Accenture Interactive’s Nordic region CCO on becoming an ECD at 27, building agencies from the ground up and a bizarre situation involving two British prime ministers and Elton John
The world’s creative community is watching Accenture Interactive with curiosity. Over the past couple of years the business consultancy has selectively acquired some of the most exciting previously independent creative agencies around the globe, from Dublin’s Rothco to Copenhagen’s Hjaltelin Stahl to Droga5’s widely admired transatlantic offering. It’s started to look like a holding company now, but with a different heritage that could be interesting for the whole industry.
Almost a year ago, eyebrows were raised when Accenture Interactive appointed Adam Kerj, previously regional chief creative officer of McCann in the Nordics, as its own Nordic CCO. His stated goal was to focus on building Accenture Interactive’s creative capabilities in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, across the various agencies in those countries.
Adam has a history of building creative agencies up from scratch, so promises to do great things with the resources now in his hands. LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with him to find out where he’s coming from.
LBB> You were recently jury president in Digital Marketing at the D&AD Awards. What trends in digital really stimulated you this year?
Adam> We are now at the point where we’ve gone through the innovation for innovation’s sake stage. A lot of techniques have kind of plateaued so I think now is where we can really make sense of it and build creativity on the strengths of those. Before, my reflection has been that the technology has been too visible. Now it’s much more stitched together, making a beautiful experience. That’s the next thing.
From a brand perspective this whole discussion of moving into the more interesting experiences - how brands can act in that space and provide us with more interesting, entertaining or curious experiences, rather than one-way communication. It’s getting to the point where you’re part of the ideas more, where you can really participate. Now a lot of brands are figuring out that we’re becoming more loyal to experiences, rather than traditional work - that’s where the really interesting ideas emerge.
LBB> Is that something you’re weaving through your work at Accenture Interactive?
Adam> We look at that. But when you get into the context of being here, I think more than ever creativity is the most important thing that we do. We live in this time when there’s a lot of talk, so much discussion about platforms and adtech and numbers and dashboards. Everything is being instantly measured and much more in the short term. I think there’s been a shift to creativity and big ideas. That is what it’s all about.
We’ve gone through this transition. There was an obsession in the market with figures. But I think now we’ve passed that. I think it’s the golden days of creativity. Creativity is changing what it looks like and what an idea could be. If you have great creatives they love the fact that we’re in this space where it’s unpredictable and everybody’s a little bit uncomfortable telling stories. I think that a creative has never had more opportunities. There are so many ways that you can bring an idea to life today, but it has to start with the idea.
Because of the explosion of content, the explosion of so many platforms, the explosion of technology, you have to stop and think that we only have 24 hours. Time is one of the few resources that doesn’t scale, so if you are asking somebody to give you a couple of seconds or minutes, it’s going to take a big idea to make you want to move away from Fortnite or whatever you’re doing at that moment. The attention that everybody’s screaming for now is so hard to break out from. That’s why creatives are really enjoying this moment.
LBB> What were you like growing up and was there any hint you’d end up being a creative?
Adam> I grew up in Stockholm in Sweden. Really early I was playing around. I was intrigued by different languages. We travelled a lot when I was a kid so I met a lot of different people and cultures. I really got interested in that early on. And that’s how I got into art school. I was lucky enough to have some really good experiences in school where they pointed me in the right direction. I was the opposite of an accountant. I had a teacher that said I should go into marketing because I loved expressing my ideas and thoughts. So that’s how I got on my way.
LBB> What other moments really pushed things forward for you?
Adam> When I was at art school I got invited by one of the founders of Forsman & Bodenfors to join them in Gothenburg. I’d sent out a piece in one of Sweden’s biggest commercial trade magazines. Everybody was always looking for heavy experience when they were looking for people, so I just wrote an article asking: “Why are you always looking for experienced people? What about us young people?” So Sven-Olof Bodenfors called me and said: “Do you want to meet?” And I went to Gothenburg and spent six months at Forsman & Bodenfors. That was a big eye opener as they were just winning their first awards.
And just by chance my dad knew somebody who had a summer house in the archipelago of Sweden - an American guy who was married to a Swedish woman. They started talking and he said his son would like to work in the US, without having really talked to me about it! He called me and said: “Do you want to join us at Leo Burnett in Chicago?” So I went from Forsman to Chicago and spent two years where I really grew up fast, in an agency that at the time was the biggest in the US. They had 2,500 people under one roof. It was such a great lesson in how to sell work and how to really understand what advertising is and what it could do.
LBB> How did you end up becoming executive creative director at the age of 27 for Leo Burnett Copenhagen? That’s so young!
Adam> OK, fast forward… I spent some time at Leo Burnett and then I moved back to Sweden, worked at Publicis there for a while and then this guy I knew from Leo Burnett Chicago called me and asked if I wanted to run their Copenhagen office. It was more or less a service outpost for international clients but they really needed to build a creative culture there. At 26 I was too young to know better so I said yes and moved to Copenhagen.
I called my buddy who I’d been living with in Chicago and asked if he wanted to move with me to Copenhagen. I asked what the salary was, asked if they could split that so I could bring my friend, and they said yes. Then we built that agency and turned it into quite a success. We won our first Gold in Cannes there.
