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Agency Profile: Garbergs

Posted on January 21, 2013 and read 3,005 times

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brettihaismall Agency Profile: GarbergsBrett McKenzie
Content Producer
Art Directors Club


Visitors to Stockholm have a lot of culinary options to choose from, and one of the city’s most popular restaurants is called Gondolen. Located in the Södermalm district, the restaurant serves a variety of traditionally Swedish dishes — more seafood than you can shake a fishing rod at — but in many eyes, the food is secondary to the spectacular view. Gondolen offers a huge panoramic view of the archipelago that makes up the city of Stockholm. You can see the many waterways that stretch from Riddarfjärden to the Baltic Sea, and there’s also an unparalleled view of Gamla stan, home of the Royal Palace and Stockholm Cathedral.

Of course, if you’re in advertising, there is another way to enjoy this same breathtaking view of Stockholm… simply get yourself a job at Garbergs.


It’s from the stunning vantage point of the lower floor of Garbergs Reklambyrå (reception and meeting rooms are all downstairs, while upstairs is where the action is) where I meet with Petter Ödeen, the agency’s esteemed creative director. “I don’t know if you could call me ‘esteemed’,” Petter laughs. “The creative director role is fairly new to Sweden, only the past seven to ten years or so. Before that, the creative team had control of the ideas, as well as contact with the client. That’s still the way we work, and so I see myself as more of a coach than a creative director. It’s not my job here to decide what goes forward, but rather to help the teams perfect their arguments about why the work is good.”

Founded in 1987 — long before the digital world that has been a boon to Swedish ad shops — Garbergs has grown to become one of the country’s most respected agencies. “But we haven’t grown too much,” adds Petter. “We’re only about 50 people, which is still pretty small. I believe we are smaller than what many clients and other companies think of us, and I chalk that up to the high density of creative work. Our idea is to not leave any client behind. We feel that there would be problems if only a handful of clients got all of the creative attention.”

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Garbergs, like many agencies, have long done away with providing individual offices for its staff, and have instead taken the open concept idea to the next level, placing everyone around a giant table. “With the table, nobody’s area is really theres,” say Petter. “That encourages a lot of moving around, we we like.” Since the building the agency is in is designed for the view, there are far more windows than walls. To rectify this, as well as to accommodate the ‘moving around’ nature, Garbergs has built several walls on wheels, so work can be displayed and brought to various areas as needed.

When it comes time to actually working on projects, it is Garbergs’ policy to limit the number of people on an assignment. “I believe that we shouldn’t have more than four people on a project,” explains Petter. “Two creatives, an account person, and a fourth specialist if necessary. We want people to feel responsible for bringing the idea home.” This method leads to junior talent getting the chance to cut their teeth on bigger brands, something they might not get to do in an agency with more established senior/intermediate/junior roles. This also means that teams tend to “stick” with certain clients; since the creatives themselves are establishing relationships with the marketing staff on the client side, it makes little sense to assign new creatives to projects too frequently.

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Petter does add that one of the drawbacks in working in this manner is that they miss out on some clients who are more comfortable with having a big team of suits responding and catering to their every whim. “Some clients just aren’t suited for the way we work, and they tend to be very large clients who are used to being catered to by accounts people, not by a young pair of creatives who are actually doing the work,” he says. “We wish they’d be more open, but then we’d rather work with clients who do understand the way we work.”

Not everything at Garbergs is an assigned project; the agency is very open to having its staff bring in cool side projects to bring to life. One example: when a former Garbergs copywriter went on to write a cookbook, the agency worked with the alumnus to help design, produce and promote the book. Another staff member brought in an idea that has had Garbergs dipping its toe into the restaurant business; the agency is part owner of Beijing 8, a Chinese dumplings and tea shop, and helps develop the design and branding. And since its main location is only a short walk away from Garbergs, I can only assume its a great bonus for staff come lunchtime!

Now I’ve mentioned in detail the wonderful view that Garbergs’ location affords its staff, but even then, a change of scenery is always nice. With that in mind, last year the agency decided to try something new; they took the entire staff to a new location. Not across town or to some retreat in the countryside, mind you, but over 1400 miles away to Barcelona. And this wasn’t a vacation on the Catalan coast; Garbergs rented office space and set up shop, complete with their computers, servers and Swedish phone numbers and extensions. “To be honest, we had thought about taking the agency to a conference or out partying, but we felt this would be more interesting,” says Petter. “Work-wise, it was business as usual, with everybody coming in on time and doing their job.” Garbergs also met with a number of local agencies while in Barcelona, and got a sense of how they work and push creativity, particularly during a very economically depressed time in the region.

The Barcelona trip was a success for Garbergs, and they are currently thinking about doing it again, in a new city, or perhaps joining with another agency in some sort of an ‘office swap’. “The Barcelona trip showed that it could be done,” says Petter. “We are always open to trying new things, so we can see ourselves putting a new twist on this in the future.”

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Garbergs is also an agency that loves to throw parties — some of the best parties in the industry, my host at Getty Images informs me — but unlike most agencies, you don’t have to work at Garbergs to get in. “We open our doors to everybody,” says Petter. “Clients, competitors, you name it. Of course, we charge a bit for the drinks, but that allows to have these parties more often. And they have been great successes, serving as sort of advertisements for the agency itself.”

So what are some of the challenges that lie ahead for Garbergs in the coming years? “I think one thing that we need to get back to is doing big ideas for brands that get noticed in a big way,” says Petter. “Many years ago, it used to be that an agency’s best work, the work that won them awards, was for their well-known clients. Nowadays, the work that wins at award shows is generally only seen at award shows, because it’s all for small brands. We want to really do great work for all of our clients, not just the small ones.”

“We also feel that we have to work hard to prove that just because we are an older Swedish agency, one that’s been around before the digital boom, that we aren’t old-fashioned,” adds Petter. “Just because our agency has a history of traditional advertising doesn’t mean we aren’t well-versed in cutting edge media.”

So when all is said and done, what are Garberg’s plans for the future? “ It’s pretty simple, really,” laughs Petter. “We are working towards being one of the best agencies in the world. We might not get there, but the journey will sure be fun!”

And you’ll always have the best view in town.

Special thanks to Petter for showing us around Garbergs. An extra special thanks to Getty Images for making this visit to Garbergs possible.

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