashion scene, in addition to centuries of history with museums and inspiring architecture on every street. To use Lonely Planet’s phrase it is ‘possibly Europe’s most seamless urban experience’. But best of all, for me, is the sheer volume of people that use bikes to travel rather than cars in the city.

And that’s not because I’m a big cycling fanatic, but rather because it’s a reflection of how a community can work together to achieve change for the better. In the UK we talk about changing our travel habits a lot, whether that be for fitness, finances or the environment; but we easily find barriers in the way of our individual progress and maintain the status quo of driving our cars.

What then is the difference between Copenhagen and the bigger cities in the UK? How have they made this leap to sustainable transport use?

I don’t profess to know all the answers but my gut feel is that the attitude of the Danish is to think and act together, with a view to the long-term for the collective good. Rather than asking ‘what is in it for me?’ perhaps the question that Danes ask is ‘what is in it for us?’ Is this collective, responsible view of solidarity the missing link for us?

What if we could learn from this and introduce this kind of mindset to our world of marketing, communications and agencies? What could we achieve with a more supportive and collective outlook?

Finally, well done to the team at Form who organised this fantastic trip, and thank you to everyone else who was on the trip – see you in London for the next chapter!