StrawberryFrog landed on the scene in 1999 making an immediate splash. I’ll try to avoid the frog puns but that one literally jumped out. (ooops.) If you were in the biz in the late 90s, they were constantly hopping across your field of vision-this upstart that couldn’t be ignored.
Seemed everyone was intrigued with Strawberry Frog. Here was a small shop taking on the biggest agencies, getting in front of major clients and winning. They inspired those of us in small shops because they represented a shift in the way the business had always been done. StrawberryFrog was proof that strategically sound creative and spot on execution could win without all the layers of the Madison Avenue giants. Ten years later this New York-based global advertising agency is still independent and employee-owned, which says a lot about founders, Scott Goodson and Karin Drakenberg’s vision and StrwaberryFrog’s place in the world.
Others outside advertising have also recognized that vision: The Wall Street Journal selected Karin Drakenberg, cofounder and COO, as one of the 25 best women leaders to watch. The New York Times, Business Week and CNN have heaped prasie on the Frog as well.
Remembering the early days Scott Goodson told me how “StrawberryFrog put on some of the world’s most iconic brands besting some of the most respected and established agencies in the process such as BBDO Worldwide, McCann Worldwide, Fallon London, and Widen & Kennedy for the global Heineken brand.
“StrawberryFrog attracted challenger brands naturally because of the agency’s positioning. But then we started to win other kinds of brands, those that were famous and needed strategic excellence and re energizing to a new consumer base. From these diverse clients the agency quickly grew into a credible micro agency for brands looking for an elite agile partner to take on huge account globally with a very different business model.”
StrawberryFrog not only executed major campaigns across Europe using an innovative lighthouse agency model, with small customized teams across the continent, it also developed strategy, communications planning, and multi-disciplined creative for over 150 markets worldwide. Nothing like this had ever been seen outside of a holding company solution. This was new ground. The Frog way.”
StrawberryFrog’s competitive edge is Cultural Movements. They believe a brand can identify, crystallize, curate and lead a Cultural Movement that people want to belong to. Cultural Movements activate the customer base, not just broadcast to them, a strategy that has proved prophetic with the rise of social media.
Scott’s great at writing like he’s having a conversation and not a rote interview. I want these profiles to feel like you’re sitting in a coffee shop having a discussion. So settle in–this is a 2 venti chat with a bathroom break in between. Scott’s got a lot to say about the Frog, and for good reason.
1. What was the aha moment when you realized “our company needs to be doing things differently than we have been”?
It was February 14th, Valentine’s Day 1999. That is when we founded StrawberryFrog – an agency that combines the power and scale of the big with the spirit of the small to create a faster, more innovative, more agile brand of agency.
The very next day we started working with our first client: the Smart Car. I decided to start the agency in Amsterdam because of close proximity to clients I had previously worked with from Sweden. From early leaps, we went on to work with Heineken globally, Microsoft and, a few days short of our tenth anniversary, we launched Frito Lay’s TrueNorth brand as one of the primary sponsors of the 2009 Academy Awards.
The ‘aha’ moment behind StrawberryFrog happened years before 1999. We had seen the opportunity for a new kind of global advertising agency from our perch in Stockholm, Sweden, where Karin and I (co-founders of StrawberryFrog) had spent most of our advertising careers. In Sweden, brands were ideological movements, not merely ad campaigns. IKEA, Diesel, Absolut, and Volvo are examples of brands that succeeded in creating fanatical followings, developed by agencies in Sweden, but travelling far beyond Sweden. Consumers not only bought products, they joined the brand and wanted a relationship that made them feel better about themselves every time they met it.
In Sweden, huge Swedish multinationals actually preferred highly strategic and creative independent agencies vs. the huge network agencies. I began my career working on Ericsson, travelling around the world to launch their brand. I found that our clients wanted a more intimate relationship with their agency and preferred customizing a highly focused, agile team of smart people around their brands who could carry it to consumers in any country. This was a massive eye opening experience for me. Before that, I thought the only way to do global advertising was by working with a huge corporate advertising agency network with offices in every country.
