Could there be a better reward for creative excellence than sailing in a hot-air ballon over the rolling green hills and historic castles of Northern Europe? Not for the 30 employees of Straw berry Frog, the 2-year-old Amster dam shop that is quickly becoming one of Europe's most sought-after creative properties. In stead of entering awards shows, says Scott Goodson, the agency's creative partner and one of its founders, "we take the money we save and do an annual conference trip."
The focus on fun over fame is just one of the many ways in which Good son and the partners of Straw berryFrog attempt to do things a little dif ferently from the large, international agencies they often challenge for assignments. The shop's capabilities book makes clear that it's not a run-of-the-mill agency: It comes in the form of a children's story titled Strawberry Frog and the Big Dino saur that contrasts StrawberryFrog's nimble size with the cumbersome girth of the "Ego saurus," the "Networkosaurus" and the "Bur eau cratosaurus."
Despite its often unorthodox approach—a winning new-business pitch for Viagra included a suggestion to sponsor the restoration of the Leaning Tower of Pisa—StrawberryFrog cannot be written off as another fly-by-night, wacky creative boutique. Since setting up shop in a converted warehouse in 1999, the estimated $20 million agency has nabbed assignments from the U.S., Europe and Asia, fashioning a client list that includes Xerox, Pfizer, Ford, Credit Suisse and United Pan-Europe Com mu nications, a cable TV and broadband company.
"I think we get most clients 'cause they like the fact that we have meetings in our sauna in the basement," Goodson jokes.
Goodson served as executive creative director of J. Walter Thomp son in Canada for two years before forming StrawberryFrog with CEO Karin Drakenberg, client services director Brian Elliott (an old high school friend of Goodson's) and chairman Uli Weis endanger.
Weisendanger, the "W" in TBWA, was coaxed out of retirement to join the shop. "I liked the concept of having a small staff in one place and being able to pull ideas and have clients all over," he says. "It seems to increase the quality and speed of the work and eliminate the hierarchy [of bigger shops]."
The name was chosen to symbolize strength and size. A strawberry frog is a rare and poisonous native of the Amazon that has a red body and blue legs. "It's pretty tiny but a powerful little thing," says Goodson.
A native of Montreal, 37-year-old Goodson began his career in the mailroom of the family business, Cross Canada Advertising. "We all grew up hating advertising, but we all ended up in the business," Goodson says of himself and his four younger sisters.
After graduating from the University of Western Ontario, he traveled through Eur ope and Asia, settling in Sweden at age 23 and working as a copywriter for Adaptus and Bates in Stockholm, then joining Welinder.
"I thought I'd spend a year in Swe den, but I ended up being there 10," he says. Goodson eventually be came part owner of Welinder (now Publicis Welinder), leading the creative efforts for Stockholm's 2004 Summer Olympics bid and a worldwide launch for Pharmacia. As creative director there, he helped to launch Ericcson mobile phones and computers in Europe, an experience, he says, that taught him that agencies in Northern Europe could in deed develop and execute cross cultural campaigns for major brands.
Goodson returned to Canada for the ecd spot at JWT in Toronto and then went back to Europe with visions of forming a different type of agency enterprise. Amsterdam was picked as the home base, Goodson says, because of the city's liberal reputation and its neutral position in European politics. "Clients are waking up to the fact that they can go outside of their home market," he says. "Besides, it's a very creative place."
StrawberryFrog settled into the heart of the old city and soon picked up its first client, the Smart Car, developed by Swatch and German auto giant DaimlerChrysler. Since then, the agency has added a guerrilla-marketing arm called BlueberryFrog and lured staff from all over Europe and North America.
The most recent hire was senior copywriter Jim Haven, recruited from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, where he scripted ads for Nike, The Wall Street Journal and the California Milk Processor Board.
"We're living in a connected world," says Goodson of the shop's ability to attract staff and clients from around the globe.
The agency also maintains a roster of approximately 50 freelancers in Europe, Asia and North America to execute work regionally. For example, to launch Elle.com in the U.S. last year, Straw berryFrog used writers in cities such as San Francisco and New York to tailor creative in the campaign—which in cluded print, on line and outdoor ads—to local markets.
Marlene Waltz, senior director of global marketing for Sprint in Kan sas City, Mo., says she considered several large agencies with European offices to launch the company's IP network outside the U.S. She decided that Straw berry Frog's small size and strategic and creative capabilities made it the best fit. Plus, she adds, "we thought they were a good cross-section of European culture."
This spring, StrawberryFrog broke a print campaign for the client's Internet service in Europe and Asia that employed the tag, "Beware of sudden accomplishment." The ads, which are running in newspapers and magazines such as The Economist and Time, warn potential customers of side effects such as black eyes, broken teeth and heart failure.
The agency shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, Goodson says it has so far lost only one new-business pitch, an assignment for the European Wall Street Journal, which went to German agency Scholtz & Friends. Strawberry Frog's most recent new-business coup was a global assignment from Ford, which hired BlueberryFrog to help with the launch of several new cars.
"They know how to provide us with a fresh view," says Matthias Kunst, marketing director at Ford's European headquarters in London, citing Blueberry's compatibility with lead ad agency Ogilvy & Mather in London as another asset.
Although McCann-Erick son handles Viagra's global account, Kipp Kreutz berg, Pfizer's marketing director for Viagra in the U.S., says the New York-based company was impressed enough with the boutique's brand-building capabilities to hire it on a proj ect basis. Strawberry Frog, which first ap proached Pfizer via e-mail to introduce its services and request a face-to-face meeting, is currently developing a strategic-branding and guerrilla-marketing campaign for Viagra that is ex pected to launch internationally by the end of the year.
"In the race toward global branding, Straw berryFrog is not about small steps," says Kreutz berg. "Rather, they are all about great leaps for brand-kind."