Blow your mind

If Amsterdam is the Silicon Valley of creative advertising, starting up an agency where the smartest minds flock to work is a no-brainer.

During work breaks at TED-Global this year, I seized every opportunity to have my mind blown. Chatting to visionary TED speakers like Robin Chase was enlightening. She illustrated how peer-to-peer social economics have affected the value chain and the success of Zipcar and her new venture, Buzzcar. Later, Rachel Botsman fascinated me with her vision for social currency, enabling systems such as Airbnb and TaskRabbit to work using trust, influence, and what she calls "reputation capital".

Like me, traditional industries can learn a lot from the explosion of collaborative consumption - socially powered sharing of content, cars, apartments and skills.

If you hadn't noticed, we live in a post-social era; our online and offline behaviours increasingly impact one another. I have become fascinated by the implications this has on businesses. We now see an increasing need to connect online and offline worlds with innovative brand behaviour.

Global brands have been spending billions in an endeavour to recruit millions of online followers, but the post-social question is fast becoming "what now?" The real challenge is to inspire and activate them. Understanding and encouraging real human interaction is paramount for brands to meet their longer-term business objectives.

With all this in mind, we decided to stick it to the economic crisis by starting a new kind of agency. We Are Pi launched in Amsterdam on 14 March 2011 - international Pi Day - with TED, Lego and Deloitte as the founding clients. By marrying the communication challenges and aspirations of these three brands, we came across our mission: "Connect online and offline worlds with Ideas Worth Doing."

Our passion for Ideas Worth Doing was inspired by the TEDxAmsterdam community's ambition to move beyond spreading ideas. We set out by asking ourselves a simple question: what is an Idea Worth Doing? An idea that is fascinating both in process and output. An idea that could only be achieved with the right mix of inspired minds working together. An idea that creates shared value between brands and communities.

Starting our agency in Amsterdam was a no-brainer. For me, Amsterdam is the Silicon Valley of creative advertising. The smartest minds from across the globe flock here to work at a handful of innovative global creative agencies in partnership with the world's biggest brands.

Similar to the industries that Silicon Valley start-ups are looking to disrupt, we saw an opportunity for innovation in the creative village. Global advertising is the ultimate platform for storytelling and it's what Amsterdam is best at producing. We saw a need to extend this narrative to other parts of the brand experience: from product development to event branding, online content and digital platforms.

As a radically innovative organisation, TED is a great weathervane for global brands looking to stay ahead of the curve. TED's communication challenge stems from a post-social problem: how to unite, inspire and activate an offline global community that largely communicates online.

Since 2009, more than 16,000 talks have been given at more than 4,000 TEDx events in more than 130 countries. TED and TEDx no longer exist as conferences, but as diverse and active global communities, 365 days a year.

Together with TED, we set out to unite their global communities. Last year, we were an agency doing global work; this year, we are an agency working with 800 international TEDx organisers to design the future of TED. We changed the meaning of TEDx to a multiplier: TED to the power of x. With ideas such as The Human Arabesque for the TEDxSummit in Doha, we constantly strive to make the work we do an Idea Worth Doing, inspiring the TEDx community to do the same.

We set out to push big creative ideas in unconventional places outside advertising. As a result, we ended up deep inside our client's organisations, working alongside them, developing products, brands, and intellectual property.

Working with Lego's global innovation team, we co-develop new ways for children to play and new stories to inspire their imagination along the way to cognitive learning. Lego's innovation director, Thomas Fenger, sums up our remit: "We have the opportunity to change behaviour because we are designing the future of play, not a campaign that tries to keep up with pop culture today." So far, the Lego intellectual properties we have worked on have generated millions in revenue by expanding the Lego market.

Deloitte recently asked us to position the launch of an online business consultancy. We used social media and data gamification to break into the market and engage business people, with sales-target smashing results.

Currently, we are creating the brand for a tech start-up that is building the world's first truly cross-platform video communications tool. The technology has the potential to break down the walls between people and places in a revolutionary way.

We've been lucky to partner individuals within large organisations who value creative ideas as highly as the innovation, revenue and joy they generate. Despite our approach, we still call ourselves a creative advertising agency, not because it's what we do most, but because it's our heritage and it gets us to the strategic table with brands. Once there, we get down to business, solving real problems with whichever creative solution is most relevant.

Our time running global accounts for Coca-Cola, Nike and EA Sports at Wieden & Kennedy and AKQA set us up for success. It provided us with a pedigree to build our business from. We have a balanced understanding of traditional, big ad ideas and technology driven digital storytelling. Our collective experience gives us an incredible network and insight into the way the world's most creative people think and act. Many of today's smartest and most creative people are nomads, travelling from agency to tech firm, tech firm to entertainment company, entertainment company to think tank, think tank to brand and so on. These people pick and choose where they sprinkle their creative seeds. Unsurprisingly, they choose the best companies in the world. The challenge is to build an agency that is brilliant enough to attract such talent. We set out to be a nimble, global creative agency as open and infinite as Pi. As such, we are able to attract the best talent and clients to make Ideas Worth Doing, happen.

We are fortunate to have come across some of the smartest people in the world through our relationship with TED. We get to have our minds blown on a daily basis by ideas that can change the world. As a result, diversifying our creative output has become an organic process. My mum and dad always used to say: "Stick with the nerds." And Dan Wieden once said: "Always hire people smarter than yourself." Well, we lucked out. Since launching We Are Pi, we have been surrounded by so many geniuses. And best of all, we don't even need to hire them; we simply get the opportunity to collaborate with them everyday.

Talking of TED, check out today to watch the event live. Happy #piedayfriday.


Old master or HTML5? Old master.

Creativity thrives in Amsterdam because ... people are having a lot of fun.

I know I'm not in London when ... crossing town takes five minutes and costs nothing.

I still haven't translated ... my Dutch mortgage contract.

When in Amsterdam, don't expect ... restaurant service.

Cheese or moules-frites? Cheese.

Alex Bennett-Grant is the managing director of We Are Pi

Sponsored by We Are Pi.


You have

[DAYS_LEFT] Days left

of your free trial

Subscribe now


Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company.

Find out more

Become a member of Campaign

Get the latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now