My experience in Sweden taught me that you could build global brands without a network. That a new kind of agency could do what huge clients need and want, but could do it differently-more effectively and more efficiently. You had to because Swedish clients didn’t have the budgets of their American or British counterparts-this was a learning experience and created phenomenal confidence. In Sweden, a country that literally legalized TV advertising in the late 80s, you did not have 60 years of how advertising was done as a legacy for how advertising had to be done. And this freedom created in me huge dreams about where the industry could go.
“Ok, ok,” you say, “enough about Sweden.” I’ll get off it in a moment. But the point is that the Swedish experiment worked. It convinced me that you can steward a huge brand without the infrastructure of a huge traditional agency. My experience co-owning an advertising agency in Sweden laid the foundation for what was to become StrawberryFrog. In Sweden, we developed campaigns for Swedish multinational brands; after a few years, we started to work internationally for Finnish clients, then German clients and then Swiss, British and US clients. But doing it from Sweden was an obstacle for many of the global clients Karin and I wanted to work on. After ten years in Swedish advertising, we were developing loftier goals, a higher level of confidence, more clarity around what we wanted to do in this industry, and who we wanted to be when we grew up: A Frog.
It’s fun to remember those days as I sit at my desk here in New York, but StrawberryFrog was born as a tadpole of this experience. From the outside it may seem difficult, crazy even, to think of building a new agency, modeled from the beginning to take on major brands with scale, but frankly, it wasn’t. StrawberryFrog was a company that I enjoyed getting up in the morning and going to work for.
During the past ten years, we have had our highs and our lows, and we have learned a great deal from the process. Today we have clarity, a select group of the very best clients, and a world class management made up of Kevin McKeon (who launched and stewarded Johnny Walker’s Keep Walking, Axe,ING,and Virgin Airways), Ilana Bryant (of Smirnoff, Levis fame), Chip Walker (who stewarded Starbucks, Wrigley’s ad Jim Beam), Heather Fullerton (who stewarded Sony Ericsson, Nokia & Ikea) and Ramesh Rajan, the former CFO of Mcaan World Group and our recent addition of Sophie Kelly (who previously lead the global Diageo Smirnoff, Bailey’s and Cuervo brands as well as having been on the relaunch of JetBlue) to our management team, as well as Peralta, Jiro and Patricia in Brazil, a more purposeful, focused manner about the firm.
Over the years, clients came to StrawberryFrog for strategic and creative excellence. As we grew, StrawberryFrog attracted larger and more disciplined clients. These clients taught us the importance of processes and systems that enabled us to scale brands.
2. What books are on your nightstand or great blogs on your Google reader?
- Imagining India.
- I am an avid fan of David Wiggs (aww gee)
- I also peruse the likes of my friend Guy Kawasaki
- Fred Wilson
- If you’re a student of advertising, I’d suggest Dino “Chroma” up in Toronto
- and the Hidden Persuader (probably the best blog for any student of advertising)
- For entertainment, integrity and inspiration I like http://meltingpotfamily.blogspot.com/
3. Give me an example of marketing you think is brilliant and why.
My wife came up with a brilliant idea on Earth Day to convince the entire town of Bronxville to walk, rather than drive, their kids to school. This got almost 100% results.
In the industry, many of the brands I have mentioned above are good examples. I like very much what Geico is doing in the insurance category. It has taken a rather serious business and made it accessible and fun. The ads are always fresh, never dull. I also love the work StrawberryFrog has done for Quaker in Latin America. That’s a BRILLIANT idea – love that – setting the appointments 20 years ahead. The New York Times and Adweek, both cited our campaign for TrueNorth snacks as the best advertising during the Oscars.
Word of mouth remains the most powerful source of marketing and whoever is behind the marketing of the Bakugans toys is a genius.
4. We’ve all read that the pitch / RFP process is broken. Many agencies aren’t even interested in competing in pitches. Do you see an alternative to this process?
StrawberryFrog’s management decides to pitch a very select number of clients each year, Instead, we prefer to take on assignments to get to know the clients. Over time these assignments either take root and grow into strong, mutually beneficial relationships, or they do not. They more often do.
