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Here’s how Uncommon plans to shake up Stockholm’s advertising scene

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By Sam Bradley, Journalist

January 19, 2024 | 8 min read

We explore why the creative studio chose to launch in the Swedish capital and how it plans to navigate the Nordic market.

Uncommon Swedish founders

Björn Ståhl, Natalie Graeme and Mia Berggren / Uncommon Creative Studio

International expansion is an aspiration of many agency leaders, but it’s a difficult task to get right. Choose a location based on industry prestige or personal ambition and you might deny yourself access to clients that are right for your business or end up with too shallow a pool of potential recruits. Get it right and a new location accelerates growth for the entire business.

Uncommon Creative Studio, unusually for a firm that was anchored previously to London alone, has added two new offices in less than six months. And while New York is a destination that doesn’t require explanation, its second international venture is a less obvious spot – Stockholm.

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Swedish advertisers invest less than their British or American counterparts, but media spend in the country is rising (Mediavision recorded a 6% increase in the third quarter of 2023). And for Natalie Graeme, co-founder of Uncommon, the move should eventually open up the entire Nordic region for the agency. It’s a mature market stocked with established, premium brands – the kind of clients Uncommon, which works with British Airways and Nike, likes to fish for.

“There are a lot of clients in this region that totally understand and appreciate the impact a brand can have and that are built on sustainable and diversity missions and are really entrepreneurial, so it felt like a no-brainer,” she tells The Drum.

The venture was also a “no-brainer” (clearly a favorite turn of phrase at Uncommon) for Mia Berggren who, alongside Björn Ståhl and Max Hultberg, is one of the agency’s three Swedish founders. All three are industry veterans in Sweden and known quantities for Uncommon, Berggren having been chief executive of North Kingdom while Ståhl (a former colleague of co-founder Nils Leonard) led WPP creative shop Ingo for almost 20 years.

Speaking from a Stockholm beset by -20°C temperatures, Berggren says Stockholm’s established advertising scene (home to shops such as Nord DDB and Jung von Matt) could do with a shake-up.

“This is exactly what we need here. The reaction to the news of the launch felt like we did something positive for the whole industry in Stockholm. We have a traditional way around how you should approach clients in our industry and there are harsh lines between different types of work: how you create value and how you create change. We need another way to approach a client – we need to look at how we create change from a more holistic perspective.”

Though she’s reluctant to criticize Uncommon’s peers and rivals in Sweden directly, she says that traditional shops have not moved with client needs. “I think that’s a challenge for most agencies and studios. It’s really hard to change.”

The alternative approach, she says, extends to Uncommon’s staff needs. “You don’t have to be just an art director or just a copywriter. You should be a creative person who knows how to address a need for a client, how to address an audience or a community.”

In the short term, Berggren, Ståhl and Hultberg will be backed up by Uncommon’s British and US staffers, with co-founder Graeme saying: “The ability to kind of scoop the best talent from any market to answer a client’s brief or to come at a particular project feels really compelling.”

But they are actively hiring, says Berggren. “We want to build this team up quite fast. We are having conversations.”

Graeme adds that they hope to apply the London agency’s philosophy of “being a lighthouse for the very best talent.” Stockholm is, however, a pricey city to live in and a pricey city to hire in. Could that hold back the agency’s growth plans in this market?

“We want to have a diverse team,” says Berggren. ”Maybe that will mean people moving, which can be expensive. And safety for employees in Sweden is quite strong. But those are things we love; it’s expensive for a reason.”

Currently sharing an office with a Swedish film production company, the trio are prepared to work with a flexible, potentially remote, staff, with an eye to saving junior staff the burden of paying for Stockholm’s high cost of living.

“If you recruit relevantly and pick well in the beginning and really think about the people that should follow along with you on this journey, it’s not an expensive thing,” adds Berggren.

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Though the shop has launched without a founding client, Berggren says that the tiro are reaching out to clients as their top priority. “The main focus is talking to the brands we want to work with. We’re having those conversations already.”

Uncommon’s Havas deal, which was revealed back in July, has set the agency on a path to expansion and Graeme says that the New York launch meant it had “a whirlwind end to the year.”

Stockholm is unlikely to mean an end to the whirlwind, she intimates, adding: “There are plans. When we partnered with Havas, we said at the time that we had and still have huge amounts of ambition concerning where else we can take Uncommon, not just geographies but adjacencies where we can apply our creative thinking. Watch this space.”

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