The Iceland Fourm

By The Drum, Administrator

January 5, 2005 | 6 min read

Going to Iceland was a long-held ambition for me so I was delighted when Propaganda asked me to represent the agency at the Iceland Forum, especially since I didn’t start working for them until a week after our return! However, I’d been working closely with Propaganda for over a year, and knew the agency well.

Propaganda’s reason for sending a representative was simple: to lend support to the important work that the Carnyx Group is doing to promote agency talent in the regions.

Business development at Propaganda has always been an organic process, with one relationship tending to develop from another. The concept of the 30-minute “sell” is therefore rather alien to us, so our attendance underlines our support rather than any expectation of winning business.

As a result, I took a discussion-based approach to the 30-minute client meetings, and avoided using any technology or presentations. I felt some degree of kinship with the clients, because the very reasons I was walking away from my own successful business to take up the senior position offered to me by Propaganda were the same reasons a client would choose to work with the agency.

The approach seems to have worked. Clients told me they were glad to have the chance just to sit and talk about their businesses and the challenges they face. After all, any business relationship has to be founded on mutual trust and respect, so getting to know one another first is crucial.

I am conscious that there are some who will dismiss the Forum as a “jolly”. Let me assure them that business was always top of the agenda, and that it was extremely hard work! Having landed Tuesday afternoon, we spent all of Wednesday in consecutive half-hour slots, either with clients we had chosen to meet or in workshops. Meals were always taken together, and seating plans were carefully drawn up to ensure that everyone met everyone.

The clients were all high calibre, regardless of sector, with marketing budgets from £160k to £20m each. The pleasant surprise for me was coming back with a good handful of client opportunities, which will bear fruit for Propaganda. I have asked myself why the atmosphere was so conducive to developing new business, when we didn’t particularly expect it and didn’t go for the hard sell, and my belief is that the environment made all the difference.

The atmosphere was very relaxed and we were all on neutral ground. The concentrated focus on industry issues, and the fact that we were all away from colleagues, e-mails and phone calls, enabled everyone (client and agency alike) to open up and speak their minds. When that happens, there will inevitably be some meeting of minds.

Several clients commented to me that the Forum gave them an opportunity to encounter diverse skill sets and new thinking that they would not have been able to meet in any other way. Some of them pointed out that, had they been able to select the agencies, rather than the other way around, they probably would have chosen ones that were more predictable and comfortable. By stepping out of their “comfort zone”, as it were, and meeting agencies they hadn’t personally selected, they felt their eyes had been opened to new approaches and new ways to market their brands. This was a rare opportunity for them to get under the skin of different agencies and assess what’s out there.

Wednesday was such hard work, in fact, that not everyone came along to the evening tour of Lazytown Studios. I’m extremely glad that I found the energy, because the visit was extraordinary. I have cast my mind back over all the countries I’ve visited on business, all the conferences and seminars I’ve attended, and I simply can’t recall a more fascinating and inspirational talk than this one. It’s wonderful to hear a fresh perspective on marketing, which is devoid of jargon, fuelled with enthusiasm, packed with new ideas, and underpinned by real commercial success.

One remarkable aspect of the Forum was the bond of genuine friendship that existed amongst us all. These were all clever and successful people, whatever their background. By some happy coincidence, they were also excellent company and great fun to be with. And what better way to bond than when snowmobiling on a spectacular glacier, on Thursday?

No, it wasn’t a jolly. Yes, it was hard work. Yes, it was worth it. Yes, you should seriously considering going next year, whether you’re an agency or a client. If the Iceland Forum was this good in its inaugural year, what might 2005 bring?


“Great to meet up with the regions finest in an environment that allows you to stop chest beating and start really communicating with clients and fellow agencies. I am sure that many of the relationships we forged will remain strong well into the future.” Morgan Cox, Director, Feather Brooksbank

“It was a refreshing chance to explore the strengths of various agencies in a short time. Getting the chance to speak to the guys informally later meant that delegates got a realistic chance to answer the ‘could I work with these people’ question as well.”

Gordon Swan, Head of Advertising, Intelligent Finance

“Overall one of the best forums I have attended. A great balance between work and play, very productive.”

Darren Francis, Head of Marketing, Computeach International

“Thanks for everything in Iceland -

I had an amazing time. I am looking forward to working with some new agencies.” Sarah French, Head of Marketing, Moat House Hotels

“Send me the forms for next year. Don’t change the format or the numbers. it was just right.”

Andrew Hutchinson, Managing Director, Blueprint Marketing Services (JDA)

“The best aspects of the conference was having time to socialise with potential clients - building a memory of our company and being able to do a workshop.”

Jonathan Frewin, Managing Director, Red Cell Scotland

“The informal soft sell environment suited me best. I felt looked after throughout the conference.” Nigel Charlesworth, Public Relations Manager, RBS Insurance UKI Partnerships

“The trip was marvellous and really opened my eyes to the talent of agencies outside London. Everything was so well organised. Not only was it great from a work perspective, it was also great fun.”

Alex Hilton, Director of Communications, Vitabiotics

“The lack of formality was good. Most business relationships break down because of personalities. The forum gave us all the chance to get to know each other as people (first) and marketers (second). I think The Drum and adline have to be congratulated on pulling this off. roll on next year”

Zane Radcliff, Creative Partner, Newhaven


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