CEOs Tove Langseth and Jacob Sandström share their moves to rocking fresh creative



In October 2016 creative director Tove Langseth and business director Jacob Sandström took over DDB Stockholm in a shared CEO role. Both had been key to the development of the agency for many years and the move was a natural evolution for the Stockholm office with its history of strong business insights and creative culture. Their latest work continues to be at the forefront of melding creativity, humanity and technology to produce breakthrough ideas. We asked Tove and Jacob about their shared role and how this impacts the inner workings of the agency and the work DDB Stockholm creates for its clients.

So tell us the truth, how do you make this joint CEO role work? Who does the math and who takes the teams out to the club? Do the lines of business and creative ever cross?

Tove Langseth: I guess people find it typical Swedish to share a CEO-role. And we do really share it. From the beginning we had the idea to split up everything quite strict between us, but we often end up discussing most issues together. Which means that even though Jacob naturally is in the driving seat when it comes to money, and I when it comes to the creative stuff, we do bounce most things between us.

Jacob Sandström: I guess we’re much more the same than we thought. Which is good because we trust each other’s decisions when both of us aren’t around. Taking teams out to the club? We both need to shape up there – none of us drink alcohol for God’s sake!

Bernbach felt the environment of the agency was fundamental to great work. “There’s a relationship between the management and the creative person that just can’t be ignored.” How would you say that is reflected at DDB Stockholm today? How does it compare to the early years when it was Paradiset DDB?

JS: To us it’s fundamental that the people at the agency share the same vision, that everyone is interested and contributes to the creative product. We have a saying that is “Creativity in everything” which means that not only the creatives should wave the flag of creativity but everyone, from the guys at reception to a planner working with insights. This mindset is of course extremely important when it comes to the ones leading the agency, that’s where the creativity must start. The group leading the agency really has that belief in common, even though we might go into things with different perspectives.

TL: When I started at Paradiset that was definitely the feeling in the company. Creativity was so natural as two of three leaders were actually creatives. However, today creativity is something much wider and the agency is much more complex in that sense. Creativity is not only communication but also design, digital, PR, media, etc. That makes it even more important to always look at things from a creative perspective. In the end, that’s how we differentiate ourselves from for example a web agency; we always put a creative layer to things.

What is the relationship between the various departments of the agency and the creative? How do you balance having more team involvement in the creative process without the idea being “ruined by committee”?

TL: That’s a good question and something we’ve been struggling with sometimes. You really want to involve lots of people in the creative product to get interesting and insightful perspectives, but still you need a few people to really take the responsibility to set the frames for the concept and the ideas. Our way to do it is to open up the creative process at certain stages. When briefing, for a concept or a pitch, we gather a big group of people – not only the lead creatives but also people with specific design and digital perspectives. For a couple of days we let them equally work on the brief, which means that early in the process we assure that the concept is 360º-proof. Then it’s up to the Creative Director and the lead team to sort out which of all the ideas can be useful. We also might extend the creative lead team with, for example, a design director if the task or idea is very design orientated. In that way we make specialists engage in the big idea but still have the strength of a small, dedicated team. Besides this, we have both strategic and creative oppositions where we let the lead team present both strategic choices of path and creative ideas for a mix of people. Also here we make sure to get different perspectives into the strategic and creative work.

The new “Innovation & Prototyping” unit for the Nordic DDB Group is based in Stockholm. What impact has this had on the work you do?

JS: They’re actually based in our office at Torsgatan, which is great. They’re a fantastic source for our creatives. As soon as we have an idea that involves techniques and digital competence beyond the ordinary, we can just skip down the stairs to the 6th floor and bounce the idea with the guys. For example they’ve been involved in both Happy Goggles for McDonald’s and Instant Testdrive for VW. Also, in our work for Klarna, they’re extremely important, as the setup is a very deep collaboration with the client, where we’re actually working with Klarna’s core product.

You have numerous long-time clients like Volkswagen, McDonald’s, Swedish Armed Forces. What’s the secret formula? Does it become easier to bring clients ideas that they don’t want, but you feel they really need? How do you continue to keep the work fresh?

JS: Obviously, a good partnership is based on that you succeed in doing a great job together, and also that you enjoy working together. I also believe that we, as an agency, always have been careful to deliver on the basics. Without doing that you never get the trust to do the more interesting creative work. But as important is that we’ve always developed the agency and been able to add new and crucial competence to our relationships, to make sure we’re moving the brand in the right direction of their brand journey.

TL: Of course our approach is crucial, too. No matter how long we’ve been working with clients, every time they go up the elevator to our office, they should feel a bit of a jittery feeling, not knowing what we’re going to show them. It’s like a relationship in real life, right? Never take anyone for granted, keep surprising to stay interesting.

What current campaigns are you most proud of and why? Even one that those of us outside Sweden might not get… you Nordics have been hailed as ahead of the curve. Do you think it’s more important to think local first or are the best ideas ones that work anywhere in the world?

TL: I think Klarna is the case we’re most proud of at the moment. We’re working with the next Smoooth campaign that will be on air in the spring. Simultaneously we’re launching a whole new identity globally, and as mentioned earlier, that includes their core product. The concept Smoooth has in that sense been directional, not only in the visual expression, but guiding the approach for the whole company. Of course that’s fantastic. The way we work together with the client, in creative workshops every second week, is also liberating. It’s hard deliveries each time we meet but still we take decisions by twisting and turning things together. It feels like a fresh way of working, but of course that requires that you have a really brave and creatively interested client. And from our part, it requires that we’re digitally and technically far ahead, to understand how the identity must work with their product.

JS: Besides Klarna, Elkjøp is a new big and exciting client for us. Elkjøp is the largest electronics retailer in Scandinavia but when it comes to emotional relevance, they’re just seen as a retailer among others, screaming about the same products, in the same way. First out was the Christmas campaign where we set a completely new tone for the category. I’m sure we’ll make a really interesting brand journey for them in the long run, and that we’ll have lots of creatively sharp stuff along the way. So, when looking at the things we’re most proud of at the moment, it’s definitively ideas that work anywhere in the world. Both Klarna and Elkjøp are bigger than Sweden!