Small Agency Awards 2009

Small Agency Awards: They

Amsterdam Shop Is International Agency of the Year

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NEW YORK ( -- Amsterdam creative agency They has exhibited both the small-shop creative dexterity that can transform unlikely media into ad canvas and the brand-steward chops to win big pieces of global business for ING and European business for Reebok Women's Running.

VERSATILITY: They has won work from ING and Reebok, but also caters to clients targeting a different demographic. The shop produced this ad for the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.
VERSATILITY: They has won work from ING and Reebok, but also caters to clients targeting a different demographic. The shop produced this ad for the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.
On the creative front, the agency recently bribed students to embed messaging for Coffee Company into their class presentations and has even managed to reach internet fiends while they're freeloading coffee-shop WiFi.

From the FreeCoffee4Students website, students could download Coffee Company-branded PowerPoint slides and earn free-coffee coupons by submitting photos of the slides inserted into class presentations, a scheme that's since been dubbed "slidevertising." In another student initiative for the coffee chain, They tied free internet in coffee shops near universities to menu items with creative names for WiFi networks such as"OrderAnotherCoffeeAlready" and "BuyaLargeLatteGetBrownieForFree." The campaign brought brand messaging directly onto users' computers by attaching store offers with network names internet users were sure to read. And They picked up a Bronze Media Lion at Cannes for the effort.

The 4-year-old agency has also proved valuable for clients whose consumers are on the other end of the demographic spectrum, like Aegon Insurance, the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment and UPC Broadband.

To expand that client roster during a layoff-riddled year for most agencies, the 35-person shop has grown staff by half since August 2008 and plans to add six this fall.

Hiring in recession
Representing its decidedly different approach to the economic downturn, They issued a poster late last year that read "Due to the upcoming recession, They need fearless talent" above job listings and the agency's contact info.

"Because of the crisis, They hired extra people," said Patrick van der Gronde, agency partner and creative director, formerly of KesselsKramer. He founded the agency with strategy head Roland van der Vorst, former chairman of BBDO Netherlands and partners Kim Dingler and Sander Bakker.

"All clients will spend less money during a crisis, so you can sit down and see where you can win money looking inside, or you can put more people and more effort into winning new business," he continued. "That strategy worked."

And win new business They did. After a long run with JWT outpost Ubachs Wisbrun, mobile network Vodafone awarded its Dutch business to They and online agency Achtung following a review that included the Netherlands arms of big agency networks like Ogilvy, BBDO and Leo Burnett. They also snagged Reebok Women's Running for Europe and ING Wholesale Banking, the largest part of ING Group for international corporations, financial institutions and governments with offices in 40 countries. They won the ING business in a three-way review, consolidating responsibilities.

"I have been living in the Netherlands for about four years, my entire career until then was in London, so I had always been skeptical about working on an international campaign with a Dutch agency," said Andy Muncer, global head of communications ING Wholesale Banking. "However, " he continued, "I have come to learn that some of the most creative and innovative ad agency work is coming out of the Netherlands and often these agencies are very small."

RUNNER UP: 19:13

Formed in Munich in 2008, 19:13 -- which signifies the launch time of the Apollo 13 mission -- the shop has quickly developed a knack for making off-kilter creative for BMW Mini, Infiniti and Conde Nast. Its meta work for the Mini Clubman is emblematic of this eight-person shop just shy of $1 million in revenue. The lowbudget video "Have You Seen That" features two blokes marveling at the tricks done by the Mini. In the chuckleworthy conclusion, they come to figure out that they're part of a viral video in this case, one that became popular.

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