Victor Knaap and Wesley ter Haar at ‘The Future of Digital Advertising’ – © Peet Sneekes

Last week we were at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. A wide group of creative agencies and people interestingly talked about The Future of Digital Design. One of the most entertaining presentations was that of the Dutch digital production agency MediaMonks. Victor Knaap (Partner & CEO) and Wesley ter Haar (Founder & Head of production), were clearly in their element on stage, joking and not taking their selves too seriously – “Saying that you are the biggest digital production agency in Europe works very well in the States.” MediaMonks started out in Amsterdam as a full service digital agency in 2001, but decided to focus on digital production when Knaap and Ter Haar realized they were in meetings all day. Today the agency has offices in Amsterdam, London, and New York – and “as rumour has it, in Singapore soon.” The presentation inspired us to ask them a few more questions about their success.

First of all, why the hell are you based in Hilversum?
Ter Haar:
Ha, good question! Before MediaMonks myself and the 2 other founders were part of a digital dot-com disaster in “het Gooi”. We left our comfy chairs and buzzword filed work behind to start MediaMonks, and stuck around in Hilversum as we had a few small local clients we could work for.
Knaap:
Hilversum has turned out great though; it’s nice and central for attracting local talent, and close enough to Amsterdam to attract international Monks.

What struck us most in the presentation was your statement about the Dutch being good at digital, being good at design, but not at ‘digital design.’ Why don’t the two combine in the Netherlands?
Knaap:
It’s just not a part of our design culture at the moment. It starts at the bottom, we’re still teaching students in a very similar manner to 10, 15 years ago. A lot has changed in our industry but that’s not reflected enough in our schools, or organisations like JongeHonden.
Ter Haar:
One of the elements we also hit upon in our presentation is that as an industry we’re very campaign driven, with short-term goals related to KPI’s and Quarterlies. In general that just leaves less space for storytelling or setting up platforms that span longer periods.

We’re still teaching students in a very similar manner to 10, 15 years ago

You said that the best digital designers come from Sweden; they have the ‘Swedish aesthetic.’ Do you have the Swedish aesthetic?
Ter Haar:
Well, aesthetics are a manner of taste. It just so happens that the work by Swedish agencies has been synonymous with great digital work for the last decade so it’s often held up as the shining example of what our industry has to offer. Agencies often brief us on putting something similar on the table.

You are opening offices around the world rapidly. How do you find the right people and guard the quality?
Knaap:
It takes time. One of the most important aspects at MediaMonks is our culture. It defines the work we do, how we do it and why. To make sure our other offices reflect that we only send people who have worked at the MediaMonks HQ a minimum of 12 months or longer and that completely understand what we’re trying to do.
Ter Haar:
With digital production, quality often comes down to experience. We have a strict policy of not working with freelancers and keeping our production in one spot, which means we become smarter with every project we launch. We did a count, and our team has a combined “working together at MediaMonks” experience of more than 850 years. Not bad for an industry as young as ours.

We have a strict policy of not working with freelancers and keeping our production in one spot

Though you are growing like wildfire, the fun in your presentation suggested you are still working from your basement. Is it difficult to combine the two; growth and fun?
Ter Haar:
Not really, we have always been very zealous in guarding against becoming “a big company”. We have very little hierarchy, no timesheets and only one rule: Make the best work possible in the time available. It frees us up to focus on the good stuff.
Knaap:
I don’t think we ever had more fun. We get to do amazing work for great local and international agencies, and make sure that we have enough parties & perks for our talent.

We have always been very zealous in guarding against becoming “a big company”

We would guess you have been approached by Omnicom, Interpublic or WPP already. Didn’t they offer enough? Or do you want to stay independent?
Knaap:
We think we’re at least twice as good as LBi. Make of that what you want.