Mindset over matter

The way to build a global micro-network is by exporting Amsterdam's open and inclusive philosophy

Cities are like people: they each have their own philosophy. Like produce and merchandise, ideas and philosophies can be exported and supplanted in other locations. This can lead to culture clashes but it can also lead to a marriage of ideals that generates a thriving creative environment. Some cities’ philosophies are more transferable than others and Amsterdam is lucky that its foundations of tolerance and cultural diversity are usually met with enthusiasm.

Even the city’s slogan, "I Amsterdam", is indicative of the city’s inclusive attitude. Anyone can be "Amsterdam" because Amsterdam is open to all. It’s an attitude that forms the basis of creativity. It’s because of this ethos that, through our global growth, BSUR has aimed to find the Amsterdam of every continent. We know that our ideology wouldn’t work in every city around the world, which is why we have expanded to cities where growth and diversity go hand in hand.

It is no coincidence that the cities that welcome our approach are also, like Amsterdam, gateway cities – Shanghai being an international port and São Paulo being one of South America’s biggest train hubs. Harbour cities, by nature, are cultural melting pots. People naturally congregate in them to capitalise on the benefits of export and import. They attract innovators and creative thinkers. Which is why, in building our global micro-network, we go where the growth is.

The term "micro-network" is now synonymous with any agency that has offices in two or more locations but, while multiple locations are necessary, a network is much more than just bricks and bodies scattered around the globe.

We have seen many of our peers open an office purely to service one big client. This can work out well if they are the Hachiko of clients. But, all too often, when that big brand leaves, the sub-office is left struggling, doomed to failure.

Likewise, setting up an agency in another country and populating it with talent from home defeats the point of having a network – you might as well service international clients from your own backyard.

It’s easy to see that international brands require global signatures. As such, concepts need to be cross-cultural and work across borders. This is why planting 40 Dutch people in a generic office in another country is pointless. Equally, filling the office solely with indigenous talent is also counterproductive to creative output. International ideas need pools of international minds. So by bringing together pools of international talent, based in various cities around the world, an agency can build a network able to provide clients with both local understanding and global concepts.

What we are saying isn’t necessarily new. And we are certainly not the only ones who hold this viewpoint. However, there are still countless agencies operating under that old-style empirical model of moving in and taking over. And then there are the clients who still ask this of their agencies.

To successfully export Amsterdam, a hierarchical structure like this can’t exist. It goes against our concept of openness and inclusion. Besides, requests like these should have any agency running for the trees. And any agency willing to go to such lengths to secure business should also raise eyebrows with clients.

A flat organisation empowers the agency/client relationship, driving concepts and ideas. This mentality also encourages cohesion, not just within an agency, but also within a network. It reduces intra-office competition and enables creativity.

Exporting the concept of Amsterdam isn’t always plain sailing. For example, implementing a horizontal management style into a country emerging from a dictatorship comes with its share of cultural confusion – but it doesn’t take much to convince people that hierarchy restricts growth and stunts creativity.

This brings us back to how we are using the philosophy of our founding office to build a modern micro-network. In our network, creative, strategic and managerial talent does not belong to one specific office. Like ideas and concepts, our talent is pooled, not owned. It makes us flexible and able to respond to changing situations and environments.

Like "I Amsterdam", the ethos behind BSUR (Be As You Are) encourages people to hold on to their individuality while being part of a bigger unit. Whether a micro-network comprises two or 20 offices, an assembly of diverse individuals working together will generate more globally relevant concepts than homogenous units planted with little more than corporate gain in mind.

Jan Rijkenberg is the co-founder and chief executive of BSUR