A glance at Sweden's ad industry is enough to make British observers feel like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole; all that is true in London is turned on its head in Stockholm. Ogilvy is at the heart of the industry; no-one is casting doubts over Lowe's future; and JWT, which won 12 pitches and added £40 million to its billings in London last year, has struggled to identify itself.
JWT is hoping that this will change with the launch of a new Stockholm office. This time - its fourth attempt at establishing a presence in Sweden - it has chosen to start from scratch and look for organic growth, rather than partner a local agency.
JWT's history in Sweden has not been successful so far (see box). Its first agency opened in 1969 and, since then, its presence has been marked by a series of closures and mergers, and the dominance of the nearby Danish operation in Copenhagen.
The fourth incarnation boasts a four-strong team, headed by the two partners: the chief executive, Jacob De Greer, who comes from Halbye Kaag JWT in Copenhagen, and the creative director, Olle Nordell, who has spent the past five years at Red Cell in Sweden, chiefly working on Audi. Also on board are the art director Ysabel zu Innhausen and the account manager Charlotte Lusiak. Between them, this quartet has worked on telecoms, car, airline and FMCG business.
The new Stockholm office has strong ties to Halbye Kaag JWT, which is regarded as the network's Scandinavian hub. Nordell, for instance, says he will report both to Craig Davis, the JWT worldwide chief creative officer in London, as well as to JWT Copenhagen, particularly on shared clients such as Kraft. Other clients to be serviced from Stockholm across the region include Pfizer's Listerine brand, Samsung and Gustavsberg, a bathroom fittings company.
De Greer says: "We're seeing a lot of client demand for a strong office in Sweden and our primary focus is to find local clients that need a network but also want high creative standards."
Nordell adds: "We are building this agency on creativity and we are going to attract the best creatives, planners and account people in Stockholm."
The Swedish capital is regarded as Scandinavia's creative centre and it came into vogue in the late 90s for networks to snap up the city's boutique shops - one such example is Lowe Brindfors.
Bjarte Eide, the vice-president of Lowe Brindfors and Lowe Nordic, wishes JWT Stockholm well, but has reservations about how successful it will be. "JWT has never been a real player in Scandinavia because of its lack of presence in Stockholm," he says.
He adds: "I think its strength is probably its client base, with the likes of Vodafone, HSBC and Diageo. But there are a lot of big pitches coming up right now and I don't think it's on the list, because it doesn't have a presence."
Over at Scholz & Friends Stockholm, which opened in 2004, the managing director, Kay Hook, thinks that JWT could struggle to attract talent: "I don't think anyone knows who they really are or what they stand for. They have tried a few times and not succeeded and that will affect recruitment."
JWT Stockholm's close ties to the Copenhagen office may also prove a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to winning business. Halbye Kaag JWT already has a proven track record in this respect, having recently won SAS and a project for H&M. Any sizeable account is far more likely to be run from Copenhagen than from Stockholm. This reporting structure could mean Stockholm becomes little more than a satellite office for Copenhagen again.
On the plus side, the $3.7 billion Swedish advertising market is climbing out of recession. More prosperous times ahead could mean both clients and industry talent start investigating alternatives.
Bjorn Stahl, the executive creative director at JWT's sister network Ogilvy in Stockholm, believes there are changes afoot in the Stockholm ad scene that could benefit JWT: "Ten years ago, you could open up your own agency with a bunch of friends and win a huge local account the next day. You can't do that any more, because clients are demanding more. It's more important to have the strength of a network in Sweden because, with globalisation, distances are getting smaller."
JWT Stockholm has the potential to be regarded as a hot young start-up with the clout of a network behind it. Yet there's no shortage of scepticism surrounding its launch. Thomas Gibson, the chief executive of Leo Burnett in Stockholm, doubts the agency will win local clients and speculates: "JWT will have a difficult time - again. It's not easy being an agency in Sweden."
JWT'S SWEDISH HISTORY 1969: JWT launches its first operation in Stockholm. 1993: JWT buys into the local agency Liberg and forms Liberg Thompson. 2001: JWT merges its Swedish and Danish operations, creating JWT Oresund, a Nordic hub office, in Copenhagen. 2003: JWT merges with Halbye & Kaag in Copenhagen to handle a mixture of local and global clients. The Stockholm office begins an affiliation with the local agency Thorn & Tackenstrom. 2004: JWT ends its affiliation with Thorn & Tackenstrom, which had co-operated with Halbye Kaag JWT on local adaptation work. 2005: JWT launches a full-service agency in Stockholm.