Toan is the Managing Director of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment in Amsterdam, leading a talented team of international and Dutch specialists to connect brands to consumers via their passions, delivering creative campaigns across content production, social campaigns, PR & influencer communications, sponsorship consultancy and live experiences.
Louise Hope, Netherlands Business Manager, sat down with Toan during her first official week as an Amsterdam resident, to learn about Toan’s career journey, his move to The Netherlands and to hear his thoughts on industry and workplace trends.
Tell us a little more about your experience, expertise and move to the Netherlands
I have spent the last 10 years at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment firstly in London, before moving to Amsterdam in 2018, working remotely, and then opening our office here in 2019. Prior to that, I worked at two other agencies in London.
So, my experience has always been in agencies and my expertise has been focused on activating brands who want to reach consumers via their passions in sport and entertainment – to deliver integrated campaigns that often live and breathe in an earned-first way, working with the biggest sporting organisations, top talent, music artists and entertainment platforms.
We opened the office here due to a combination of client need and the opportunity in this creative city. Plus, there was a bit of luck too, as Brexit meant my family and I had the chance to move here with my wife’s work.
What projects are you currently working on or have worked on that you're really proud of?
Over the course of the last two decades, I have been lucky enough to work with many of the world’s top brands, across some of the biggest cultural moments and to deliver award-winning, creative and commercially impactful projects.
As MD, I am genuinely proud of every client and project we play a part in – it’s been a privilege to be trusted with so many projects in the first few years of being in Amsterdam.
Working in passions means that every day we are trying to connect authentically and weave brands into the heart of culture. To do that you need to respect that this is the audience’s precious escapism and the part of their life that they love most – so I am most proud when we really do that and I love the challenge of showing up in a way that works seamlessly for the audience, because true fans will sense when something isn’t quite right. Strategically and creatively, you have to really be on the pulse.
I am an eternal optimist and enthusiast – and I am especially excited about a big social change campaign we are working on to go live at the end of 2023; harnessing the power of passions to help impact a global health challenge. Keep your eyes peeled!
What are the main challenges you're expecting over the next few years?
Every day poses a new challenge – the emerging role of AI which will revolutionize lots of aspects of our lives, the evolving needs of people, pressing ESG challenges, tightening client budgets, global supply chain pressures and more – but amongst all of those valid and urgent challenges, I would say two thing stays true (and we like to keep it simple): people will always have a deep love of their passions, and the power of creative ideas to create impact.
I heard a quote from Jeff Bezos recently which resonated with me: “I very frequently get the question: What’s going to change in the next 10 years? I almost never get the question: What’s not going to change in the next 10 years? And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two because you can build a strategy around the things that are stable in time”.
So, whilst the tactics will obviously evolve and adapt – and our team is relentless, curious and driven to stay ahead of the latest developments – we believe that creative ideas and embedding brands in people’s passions are a good long-term position.
What are M&C Saatchi S&E Amsterdam doing to stay ahead of the creative curve?
Again, we like to keep this simple. An agency is only as good as its people.
Our expertise in the passions space has enabled us to stay ahead and brought success for us and our clients. This has always been powered by having people who live and breathe these sectors, ensuring we have the most culturally insightful, creatively curious and connected team.
Coupling this with discipline expertise across key functions such as creative content production, social campaigns PR & influencer communications, sponsorship consultancy, or live experiences has enabled us to stay ahead – and to also push ideas across disciplines.
In addition to our people, we have always taken a more agile approach to the process to get to great ideas – something a lot of traditional agencies are now trying to adapt to. We empower our entire team to be creative every single day whilst harnessing the skills of dedicated creatives and ensuring craft and depth of thinking is pushed by relevant experts.
How do you feel about hybrid working and what does the future of the workplace look like to you?
As a leader, I think it is a great opportunity to show trust, to be more compassionate to everyone’s needs and just to have a more human approach to ‘work-life’.
Whilst we want to create a buzzing culture and face-to-face engagement at our wonderful canal-side office is important, we want to balance that with knowing that everyone has different personal needs and different pressures outside of work.
We broadly take a 3:2 approach, but we do not monitor this and add a healthy dose of common sense – if it’s raining in Amsterdam and you don’t want to get soaked on the bike, then stay at home! We also have a ‘work from anywhere’ policy that enables anyone to seek creative inspiration, visit friends and family, enjoy a change of scenery or new cultural experiences by spending time in a different location each year.
Are there other projects / brands / agencies you admire in the NL, why?
There are so many wonderful brands, partners and fellow agencies here, all adding up to a thriving creative scene, that I have found tight-knit but welcoming.
I’d love to give a shout out to two projects I know and admire:
Creative Jam Sessions, working to further diverse representation in all industries and to provide a safe space for a more diverse and inclusive culture.
Project Fearless which creates an empowering, supportive atmosphere, giving kids space to play without the pressure of perfection, learn to celebrate each other’s falls and wins, while building their own resilience and self-confidence.
What advice would you give to leaders looking to expand into Amsterdam?
A quick coffee is always worth it.
Connect with as many people as you can, help people, be generous, be kind, have informal chats and keep talking to each other. You never know what difference it might make to them and where it might lead for you.
Remember it’s a privilege to be doing this, so have some fun along the way.