Blurred Lines: How Edelman Deportivo Are Doing Things Differently
The grandson of a Nazi concentration camp commandant urges those tempted by Europe’s Alt-Right movement to confront the past. Fans of a hardcore rock band stage a funeral to mark the group’s farewell tour. A pair of shaggers cavort with increasing sloppiness as they become more inebriated in an interactive sex session. London cyclists tell the city’s mayor about every dodgy crossing and dangerous roundabout in real time, thanks to a smart bicycle bell.
Welcome to the world of Edelman Deportivo.
The agency, founded in 2010 by Anders Hallen and brothers Mattias and Stefan Ronge, is a creative company that does things a little differently. With the earned media mentality of a PR agency, the design and ideas of a creative shop and the innovation of a mad inventor’s workshop, they’re set up to embrace a new media environment where traditional outlets are no longer king. They call their approach ‘culture-first’. Rather than relying on paid media to ram an idea in front of peoples’ eyeballs – as advertising does - they build stories to delight and intrigue people, first and foremost. Rather than relying on time-stretched journalists to pick up their stories and serve them up – as the traditional PR model does – they go straight to the people and build traction with curious, intriguing, shareable stories.
“In PR you come up with all these interesting insights and strategy and do lots and lots of creative work that will eventually be judged by reporters. It all depends on what other news comes out that day. So, when Facebook grew up, we realised that we shouldn’t be making news for traditional media, but making stories for people. We started to turn everything around and come up with earned-at-core campaigns that didn’t actually need traditional media because everyone was already interested in them,” explains Mattias, who is the agency’s CEO.
It’s an approach that is working for them. And they had an inkling that they were on to something early on, explains Stefan, who is also the Chief Creative Officer. The agency was just a few months old when they created a ‘Booze Filter’ for their client IQ – a filter that stopped people posting to Facebook while drunk.
“Young people don’t care about hearing boring stuff about what happens to you when you drink too much, but they care about making a fool of themselves. That was seven years ago and now it’s even worse. Nowadays if you make a fool of yourself online it’s digital, it’s for ever and it’s everywhere. About half a million people tried our booze filter, all the major media wrote about it and so-on, so that was pretty much a good solid ‘yes’ that we were on the right path,” recalls Stefan.
This up-ended approach was born from necessity. All three founders were fed up with traditional models and new that if they were to remain in the field of marketing or communications whilst also retaining their sanity then they would have to build something very different. Stefan calls it the ‘survival instinct’.
Having built a reputation for creating unexpected, shareable stories in their native Sweden, Deportivo caught the attention of global PR giant Edelman. They joined the fold in June 2014 and earlier this year, they opened an office in London. Having met with Richard Edelman, they could see that he was energised by their vision. And the team believe that the Edelman Deportivo model is truly scalable. For now they split their time between London and Sweden – and the two offices function as a European creative hub, working with other Edelman offices in the region, like Spain, Italy and Belgium. And new offices in other parts of the world are very much on the cards – Stefan floats the idea of an Asia outpost.
What’s clear is that Mattias, Stefan and Anders have built Deportivo to be something that is very much bigger than them and which doesn’t rely on their personalities alone. Over the past seven years they’ve been developing specific tools and processes to help perpetuate the culture and bring new recruits round to their way of thinking quickly.
But if you really want to get your head around the ‘Deportivo’ mindset, the best place to start is with the name itself. ‘Deportivo’ is Spanish for ‘sport’ or ‘sporting’ – a common suffix for football team names.
“The meaning has somewhat shifted, but sports teams have been great at building culture and ongoing emotional relationships that last for 50 years, a lifetime. And it adds up and it doesn’t really depend on the results either. We root for a shitty team here in Stockholm, Hammarby,” laughs Stefan. “They’re not the ones that win anything but you go to the games and you wear the sweater and you root for the team. It’s something that’s extremely difficult for a consumer brand to achieve; it’s like a moon shot. If you can do that for a commercial brand then that’s the moon.”
That attitude requires a mindset shift on the part of the client, chips in Mattias. “When we started, we said to our clients ‘we won’t help you get new customers, we will try to get you fans’. And then the mindset shift - if you’re not after the short-term consumer but the long-time fan, that will affect everything you do. It will affect if you prefer to advertise in paid media or if you prefer to have an earned mindset, on culture, on people’s situations, on the community in which you live and operate, on everything from doing good and customer service and everything. We still believe that mindset is important; we should not think that we can buy people’s attention. Brands buy people’s attention and then they get disappointed after the same customers leave them after a scandal – but you haven’t built trust there. You might have built figures in your yearly report but you haven’t built trust. You haven’t built anything solid.”
Deportivo’s success hasn’t come overnight – it’s been built on a consistent track record of thoughtful, creative work. However, as they break out on a regional and international level, the timing seems perfect. At awards shows like Cannes, the top winning work is that which blurs the line between advertising and PR. This year’s Fearless Girl and Meet Graham are exemplars of this blurring. But Mattias and Stefan are not convinced that this fluidity or ‘blur’ is truly reflected in the day-to-day work and approach of most traditional agencies.
“That’s the window in the shop. But if you go into that shop, 85% of what’s in there would be traditional advertising because they live in that structure,” says Stefan. “They [these award-winning pieces of work] create the feeling that something is happening but if you look at the whole sector’s work, very little is changing. There’s always a Meet Graham or Fearless Girl, one or two pieces like that in Cannes every year from those agencies. But it’s not about consistency and tackling every brief with that type of thinking. We don’t know anything else. This is what we know. We are not trying to make award-winning campaigns, we are trying to make the communications that you should when you have all the tools that you have today.”
On the client side, however, that blur is very much a reality. Communications officers and CMOs find themselves stepping into each others’ territories constantly. It can make it trickier to get things out quickly as there are more client stakeholders involved in making decisions but it also shows that the Deportivo founders’ original instinct about the direction of the industry was spot on. These days their Stockholm office has as many marketing clients as comms clients and they are confident that London will soon be getting as many inquiries from CMOs as it does from PR officers.
And where Edelman Deportivo has a creative edge over more traditional set ups is this blending of PR and creativity and an understanding that, to get traction, they don’t have the luxury of stopping at the first obvious idea or story they come to. Instead, they know that by pushing a little further they can find a truth that’s bigger, more intriguing and shareable – and that will ultimately find traction. In an age where traditional media no longer commands attention as it used to, this mentality puts them in an enviable position.
“When you find that truth and you mould it and you make it talk-worthy and instantly understandable and you actually connect to other people just by saying a few words, then you know that you are on the right track. I do believe that with Edelman we have the opportunity to do that with more brands in more sectors with more challenges than any other agency that I know of out there.”