LBB> And that became the first of many agencies that you’ve built up from nothing in your career.
Adam> From there I went back to Sweden and started TBWA. That was a great run. We did some outstanding work.
And from there I launched Saatchi & Saatchi Sweden. I stayed there for 11 years, did some really interesting things. Early stuff on social platforms.
Then I got recruited to join 360i in New York, the Dentsu-owned digital agency. They wanted to build a creative department. So in a way I’m a creative entrepreneur building agencies. That was really successful, doing the Oreo stuff.
And from there I joined JWT as CCO in New York to help them transform into a much more digital creative offering.
After a few years it was time to move back to Scandinavia with my family. So we moved back and I took the helm of the Nordics for McCann Worldgroup.
And from there I joined Accenture Interactive.
LBB> Quite a globetrotting CV! You’ve flown around the world starting up agencies.
Adam> Yeah! I’ve worked in a lot of places and I still do. Now working with Accenture Interactive we’re building this global creative council with the people from Karmarama, The Monkeys in Australia and now Droga5 joined us. Our first connection was quite recent. It was super interesting. I’m building up the Accenture Interactive new creative offering, basically. Creating a new kind of agency.
LBB> In your role as CCO for the whole Nordic region, what does your day normally consist of? What takes up most of your time and what are your key focuses?
Adam> We see a huge shift towards focusing on reimagining the brand experience, and to me it’s such a rich, innovative space from a creative perspective. The other interesting aspect of this is that I also get to work with many different people with our clients that in different ways are responsible for the customer experience.
It’s also about helping our clients identifying new, meaningful growth opportunities. As both tech and platforms constantly chang what’s possible creatively, so does consumer expectations on better experiences. That means completely new creative opportunities. What an idea is, what it can do, how and where to tell it changes every day which makes our job more interesting than ever. Because creativity is formula resistant.
It’s also about engineering and nurturing a culture where wildly different talent and capabilities can collide, in a good way, so that new elements can form in that intersection.
LBB> Accenture Interactive is made up of lots of agencies and offices in the region, many of whom only recently joined the fold. What's the key to coordinating creative between them all?
Adam> I think it’s all about the people. Getting to know each other, meeting everyone on a regular basis. Collaborate with each other, pitch together, share ideas, discuss the work.
Everyone has their own unique flavour and culture and that’s the way it should be in my opinion. We believe in a culture of cultures, not force one to rule them all.
We’ve also set up a global creative council with our CCOs and ECDs running the biggest markets and regions and we help each other all the time. We make talent available and we have an exchange program where you can go and work in another office.
And we do joint things at the big industry events like SXSW, Cannes, etc. where we meet, discuss work, how we can improve and so on. A set of values, ambition and expectations gets you a long way. Local flavour is a good thing as I think it is difficult to export a successful culture that works well in one office.
LBB> Your recent Memory Lane project was so cool! What was your involvement in that and what do you love most about it?
Adam> Thank you. Well, Project Memory Lane is very special to me personally as I was the creative on it from beginning to the end and I realised how rewarding it is being 100% creatively immersed on a project. Just getting your hands down dirty and making stuff is a lovely thing.
Having said that, I worked closely together with our brilliant R&D team from Sophia Antipolis in France that are the masterminds behind the world’s first reverse-engineered AI platform solution that is at the core of the idea. And behind every great idea is a passionate, curious client. In this case, it’s the CMO Thomas Gibson at Stockholm Exergi who believed in it 100% from day one and trusted in me to bring it to life. It’s one of the most interesting and rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on which makes me very proud of it. At the end of the day it’s always great teamwork that makes magic happen.
What I love most about this idea is that it makes Stockholm a little bit warmer, it makes it possible for elderly people to tell and share their curious life stories and memories that otherwise never would’ve been told. In a way that has never been done before.
LBB> What other projects have you recently been very proud of?
Adam> There are a couple of upcoming projects that I have high expectations for but unfortunately I can't share them yet, but I promise you will be the first to know.
LBB> Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time? Any hobbies or unusual obsessions?
Adam> Right now I probably focus too much on my job but I do hit the gym five days a week. I’ve got a high maintenance, restless Dalmatian. I travel quite a lot. My biggest obsession is probably cooking, I just love it. It’s a bit like the creative process and the fact that my three kids are vegan, vegetarian and a carnivore makes it even more of a creative challenge.
LBB> And what about culture? Are there any films / exhibitions / books / music that have been inspiring you recently?
Adam> Yes all of it, but not enough. I was just at the Saatchi Gallery, I love that gallery. My best memory of the Saatchi Gallery though is when Saatchi & Saatchi had their 40th anniversary party that I got invited to where I ended up having a small chat with Margaret Thatcher, Sir Elton John and Tony Blair while the four of us were standing next to a live naked art exhibition. Yeah!
Oh yes there is a Swedish film ‘Gräns’ – I’m not going to reveal any spoilers, you’ve got to see it.
Latest books I read that were inspiring were Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom and Factfullness by Hans Rosling.
I’m a podcast addict, I love the format for my daily dose of inspiration: ‘Pivot’, ‘Without Fail’, ‘Recode Decode’, ‘Talking to Ourselves’, ‘Masters of Scale’, ‘Inside the Hive’, and ‘The Daily’.