Close-Up: Profile - Kesselskramer plants a UK seedling

But will KK Outlet thrive in London's crowded creative market? Kate Nettleton investigates.

Anyone wondering why the Amsterdam-based hotshop Kesselskramer has decided to open a London outfit won't find the answer on the agency's website.

In keeping with the off-the-wall style for which the agency is renowned, the site changes every time you visit. Whether it takes the form of a site for a bike shop, vending machine supplier or fortune teller, you'll struggle to find anything more than the agency's address and phone number.

This strategy encourages the curious to move beyond the website and get in touch directly.

Indeed, since the agency was founded in Amsterdam in 1996, by Erik Kessels and Johan Kramer, "direct" has been a key word. Direct communication with clients is a core philosophy.

To facilitate this one-on-one relationship, the agency has always been relatively small. At present it has just 38 members of staff, and, in a similar set up to Mother's, not one of them works in account management.

Engin Celikbas, the managing director at Kesselskramer, explains: "Clients can't hide behind account people and nor can creatives. This results in everyone cutting to the chase and talking about the stuff that really matters."

This simple structure was the brainchild of the founders. Having worked in London at Chiat Day and then GGT, the pair returned to Amsterdam inspired to launch a creative start-up.

Kessels, now the creative director (Kramer left the agency in 2004 to concentrate on his directing full time), says: "We thought it was time to create an agency founded by creatives. That shows prospective clients that the creative product is very important. Creatives would sit from day one with the client and that would continue throughout the whole process."

Limiting the growth of the agency has also enabled every member of staff to get involved in the creative process. "The moment we grow, we will become managers and not producers of work," Kessels says.

The agency has built a name for itself by producing idiosyncratic ads and off-the-wall solutions. Al Moseley, the executive creative director of Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam, says: "It was the first agency to break out of what we traditionally think of as an agency. But 'agency' isn't really the correct term; it's all about art and ideas."

Rather than resorting to traditional advertising, Kesselskramer has been offering its clients product development, as well as creating anything from books such as 2Kilo and Useful Photography, to furniture, documentaries, music videos, exhibitions and even fashion shows. It does make ads, though, and won a gold Lion in Cannes for its Diesel work.

But despite its creative success, Kesselskramer stopped entering any awards except for the Effies, in 1999. Kessels explains: "There has always been prejudice against boutique agencies that they focus only on creativity and not on results, so to counter that we decided to only enter the Effies."

Instead, the agency has channelled the time and money saved into its own research and development projects, carving a niche in Amsterdam's ad market.

So what can it add to the saturated, aggressively business-savvy and awards-obsessed London market?

Rather than transplanting the DNA of the successful Dutch office and attempting to snare blue-chip clients from big network agencies, Kesselskramer plans to do things differently from other London hotshops, with the London outfit to be called KK Outlet.

The agency will not only act as workplace to create ads, but also a shop selling its products and a gallery for work created by the agency and external artists and photographers. Celikbas says: "We will be showcasing products we are developing for clients as well as sharing work we think is interesting and inspiring. A tourist can come in and buy a book in the shop, a student could find inspiration in the gallery, or a client can even come in and buy an ad campaign."

Yen Yen Ho will head the operation as the managing director, alongside Kessels, who will be splitting his time between the two shops. Yen Yen worked for Kesselskramer five years ago as a planner, before leaving to work at Bartle Bogle Hegarty Asia-Pacific as an account director and then the head of account management at BBH China.

Although it has yet to secure premises, the agency is keen to recruit from the UK creative pool in order to create an "advanced evolution" of the Amsterdam outfit. Yen Yen says: "Part of the reason we've decided to open here is the great amount of talented people who can work with and for you, as well as the high calibre of clients."

Kessels insists that the London hotshop will not be a carbon copy of the Amsterdam office, but he does plan to implement the same ethos of limited growth. "We're not there to shake up the London ad scene. We plan to get smaller UK clients and perhaps projects for some of the larger clients," he explains.

Mark Hunter, an ex-Amsterdam-based creative and the executive creative director at Euro RSCG, says: "A lot of small creative shops opening up become the same as everyone else as soon as they win clients and get in loads of people. But with Kesselskramer, you get a sense that they will really stick to their founding principles."

But the size and innovative structure of KK Outlet isn't going to stifle its commercial drive, Yen Yen insists: "The fact that we have a different set up doesn't mean we're not open to commercial clients, but that's not the only thing we want to achieve here."

In fact, its existing commercial clients are already showing an interest in the London offering. "We have a few clients we are working with in Amsterdam, such as Diageo, which have potential projects here, so we are in talks with them about what we can do for them in London," Yen Yen says.

Nevertheless, Kesselskramer is entering an overcrowded market without a huge body of work that the UK market recognises.

Martin Jones, the head of advertising at the AAR, says: "The London creative market is already oversupplied. But there is always room for another good agency."

In order to survive in the UK market, the agency will have to be astute in its selection of staff, and proactive about seeking out client opportunities. "With that positioning, you almost have to create your opportunities rather than being invited to pitch. So it'll have to get in people who understand the UK market and create UK-centric work," Jones adds.

Despite the hurdles, KK Outlet's unique approach to advertising and its lack of arrogance about creative success is sure to get industry tongues wagging about the future of the eccentric hotshop.

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