Karin Drakenberg of StrawberryFrog on movement marketing, gender equality and 'NYC kindness'

Karin Drakenberg is senior partner and chief operating officer at StrawberryFrog.

The Drum spoke to Karin Drakenberg, senior partner and chief operating officer at StrawberryFrog, about the agency's movement strategy, movement marketing and gender equality.

How well do you feel your education prepared you for a career in the marketing industry?

Innovation, change and big ideas: these were key learnings from my Stockholm education. We were using the web way back in the early 90s. Nothing can fully prepare you for the twists and turns of the marketing industry — but my time at Berghs School of Communications came close and is one of the reasons we’ve been able to keep refreshing StrawberryFrog after 20 years of business!

The thing I learned growing up in Sweden is that women can be equal to men in leadership positions. And I suppose I took it for granted that this was the norm. When I moved with Scott Goodson to NYC to launch StrawberryFrog in the US, it was a wake-up call that this wasn’t the case. But we made it work and instituted systems and structures for our women colleagues that were ahead of the rest.

What I’ve experienced here in NYC has been transformational. It is an amazing city and the people here have been deeply generous to us, including clients and co-workers as well as people in innovation and in the marketing and consultancy sectors. One thing I value and have experienced here is kindness. I experienced courageous conversations and transformational meetings and people. Everyday NYC is a reminder to choose courageousness over comfort.

What didn’t education teach you that you learned to be important along the way?

What that education didn’t teach me was the kind of skills needed to operate and lead a perpetual start up, an entrepreneurial environment which we are, even though we are the world’s first movement marketing company. I learned these skills by running StrawberryFrog for the past 20 years.

How long have you lived/worked in New York? What first prompted the move and how did you feel about making such a move at the time?

I’ve been in the driver’s seat at StrawberryFrog in NYC for 14 years. We moved our global headquarters here after we had attracted a number of global clients such as Heineken, Credit Suisse, Cap Gemini, and P&G. It felt like the natural habitat for the world’s leading Movement Marketing company focused on transforming employee behaviors inside organizations and innovative marketing and advertising to engage consumers in a fresh new way: in other words Movement Strategy and Movement Marketing.

At first, it was genuinely daunting and exciting. I mean we picked up and moved to NYC, fortunately we had Anne Marie Marcus the esteemed NYC industry expert on our board. She was incredibly helpful to us in our first few years. We also brought some key staffers over from StrawberryFrog’s office in Amsterdam, including Corinna Falusi, Jo Pugh Fisher and Jon Vall, and Richard Monturo.

As a Swedish professional in New York, do you feel that you have a different perspective on certain situations?

Yes absolutely. There is a general awareness of empathy in Sweden that has guided me well. But getting back to being a woman leader in the marketing world for a moment. There is a key difference in roles. As a company founder, I don’t see myself as a role model per se but on the other hand I hope what I’m doing inspires a new generation of women to start their own companies and believe in themselves and their own ideas.

Having role models is integral to staying motivated in the marketing sector. When I think about the trickle-down effect that my efforts could have I’m motivated to work harder - especially in this new Trump era.

The other key difference is that big Swedish companies don’t need big corporate ad agencies to deliver what they need and want. On the contrary, in Sweden, we are taught that small teams can do it better, smarter, more innovatively and a lot more cost effectively than the big, bureaucratic and expensive corporate advertising companies . This was one of the reasons we built StrawberryFrog. Today faster beats bigger.

You work with your husband (a Canadian) at StrawberryFrog. What are the challenges and/or benefits of working with your spouse?

We first got together in Sweden. Back then he owned a top advertising agency in Stockholm and I was working for Sexton87 which had the Nordic Nike account. We decided that while life in Sweden was a lot of fun, we wanted an adventure and moved to Amsterdam to found StrawberryFrog in 1999.

The benefits are many. The main one being that you have someone at the top of the company you can trust and empathize with. The key to a successful partnership in the home and the office is to never, ever, ever EVER talk shop at home.

Do you feel your Swedish/Canadian heritage adds something extra to the mix at StrawberryFrog?

Swedes and Canadians share a common psychology and ambition, and competitiveness. We are open and curious. We also really admire the US and Americans as well as other cultures. We are students of other societies. As kids, Swedes and Canadians always look out into the world to compare our small countries to the big ones, so we learned a lot about how other places do things. I don’t think we believe we are better than others we are just curious and interested to learn and understand. As kids we always wanted to live and work in NYC and now StrawberryFrog is in the Empire State Building. I love that.

We also tend to like flat organizations without all the pomposity and circumstances that weighs down other organizations. We ran StrawberryFrog the Swedish way for many years where no one has titles but that became a barrier in NYC where people depend on their titles to progress in their careers.

The other thing about Swedes and Canadians is the work ethic is very strong. I think it’s fair to say it’s been a driving force behind our company for the past 20 years. Swedes and Canadians are straight shooters. Low BS. What you see is what you get. You’re going to have excellence in work and quality product, you’re not going to get all the embellishments.

The last thing I’ll say is that my dog Vera is born in Sweden but is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling retriever. Half Canadian, half Swede!

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, and a graduate of Berghs School of Communications, Drakenberg attended the University of Stockholm before starting her career at Sexton 87 one of Sweden’s most respected advertising agencies.

Drakenberg co-founded StrawberryFrog in 1999 after moving to Amsterdam from Sweden. Today, in addition to running StrawberryFrog from the 48th floor of the Empire State Building in New York, she lives with her partner/husband and their two teenage sons outside Manhattan.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.