Being Dutch in digital

Amsterdam's place on the global advertising stage is down to its identifiably Dutch blend of innate craftsmanship, stubborn loyalty, adaptability and a world-class aversion to hierarchy.

Amsterdam has become a global player when it comes to advertising, and while we are nothing if not chauvinistic, we cannot claim it is purely a "Dutch thing". There is a heady mix of strong local agencies, interspersed with big network shops, topped with a big dollop of international class. It makes for an interesting and inspired market, and we count ourselves lucky to have been a part of it for these past 12 years.

The flourish Amsterdam finds itself in affects us directly at MediaMonks. We are what we like to call a "creative digital production agency", but some of you might lovingly (or otherwise) refer to us as a "prodco".

While not exceedingly glamorous, our work, as a production partner to ad agencies, has seen us grow to the biggest production shop in Europe, with 170 "Motivated Monks" spread across offices in Amsterdam, London and New York. And while we don't come up with the "big idea", we do work on the "beautiful execution", mixing digital disciplines across platforms in an increasingly complex world. It's software development with marketing deadlines, in an industry that is always looking to innovate.

So what does "being Dutch", or, to be precise, "being Dutch in digital" give us? Are we infused with mythical multimedia powers at birth (which tends to be the view our industry has of the Swedes)? Or is there a predilection in our culture for creativity and craft? And, yes, digital production is a craft; Sisyphusian in nature, but a craft nonetheless. It sits snugly and smugly between art (a combination of talent and technique) and science (knowledge).

Today, a quarter of all businesses in Holland are artisan in nature and, historically, artisans tend to concentrate in urban centres such as Amsterdam. Our industry is no different. Local and international talent flocks to Amsterdam, happy to spend some of their most productive years stuck between briefs and bicycles. Luckily for us, this is where the first advantage of being Dutch in digital plays out: loyalty. Where employees in London and New York seem to be in the business of collecting LinkedIn profile updates, our workforce is exceedingly steadfast. It has allowed us to build a freelancer-free company with a collective experience in digital production that exceeds 750 years. Not bad for an industry that stretches back to the mid-90s.

That experience of working together, day-to-day, becoming smarter and more effective with each deadline delivered and each lauded launch, has allowed us to grow beyond a size normally associated with our field. A model such as ours does not work in the boom-and-bust nature of the traditional ad agency, and it would never have been possible if our artisans were always looking for the next revolving door through which to sell their talents.

But there is more to our success than loyal craftsmanship alone. There are hidden advantages to our typical cultural characteristics. Blogs have been written and books have been published about our perceived rudeness and stubbornness, but we would like to think we are honest and straightforward. (So that's short meetings and clear input taken care of.) We also tend to be trustworthy and punctual, and a safe pair of hands, itching to start tweaking and tinkering.

Having a Dutch company, filled with Dutch people, being Dutch, has allowed us to ignore the first commandment of digital production: "Thou shalt register each working and worked hour." We don't. In 12 years, we have never used time sheets, yet we do not miss deadlines. It ties in to another typical trait, which is an aversion to hierarchy. It is not always a strong point (feel free to talk among yourselves about our numerous ego-infused football bust-ups), but in the right setting, it can work wonders. In the trenches of production, we are all equal: juniors and seniors battling bravely against an onslaught of deadlines and last-minute copy changes. Waiting for decisions from on high is a model that creates lag, which is why we work with smaller, autonomous teams that can take decisions and implement them in the same breath. Digital workflow is about rhythm, and missing a beat can be the difference between a launch or a loss.

So we have our traits, good and bad, but the circle closes with our adaptability. We welcome talent from all over the world, but are equally comfortable pitching our wares to others. Trade and travel is second nature, and we look to London and New York not just for the work, but also for work. Our daily dose is now an equal share between local and international projects, with our artisans shifting between time zones, customs and cultures (London's liquid lunch is still something we struggle with), always adding and interspersing the work with their own coleur locale.

And while our collective baggage runs from Chile to Amsterdam, England to Iran, Poland to the US, and is stuffed with Turkish delights, our craft and culture is typically Dutch.


Old master or HTML5? Both. Technology is an end to a means, not a goal in itself. We love pushing what is possible with HTML5, across platforms, but we are equally happy working on Flash for games and big narrative campaigns. As a business that focuses on craft, we are happy to say we have picked up ten Favourite Website Awards this year on projects across the board, from HTML5 to Flash.

Creativity thrives in Amsterdam because ... we are focused on the world around us, but have a local tradition of craft and creativity.

I know I'm not in London when ... I don't drink during lunch.

When in Amsterdam, don't expect ... decent service in trendy restaurants. Or in shops. Or in general.

When in Amsterdam, don't say ... "Wo ist der kalverstrasse?" because you think we're German. It happens quite a bit.

We Dutch are ... digital.

Cheese or moules-frites? If you combine them with a portion of kebab on top, you have a very popular Dutch after-hours snack.

Victor Knaap is a co-partner of MediaMonks

Sponsored by MediaMonks.


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