When we opened our New York office, we were immediately asked to pitch the Harris Direct account against BBH, Hill Holiday and TBWA. To our surprise we won the pitch. We were then asked to take on a series of other pitches, such as the MINI USA pitch which we lost, then the Wal-Mart Sam’s Club pitch which we won, and then the massive $650MM Hyundai US pitch, which we lost to Goodby.
After a few big pitches under our belt, we decided to take the foot off the pedal and focus on the clients we had. We stopped pitching, waiting for the right Frog Client-who thinks big and whose products excite us-to come along. Clients looking for a paradigm shift, clients wanting to spark Cultural Movements, which we consider to be our DNA-our competitive edge.
Pitching leads to AOR relationships with clients. We are asked by clients to take on short-medium term assignments, which lead to more assignments and very good relationships with these clients. Over time, this has been a better model for us than entering into pitches every five minutes.
5. What does the agency of the future look like?
What is the agency model of the emerging new market? The better agency model must do three things:
It must have a new ideas culture, a new value culture, and a new talent culture.
The agency model of the future is built around the value of ideas. You might say there’s nothing new about this point. Our industry talks a lot about ideas. But at the same time, we have allowed the emphasis, the value, and the fundamental business model of our industry to shift away from ideas and to focus on execution. A lot of lip service is paid to the value of ideas, but agencies are often regarded more as executioners-suppliers-not as idea generators. In the future, suppliers will be valued less and squeezed more, while idea generators will be most valued-because they will create the greatest value across every industry sector, not just our own.
So the new agency model has to move the value of our industry away from execution and back to ideas. First, by demonstrating and standing up for the value of ideas. And second, by outsourcing execution. Now, by outsourcing execution, I DO NOT mean for a moment giving up responsibility for execution. It is very important that we STEWARD the process – and we do this flawlessly for some of the biggest advertisers in the world – but it is less important to feel we must execute everything and provide a full range of execution services “in-house.”
The often self-inflicted pressure on agencies to be able to claim, “We do absolutely everything,” is entirely counter-productive to a culture focusing on and celebrating the value of ideas.
Interestingly, outsourcing execution not only re-emphasizes the value of ideas; it also re-emphasizes the value of specialist executioners. Idea creators and idea implementers are both key.
We work with huge media partners and massive digital production companies, our “Fedex” of the execution marketplace. They are exceptionally valuable partners when it absolutely, positively has to be produced overnight, or over a vast geography, or managing a massive budget.
At StrawberryFrog, protecting a true “IdeasCulture” has always been our aim. We haven’t embraced this change for change’s sake, but in order to ensure new creativity and originality, as well as innovation and a hell of a lot of agility. We have always been about the value of great ideas, and outsourcing execution to media buying companies or major digital production organizations was a key part of our founding philosophy ten years ago.
At StrawberryFrog we have extraordinary talent in-house, but we also outsource into a unique network of talent in lots of areas of speciality and experiences. And after ten years, they are all over the world. Pulling these partners into the StrawberryFrog team gives us tremendous reach and power, innovation and dynamism, as well as some unconventional disciplines you wouldn’t find in your traditional agency-such as mobility crm capabilities and social media listening.
Not every client is ready for this – yet. It takes modern marketing management to understand the true value of this model vs the traditional legacy agency.
The StrawberryFrog model, developed ten years ago, was inspired by architectural partnerships and feature movie productions: the best available talent is assembled from all over for the duration of a project. It’s been perfected over the years through huge campaigns for major clients not inspired by the old agency model
6. What do marketers need that agencies are not giving them?
When clients call StrawberryFrog they are looking for results.
Strawberryfrog is, and I am pretty sure of this, the only advertising agency in decades to have invented a dramatically new business model. This model has proven that it can beat the competition in the four decisive areas, which already ruled trading in the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years ago and will probably stay with us for another while: better, faster, more innovative and more efficient.
7. Who do you admire and why?
I admire people who believe in themselves and their own ideas. I don’t believe the advertising systems of yesterday are the systems of tomorrow.
Most of all, I admire those clients who want something better and who align themselves with catalysts, challengers, and pirates who make change happen.