With the recently merged Omnicom/Publicis entity choosing to headquarter itself in Amsterdam, global brands such as Nike basing their European HQs here and homegrown giants like Heineken retaining the city as their home as they extend their reach further and further round the globe, it seems that the Dutch capital is adept at attracting some of the world’s biggest agencies and companies, and the high calibre of people it takes to fill them.And, when speaking to some of the international agencies and foreign talent who have relocated to the city, a name that crops up again and again when trying to decipher this attraction is amsterdam inbusiness, the official foreign investment agency of the Amsterdam metropolitan area and a key player in making Amsterdam a thriving hub for business and industry.Catching up with Hilde van der Meer, the organisation’s managing director, her passion for the city and its people shines through at every possible opportunity – a given, perhaps, considering her job, but nonetheless convincing and nonetheless infectious.Van der Meer is quick to point out the three things she thinks contribute most to making the city so great – its people, its infrastructure, and the unique lifestyle it offers.“It’s very well connected with the rest of the world,” she says, and if you’ve ever been to the sprawling indoor city that is Schiphol, this comes as no surprise. The airport is efficiency encapsulated; a welcome relief to the UK’s many glorified shopping malls with runways attached.Van der Meer goes on to explain that Amsterdam is “a compact city,” so once you’ve been competently dispatched from the airport, “you’re very quickly in Amsterdam, and once you’re in Amsterdam you’re very quickly everywhere by bicycle or foot”.“It doesn’t involve a lot of travel time, and there are no sweaty Tubes,” she adds.And then there’s the people. “There’s a very broad range of talent from all over the world,” says van der Meer, “and that only makes working here all the better, as you can work with such a diverse cluster of people.”“You’re as much inspired when you’re inside your company as you are when you’re out in the street,” she says. “Amsterdam is all about relaxing, meeting people, being inspired and working with a great variety of talent.”
The infrastructure, lifestyle and people all have an impact on the marketing industry in the city, according to van der Meer.“What you see from a lot of the big advertising agencies here is that they make campaigns that are not just for the Dutch market, but which are used in most countries. So, for example, the Nike campaign, the Coca-Cola campaign and the Microsoft Xbox campaign are worldwide campaigns that the companies have chosen to make here in Amsterdam because they can work with all these different nationalities.”These multinationals are likewise enticed to set up their headquarters here, giving the city a broad variety of clients and work for agencies to compete for.“There’s a lot of work here,” says van der Meer, “and because of the easy access it is easy to work for other European cities as well, so you can combine things very easily.”So how does the city go about actively attracting agencies to set up here? What support or what incentives are offered?Van der Meer is clear that “Amsterdam is not a place that attracts companies with incentives”.“We don’t believe in that,” she says. “Companies should come because of the strength of what they get here.”She does admit, however, that the country’s “good tax regime” is somewhat of an incentive (the Netherlands is considered by some as an intermediary tax haven for foreign corporations, and in 2006 it was claimed that some 20,000 multinationals and private individuals were based in the Netherlands in order to cut tax bills elsewhere) but that this is a national thing, not a characteristic of Amsterdam specifically.Rather, to attract foreign investment, amsterdam inbusiness devotes two full-time staff to concentrating solely on the creative industries, and more specifically the advertising industry, ensuring that they really know their partners in the city. Working with the ad agencies, they identify the companies and talent they should focus their efforts on bringing into the city.
“The ad guys we know will come to us and say, ‘hey, you should see this company, agency X, they’re really great and they have plans to move to Europe,’ and we’ll either fly out and see them, or ask them to come here.”Van der Meer and her team then set about wooing the agency, taking them on a tour of the city, “by bicycle rather than car, to show them another aspect of what the city is all about,” and introducing them to the sector, setting up meetings with lawyers, accountants and even the competition. And sometimes, says van de Meer, “we even throw a party for them”. It’s a healthy overlap between government and business rarely seen elsewhere.amsterdam inbusiness also looks to make it as easy as possible for agencies to bring in talent from all over the world, van de Meer explains. “We’ve started up a thing called the Expatcenter, and in the Expatcenter, even before you come to the Netherlands, you can fill in a just one form, from which everything is arranged so that you can get your permits and stuff like that. It is really helpful for those who want to start quickly, and everyone, once they’ve made the decision, always wants to start quickly.”Van der Meer can’t speak highly enough of the energy this mixture of talent brings to the city, enthusing: “In these days and in this world, people come from everywhere, as you see with agencies like Anomaly, an international company, here from the US with an Australian director, and it is something which we think is very stimulating.“And this helps, this diversity and being a worldwide company instead of just a Dutch company or an American company, so we look to make things as easy as possible for people to come here, and to make them like being here.”And like it they do. “All the big agencies are here, of course. Those related to Publicis and Omnicom, so BBDO, DDB, Tribal DDB, Ogilvy. They’re all here. There’s also quite a few niche companies, like Sid Lee and 180, Wieden + Kennedy, Strawberry Frog, Anomaly. And there are quite large Dutch companies as well, like Heineken and AkzoNobel and stuff like that, who are mainly serviced by the big networks, but more and more also so by the Wieden + Kennedys and the 180s, so there’s a good mix I think.”
Van der Meer likens what is currently happening in Amsterdam in the creative industries to what has been happening recently in the city’s cultural sector: “This year there has been the reopening of the Rijksmuseum, the reopening of the Van Gogh, and a celebration of the fact that our Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has been there for 125 years. Similarly, with the creative industry, what we are doing is not so much inventing big, new things to focus on, but rather strengthening what we already have.“We’ve kept investing in our infrastructure, and in this basic climate of inclusivity and diversity, which are really important values for the city, and even in this time of economic crisis, this keeps Amsterdam very focused on internationalisation.“Five years ago we attracted 90 new international companies a year. That number has gone up recently and is now about 125 a year. So Amsterdam is doing well, and I think that is because we continue strengthening what have been our strengths for so long.”Van der Meer leaves us with one last thought on what the world could learn from the Dutch experience: “The core values here are creativity, innovation and trade, and the Dutch people have this entrepreneurial spirit, but we are raised in freedom – freedom of mind and freedom to choose what you want to do. People don’t judge very much. So what you see in Amsterdam is this mix of artists, creatives, businessmen, and they can all live next to each other or with each other.”