Lack of hierarchy a key factor for Swedish advertising

The Swedish advertising industry has a very good international reputation. Some of the most successful and widely acknowledged advertising and PR agencies are Swedish. Swedish advertisements have often achieved major successes at international advertising competitions such as Cannes Lions.

We were, for example, very early to adopt digital communication and were world leaders for a long time. The same was true of creative marketing PR.

A relatively equal society and the ability to collaborate have been contributory factors.

International agencies often have a hierarchical structure with long decision-making paths through the managerial levels. Swedish agencies have flat organisations and teams that work together without boundaries based on status. It doesn’t matter who comes up with the best idea, as long as it solves the problems that have to be solved. Which in turn makes the team much stronger than its component parts.

The creative successes of Swedish agencies also mean that some also win international assignments, and that Swedish creators have the chance to find work at international agencies. There has been some talk of a brain drain from the Swedish advertising industry, with some of our most skilful creators being recruited to move abroad.

Agencies too are sought-after by international chains of agencies. They know that Swedish teams can collaborate, and people around the world are starting to understand that it’s a combination of different things that make Swedish advertising so successful.

This also means that when an international chain has bought a Swedish agency, one or more of the agency’s managers are given senior positions in the chain, as a means of imbuing the business with a Swedish creative climate.

The advertising industry is now facing competition from new directions. Both management consultants and tech companies are moving into the arena. They are buying up agencies or recruiting their staff. This can be interpreted as evidence that company management teams and boards of directors are appreciating the importance of communication, but that management consultants have had a gap in their offering there.

But sometimes there is also direct competition from the agencies’ clients setting up their own in-house agencies.

Sometimes employees leave to go and work for competitors, sometimes to work for clients. This places tough demands on leadership in the future. One of the challenges facing the communication industry is that it constantly needs to reinvent itself. Which may be considered a threat. But threats can spark development, and the clearer the threat is, the faster the development.

Text: Carin Fredlund