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Agency Profile: INGO

Posted on December 20, 2012 and read 3,018 times

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brettihaismall Agency Profile: INGOBrett McKenzie
Content Producer
Art Directors Club


Sweden has shown the world more than its fair share of famous athletes. In tennis, there’s the legendary Björn Borg; if you’re a fan of golf, look no further than Annika Sörenstam; and on the hockey rink, names such as Börje Salming, Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg are instantly recognizable — especially true of the first two in my hometown of Toronto, Canada.

But before these greats, there was one Swede gracing the covers of newspapers and magazines the world over: former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world Igemar Johansson. Famous for his bouts with fellow boxing great Floyd Patterson, Johansson had a devastating punch, and his fist was nicknamed “the Hammer of Thor.”

Johansson himself had a more playful nickname bestowed upon him by the press: Ingo.


The offices of ad agency INGO are nestled in the bustling southern end of Stockholm’s Norrmalm district, where commuters and tourists dart around the city’s Central Station, and there appears to be an H&M on every block — indeed, INGO is situated in the same block as the clothing giant’s headquarters. In the upper floors of the building, INGO’s halls feature glimpses of Johansson, and its conference rooms are named after he and other Swedish pugilists. You’d be forgiven if you thought the agency was named after him, but there is actually a completely different story behind INGO and its name. You see, up until 2011, INGO was actually two agencies; more specifically the local offices for Ogilvy & Mather and Grey.

“The merging of Grey and Ogilvy was a local initiative, but it was originally spurred by WPP contacting each of us here in Stockholm,” explains Christina Knight, INGO’s Executive Creative Director, and previously the ECD at Ogilvy. “They wanted us to share more back-office functions such as IT and financial systems and whatnot. But as we started getting to know each other on that level, we realized that we really liked each other! We were like two jigsaw pieces that fitted together perfectly, complementing each other. And so we decided to pitch the idea of joining forces to Sir Martin Sorrell to see what he thought. I think WPP was a little taken aback, but since there were no client conflicts between us, they agreed to go with it.”

And so, after a Facebook teaser campaign which had people’s profile pics form a collage, the new agency was born on February 1st, 2011, under the name Initiative New: Grey and Ogilvy.

Today the merged agency sits at about “68-ish” staff members — about twenty of those in the creative department — primarily made up of people from the former agencies. The team is thoroughly mixed, with the management eschewing their fancy offices in favor of sitting amongst the rest of the staff in an open concept setting (the aforementioned corner offices now serve as meeting rooms).

“We’ve really tried to nourish a culture that takes the best from Grey and Ogilvy,” says Christina. “You’ll find that our structure here is very flat. Most Swedish agencies don’t have the hierarchical structure that you’ll find in agencies in the United States or England. But I think we’ve made an even greater effort to have everyone on the same level. We have equal numbers of men and women, and our Swedish staff come from all corners of the country, not just from Stockholm.” Christina did remark that INGO needs to work on bringing in younger people. “A lot of people have been with us for many years, either through Grey or Ogilvy, and while that is a testament to our great environment, we need to make a strong effort to recruit fresh minds, through Berghs or other ad schools.”

Many agencies have experimented in recent years with the structure of their creative departments, and INGO is no exception. The agency has tried to keep things fresh by letting creatives, particularly the juniors, work on a variety of clients. It’s very rare to find more than one INGO team working on a particular client, and that one team doesn’t stay on that client for too long. There is, however, one thing that keeps things a little more stable for some creatives: INGO has a number of pharmaceutical clients that require extensive knowledge of Sweden’s many regulations, and thus need more experienced creatives to helm those assignments for longer periods of time. “It’s challenging, and even frustrating, to navigate those waters, and it takes a lot of know-how,” explains Christina. “We need people who know the rules, yet still yearn to go beyond the ‘old lady walking on a beach with a golden retriever’ concept that’s so prevalent in medical journals.”

“Ugh, pharma,” I can already hear many of our readers groaning. But before you hightail it over to the cooler side of INGO, keep in mind that the agency has carved itself a comfortable little niche in the Nordic landscape. “There are a number of agencies who just do pharmaceutical ads,” says Timo Orre, INGO art director. “Their ads tend to look like pharma ads. Here at INGO, we tend to attract pharma companies who want to be a little braver. These types of clients give us the chance to be more creative with their brand. They don’t always buy it, but they are more than willing to listen.”

Perhaps it’s a part of Swedish culture, or maybe it’s the fact that there aren’t a lot of daylight hours this far north at this time of year — it was nighttime by 3:30 PM when I visited — but INGO appears to be very disciplined when it comes to making use of its time. This is not a shop where you find people wandering in at 11:30 AM, stepping out for an extended Starbucks break before settling in to work until midnight. “Just about everyone is here and working by 9:00 AM,” says Christina. “A handful of us are here much earlier than that! But we make the most out of our day and endeavor to be done by 5:00 PM. Sure, if there’s a pitch, we’ll work late, but here there is no glamour or prestige in working late, in being seen as the last person in the building. We want people to have lives.”

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INGO also wants people to share their lives with each other, which is why the agency has a tradition of closing early on Friday, with everyone migrating to the kitchen for beers and wine and to talk about anything but advertising. “We like to chat about things we’ve done outside of the agency, movies, exhibitions, whatever.” The INGO kitchen is also a place for cooking and baking, and many of these Friday sessions include the more culinary-inclined staff members whipping up treats for their co-workers (throughout the day, this task is done by the agency receptionist, who is renowned throughout the Swedish ad world for baking goodies at any time of day.)

Of course, when the weather is more summery, the folks at INGO can expand beyond the kitchen, but they rarely need to go looking for a bar or café; the agency has two large terraces, each one bathed in sunlight at different times of day. “We call them our morning coffee terrace and our gin and tonic terrace,” Christina jokes.

One frequent question I’ve asked on my travels to different agencies is about the old standard forms of agency entertainment: foosball and ping-pong. It doesn’t matter if an agency has both types of tables, one will always hold dominance in office politics. At INGO, it’s apparently the foosball table, although I learned that it wasn’t always the case. “We used to have table tennis, and that was fun, because both the men and the women would play,” comments Jenny Ström, a veteran art director here at INGO. “Nowadays it’s foosball and FIFA, which seems to be only played by the men, or should I say the boys?”

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Weekly agency-wide meetings aren’t terribly rare in the advertising world; if a shop isn’t too big, it can be a perfect way to get everybody up to speed. INGO begins their workweeks with such meetings, but instead of limiting the conversation to creative work and accounts being won or lost, INGO likes to cover every aspect of the agency, even administration and financial statuses — the kinds of things most creatives never get to hear about. “I was very surprised to hear the agency talk about its finances,” comments Helena Thorsell, an INGO art director who has also worked in the Big Apple. “Back in New York, creatives were never told this sort of information. I think that knowing these numbers makes you feel a little more responsible for the work you do.”

So what’s on the horizon for INGO? “We see ourselves growing outward,” says Christina. “We would love to do more work that goes beyond Sweden, especially for growing Swedish companies looking to expand their business outside of this country.”

“More importantly, INGO will be bringing in younger talent,” Christina says with a smile on her face. “Those of us here who are 40-plus have a lot to learn, and I can’t get all of the trends from my sons!”

Special thanks to Christina, Timo, Jenny and Helena for taking the time to chat with us about INGO. An extra special thanks to Getty Images for making this visit to INGO possible,

DN cupen Agency Profile: INGO




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