There’s no such thing as a perfect agency, but Dawn comes pretty close.

10.03.2017 × Magazine

Dawn featured in the magazine of Read the full interview below.

Since 2008, Dawn has quietly built a reputation for smart, design-driven work. Now, with the launch of a branded content sister agency and European expansion on the cards, this self-styled “marathon runner” is set to draw ahead of the pack.

There’s no such thing as a perfect agency, but Amsterdam-based indie Dawn comes pretty close. With just 25 staff, they’re nimble and tight-knit. Their client roster is chock-full of socially responsible yet commercially successful enterprises, for whom they deliver visually stunning, impactful campaigns. They strike a healthy balance between competition and collaboration: if you beat them in a pitch, they’ll shake your hand and send you a congratulatory cake. Last year, they were named Holland’s number one independent agency (and third overall) in The Gunn Report. And yet, unless you’re based in the Netherlands, chances are you won’t have heard of Dawn. That’s all set to change this year as the agency takes its first steps into the European league, according to founder David Snellenberg. The Amsterdam native set up Dawn in 2008 after 12 years climbing the creative ladder at BBDO in New York, London and Madrid. Growing tired of network agency culture (“I realised I was being led by the clients, rather than my own creativity”) he returned home to open an agency with partners Jaap Boender, Pepijn Rooijens and Greo Belgers.

Good friends and gunnen
Coinciding with the start of the global financial crisis, it was, Snellenberg admits, probably a bad time to set up shop, but Dawn has shown staying power. “I compare us to a marathon runner,” he laughs, “we don’t have any excess fat.” Staying small and nimble has no doubt aided its success, but perhaps more crucial is its strong founding vision. “We have an opinion on the world, and we work for clients that have not only a commercial role but also a societal role,” says Snellenberg, a claim borne out by a roster that includes FNV, the Netherland’s biggest trade union; ethical bank Triodos; the Amsterdam Royal Zoo; and renewable energy company Eneco. Over the years, the agency has built a reputation for its design-driven, ‘visually friendly’ advertising – the original company logo even picked up a coveted Red Dot Design Award – but as creative director Ward Graumans, who joined in 2011, points out, strategy was always at its core. These days, though the craft is still important, the focus is more on innovation and impact. “Our main discussions with clients now are, ‘How can we create as much impact as possible with your point of view on the world?’” says Snellenberg. Take The Social Shuffle for Zorg en Zekerheid, an insurer dedicated to improving social cohesion. Based on research that shows regularly switching seating in a classroom encourages student interaction and can prevent bullying, Dawn developed a digital interactive tool to help teachers rearrange where kids sit. It got three Webby nominations and a European Design Award and was picked up by 120 schools. Even more ambitious is the work for Triodos Bank, which finances sustainable entrepreneurs and encourages consumers to change the world by changing how they spend money. Buy The Change is an online platform that connects sustainable enterprises with consumers. The second phase is an app developed by their “good friends” [creative production house] MediaMonks, which allows the concept to reach more people. “It’s interesting, because not only are we moving into campaigns, but also utilities to augment our campaigns,” says Snellenberg. Partnerships with the likes of MediaMonks are both a function of the agency’s diminutive size and, claim the pair, a genuine love of collaboration – balanced by healthy competitiveness. They embrace the Dutch trait of gunnen (magnanimity) in a pitch, “If a competitor gets the job, we applaud them, send them a cake or a bottle of wine,” but “we also want to win,” laughs Graumans, “so the next time, we do better.”

Daybreak for two new ventures
Last year, in response to increased demand for branded content, Dawn launched a sister agency, Hearhear, led by industry journalist Ebele Wybenga, which offers more in-depth, long-form content solutions to brands. Though much of Hearhear’s roster was initially shared with Dawn, Wybenga now has several independent clients. This year a second outpost of the Dawn empire will offer trend forecasting, bringing an “in-depth understanding of today’s culture to our clients”, says Snellenberg. “Look at Brexit, or Trump – the polling agencies didn’t get it right, there’s a misunderstanding about what’s really happening [culturally] today.” This looks set to be a busy year, but Snellenberg is adamant that growth won’t be at the expense of Dawn’s founding principles. “[We always ask] Are those new clients making us better? Are we making them better? The most important thing is to nurture our culture.” Smart, socially-minded and strategic: here’s to a new dawn of possibilities.

Founder David Snellenberg (right) with CD Ward Graumans (Photography: Reza Harek)

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