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Agency Profile: Forsman & Bodenfors Stockholm

Posted on January 23, 2013 and read 3,817 times

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brettihaismall Agency Profile: Forsman & Bodenfors StockholmBrett McKenzie
Content Producer
Art Directors Club

 

There is a bit of a rivalry between the Swedish cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg. Stockholm, of course, is the capital of Sweden, the most populous city in the country, and arguably the cultural and economic hub of the entire Nordic region (although some people in Copenhagen might disagree with that last one.) Gothenburg, on the other hand, is known for its industrial strength — it’s the home of Volvo and SKF — and its many music and film festivals. I’m told that the vibe of Stockholm and Gothenburg, which are located on Sweden’s east and west coasts respectively, mirror their east coast/west coast counterparts in the US, and some Göteborgare joke that being on the west coast makes them more in touch with the western world.

In the world of advertising, it appears that Stockholm has an edge; it’s where some of the best schools in the industry are located, and it’s where most Swedish agencies set up their headquarters.

Forsman & Bodenfors are not like “most Swedish agencies.”

Founded in Gothenburg in 1986, the independent Forsman & Bodenfors is one of Sweden’s most internationally recognized and awarded advertising agencies. And while the agency is still headquartered in the west, F&B finally decided to open up shop in Stockholm in 2001, taking advantage of that city’s talent pool, as well as getting a chance to show the capital what Gothenburg was all about.

“The feeling of being an outsider was really important to Forsman & Bodenfors, and to Gothenburg in general,” explains Johan Eghammer, Art Director and Partner at the Stockholm office. “Back in the 80s, pretty much all of the agencies were in Stockholm, and the founders wanted to show everyone that they could make an impact from Gothenburg. When we finally opened up here, we were a bit afraid of losing that outsider vibe, that we’d become just another Stockholm agency.”

“I believe that part of the trick of maintaining that Gothenburg spirit here in Stockholm was that for the first few years, we were still essentially in Gothenburg,” adds Jacob Nelson, a veteran F&B copywriter. “We didn’t have an office, just a room with no receptionist. Most of the time we’d be on the train, working in Gothenburg three or four days a week. In fact, if you were in the Stockholm office on any given day, there was a good chance you’d be the only person there, with the rest of the team out west.”

Of course a lot has changed since F&B first hung their Stockholm shingle. Today that one room is now a bright orange office in the Norrmalm district, steps away from the city’s “Kungsträdgården”, one of Stockholm’s most notable parks. And instead of just being a handful of people, the office now has about 45 people on staff (there are about 85 people back in Gothenburg).

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There is a bit of a stereotype within the industry where the account staff, the planners — the “suits” — are in the office bright and early, while the creatives can stroll in at 11 AM before heading to a café to “brainstorm.” While there are many agencies that give their creatives that kind of leeway, if you think you can get away with that here at Forsman & Bodenfors, you’re in for a surprise. “People are often shocked with our work discipline,” says Jacob. “It’s very rare to have people come in later than 9 AM, and when we do arrive, we are working extremely hard.” Johan agrees with Jacob on this. “It’s a top-down mentality that started with the founders, who have always been very hard workers.

“Everybody here is a creative director, in a sense,” says Johan. “This means that everybody is responsible for the work that comes out of here. Everybody must look at work created by other teams to offer their suggestions to make it better, and everyone is responsible to sell their own work to the clients.”

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The process by which people view and critique work here at the agency is called “the floor” — a holdover from the days when Forsman & Bodenfors was mainly making print ads, which could easily be spread out on the floor for people to see. These days, “the floor” now includes monitors to show off digital and social media ideas, but the process is still the same: you bring in at least five employees not attached to the project to go over the work and ask questions. It is the duty of these people to have an opinion of the work and openly express it, without holding anything back. They must ask questions about the work, questions they could envision the client or the general public asking about the direction. On the other side, the creators of the work must be open minded, and although the ultimate decision of what to present to the client falls on their shoulders, they generally accept the critiques of their peers and go back to improve the work before presenting it to the clients.

Forsman & Bodenfors is one of those agencies that has decided to say “goodbye” to the traditional copywriter/art director team structure. “We feel that we can build a stronger overall team by having people work on everything with everyone,” says Johan. “If you are here long enough, you will partner with just about every creative in the office.” This also means that the agency doesn’t worry too much about terms like “junior” or “senior” talent. “You could be a twenty year old copywriter fresh out of school, and you could be partnered with one of the guys who started the agency. We really believe that this is a way to build something that lasts.”

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“Lasting” is something that Forsman & Bodenfors have done really well; after all, to be ranked the best agency in the country year after year, and yet stay fiercely independent must be a tricky tightrope to walk. “Here in Sweden, what tends to happen is that two people will go and start an agency, and they peak a few years later,” says Johan. “Then they sell it to a big network and then it dies. We’ve never found a reason to sell.” Instead, the agency looks for people who are key players inside their offices, and they make these people into partners, tying them to the successes of the shop. To date, Forsman & Bodenfors has 27 partners, all with an equal share of the business. Not too shabby for an agency of only 130 between the two cities!

Most agencies around the world — heck, many businesses in general — have their annual Christmas/holiday parties and summer parties. Forsman & Bodenfors is no exception, but they handle both of these traditions with a twist. Since the 1980s, the annual Christmas party begins with a concert inside an old Gothenburg church, with the entire staff from both offices, as well as the agency’s   There is a sizable choir amongst the staff members, and even one of the top managers is an accomplished organist. “That’s yet another way where we are different,” jokes Johan. “I can’t imagine any agency in Sweden that would do something like that!” As for the summer, the the annual “party” is not held in Sweden, but rather on the French Riviera; Forsman & Bodenfors makes every effort to take the entire agency — not just upper management — to the Cannes Lions festival each year. They probably need the extra hands to carry all of the hardware they usually win.

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What will the next few years bring Forsman & Bodenfors? After all, they are already at the top of the Swedish game, so to speak. “I think one of the things that keeps us grounded and forward thinking is that, yes, we’ve been very successful here, and we are pretty big for a Swedish agency, but looking beyond Sweden, we are still pretty small,” says Johan. “In that aspect, we’re the outsiders once again, just like we were when we started up all those years ago in Gothenburg. I see us taking on more international accounts.”

Any final advice for a young person looking to join the Forsman & Bodenfors team? “From my observation, this is the kind of agency where you grow up fast,” says Johan. “You are given a lot of responsibility, you own your projects, rather than having four or five teams working on the same brief. You present your own work to the clients. I believe that after two or three years here, you’ll be able to tackle anything. Two or three years in giant New York or London agency, you’d be lucky to have something with your name on it go out the door.”

“You have to be self-motivated as well,” adds Jacob. “But how could you not be? Look at the fun you’re having for a living!”

Special thanks to Johan and Jacob for spending some time with us at Forsman & Bodenfors Stockholm. An extra special thanks to Getty Images for making this visit to F&B possible.

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volvo pedestrian print1 Agency Profile: Forsman & Bodenfors Stockholm






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