There's an old German proverb that goes something like: "Fear makes the dino-saur seem bigger than he really is." That said, fear is an emotion you should try to develop a cuddly relationship with if you're planning to open a second agency on the other side of the world.
America is the Mecca for marketing. It's where marketing was invented, so you need to arrive armed with a cunning plan. We had our story - a five-year-old Dutch start-up with a vision of a new agency model more efficient and effective than those corporate dinosaurs. Our reading of the economy told us that it was the right time to launch in New York.
All we needed was a launch client ...
Autumn 2003 - We begin to meet with all the famous US ad personalities, both current and retired, to ask for advice. Most tell us we're crazy. But, suddenly, we win our first client: Pfizer hands us the launch of a major campaign for the Boomer Coalition, with a TV spot directed by Bryan Singer to be premiered during the Academy Awards. This is followed up with a savvy campaign using a ton of different media. Soon after, Emirates Airlines hires us for a global campaign.
February 2004 - We hire 25 people and re-zone the lobby of the Maritime Hotel as our office. We also try to keep our mouths shut. It doesn't work. Five minutes after I buy myself a US cell phone, I start getting calls from people seeking placement. A week later, the journalists start calling - they have heard that we're in town and looking for space.
March 2004 - We find an office in the Meat Packing District in the lower West Side of Manhattan. There are a gazillion-and-one things you need to have or find. The essentials are a space, a lawyer in New York, an accountant and an incredible and understanding wife. I was flying into JFK on such a regular basis that the KLM cabin staff knew my children's names.
April 2004 - Word comes that one of our major European clients has more or less decided to hand us its US account to help it improve sales and cut costs. This is a major coup in the making, and I don't sleep for a month. We enter into deep discussions, travel the globe, and then, "poof!", it all disappears as the corporation undergoes massive restructuring, hoovering all the cards from the table in the process.
May 2004 - We have a cool office, an office manager (vital to handle all those phone calls) and an incredible staff. So we are semi-prepared when the good-fortune fairy visits. Adweek's editorial describes StrawberryFrog's opening in New York, together with Mother's, as one of the most positive things the New York ad industry has seen in years. The consultants start to call.
A word on consultants: it became apparent very early that most business here is awarded through them - the most respected and influential group of people you're likely ever to come across, they know all the players.
But I was told they would not touch a new agency. After all, why present an unknown when there are 800 active agencies in the city?
We also start receiving calls from advertisers - some had read the press and others had kindly been sent our way via agencies such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty and BBDO.
June 2004 - We're in the middle of two major multimillion-dollar pitches. The first comes to us out of leftfield: a UK-based client planning to launch in the US. We jump at the chance. We work up and present a great proposal.
And then we're told we've won the pitch. We're on a roll. Then, on 24 June, I get a call from the chief executive to say that the budget promised to the pitching agencies was, in fact, false fruit. All they can actually afford is a solitary billboard. After chalking this up as a very expensive lesson, we flick them a polite "no thanks".
October 2004 - Ellis, my second son, is born. I move back to Amsterdam for a month. I rave on the phone and e-mail like a rabid dog. Thank God for FedEx.
As Christmas approaches, I delicately balance my break with a final presentation - the date of which keeps changing. On 16 December, it finally happens.
This brings me to the most important thing to know about starting an office in New York: pitches are massively expensive. US agencies throw mountains of cash at them. As pitches can go on for anything up to 24 weeks, costs can expand into moutain ranges. Our track record so far has been one win (Pfizer), three finalists (we're still waiting for the word ...), one loss, and that dud that wanted the billboard. By Christmas 2004, simple maths tells us we've spent the GDP of a small nation.
January 2005 - The year starts with a surprise. The US business magazine Fast Company names us one of their three agencies to watch in 2005. Rumours appear in the press that Jaguar has asked us to join its global pitch. Ad Age publishes its own list; we're at number five.
March 2005 - Phase one of StrawberryFrog's plans finishes-the end of the beginning, so to speak. The real game starts next week when my family and I take up residency in our new home in Bronxville.
- Scott Goodson is the chief executive and chief creative officer of StrawberryFrog USA.