Creativity – a strong competitive advantage for Swedish exports

Published in Dagens Media on 21 June 2012 12:06

The government wants to double the size of Swedish exports between 2010 and 2015. The communications sector will play an important role in this, by strengthening Swedish brands abroad and also by becoming a more internationalised industry. How this is to be achieved was the subject of a discussion between the Minister for Trade and others at a breakfast meeting at Cannes on Wednesday.

Minister for Trade Ewa Björling’s participation in Cannes Lions, demonstrates increasing awareness by the holders of power of the importance of market communications for business and society. When the Swedish Association of Communication Agencies arranged a breakfast meeting on creativity, the Minister was the first to discuss the issue with the Swedish Association of Communication Agencies’ Chairman, Gustav Martner.

Ewa Björling explained that advertising and brand building were concepts she knew about, even before becoming Minister. But as Minister, with many company contacts and the task of helping Swedish companies to reach outside the country’s borders, the issues have assumed greater importance for her.

”I often think that companies that wish to begin exporting or increasing their exports should begin by strengthening their brands before they start,” she explained.

According to the Martin Prosperity Institute, Sweden is the most creative country in the world and Swedish advertising is 125 times more successful than that of the USA in international competitions. Clas Collin has calculated that 10.5 per cent of the agencies’ total turnover in 2011 came from exports, and Statistics Sweden found that total exports of advertising amounted to 14.1 billion during that period.

What is meant here is Swedish agencies helping Swedish companies to market themselves in an international arena, as well as Swedish agencies that work with international companies. And export of Swedish creative personnel, which does not actually bring greater income to the country in the short term.

”But it is actually better to talk about internationalisation than exports. Because this is after all about achieving interaction,” said Sven-Olof Bodenfors, who was a member of one of the panels that discussed this issue.

The government has said that exports need to be doubled, and this led the participants in the Wednesday morning discussion to wonder what a doubling of creative business would mean.

”We must focus more on growing and doing business, rather than selling our expertise as soon as opportunities arise. We need to be proud of what we create,” said Mattias Hansson, Hyper Island’s former CEO.

One conclusion was that we need to diversify our activities and become more open. To succeed with exports, it is also necessary to import – cultures, ways of thinking and knowledge.

”Time is important. Development of quality and growing take time. When an industry experiences a boom it is immediately described as a wonder. The fashion wonder, the music wonder. But there is no wonder. There are old and new. There are those who build a culture and those who create progress,” said Sven-Olof Bodenfors, who pointed out that the communications sector is not a special interest.

”We are part of Swedish industry!” ”Here, we need help,” said Ewa Björling, and she said that she had been in Cannes earlier in the spring, at the film festival.
”I was a bit of a black sheep here at that time. ’What is she doing here? – a trader – a salesperson?’ But culture and business are not opposites. They belong together.”

And Swedish culture, our way of working and developing business has many strengths, according to the panels. And what strengths can the Swedish communications sector show, to benefit the country and the sector in an international perspective?

”Curiosity, the ability to work together and a global perspective,” was how Camilla Wallander from Berghs summarised the strengths of the young advertising generation.

”Curiosity and a global view are important. We are small, we have to learn. But we also have enormous strength in the security we have at work. It is a blessing that enables us to be brave,” said Pelle Sjönell of BBH in Los Angeles.

”Sweden is one of the countries that has done the right things,” said Chuck Porter, one of the founders of CP + B. He was full of praise and deferential about the Swedish communications sector. But when challenged to mention something negative, he said that our efforts to achieve a consensus can make us somewhat slow in decision-making processes.

”We must also become better at selling ourselves. And we are often much too meek,” said Pelle Sjönell.

”But we talk the whole time about exports and internationalization in a European/American perspective. There is an entire world outside those limitations,” said Linda Björk of Amore and she related a conversation that had been somewhat of an eye-opener for her. In connection with a board meeting, the agency happened to converse with a group of Chinese advertising people via Skype.

”A woman in her thirties was very impressed by our creativity. ‘You are so clever at copying! You copy prestige brands and convert them for a mass market. Such as IKEA and H&M, it is brilliant.’ Her discussion was somewhat of a shock at first, but I have been somewhat humbled by it,” said Linda Björk, who thought that we cannot just go on looking at the old world and old ways of thinking.

Much of the present competition and the competition of the future is from completely new directions and this also applies to trying to understand what we are competing against.
But it is also a matter of developing the business itself.

”Here we talk about ’creative business,’ then the focus goes on creativity again and business is forgotten,” said Mattias Hansson.

”So if we want to grow and develop further it is a matter of not just being good at working in Photoshop, but also in Excel. And talking about trade and internationalisation, rather than exports,” concluded Gustav Martner.

By: Carin Fredlund