With a lot of guts and a good dose of stubbornness, the Eindhoven club has grown over the past 25 years from a traditional PR agency to a pioneer in content marketing. Owners Fleur and Jasper take you on their journey.
You know the sharp, pungent smell of felt-tip pens? It is Jasper’s first childhood memory. Playing under the editorial table, he is mesmerized at how his father Willem and his colleagues bring colorful messages to life on the paper. The aroma of creativity penetrates his nose and the frivolous atmosphere immediately appeals to him. That’s what he wants later.
Richer or more famous
Although the felt-tip pens have since been exchanged for computers, Jasper has now colored the strategic lines of Zandbeek himself. Together with his sister Fleur, he runs the family business as the second generation. Last year, younger sister Violette also joined. Their father’s philosophy is still solid: communication is a means to achieve a business goal. Fleur: ‘Or as my father always said: the customer should become richer or more famous for it.’
Although nowadays it is less about rich or famous and more about impact. For Zandbeek, communication is a means of making a significant contribution to society.
A valuable insight
The switch to content marketing was made thanks to the crisis in 2009. Where Zandbeek previously only experienced years of growth, the company was suddenly confronted with setbacks for the first time that year. What went wrong?
Fleur: ‘Our positioning was no longer rigid. We were used to taking on a lot of things. Saying no to an assignment, we didn’t. This created a diffuse picture: were we full-service, an advertising, design or PR agency? We had no specialty. An external advisor concluded that we were too dependent on my father’s network. We didn’t attract enough new customers.’ Jasper: ‘I was disturbed by that conclusion. Felt slightly offended. But actually it was a very valuable insight. Companies did not see why they had to knock on our door. A repositioning was needed.’
Content marketing turned out to be the answer. At the time, it was a relatively new and upcoming concept for many, but it felt familiar to Zandbeek. Jasper: ‘Our company has always used editorial marketing techniques and the power of authentic stories. Expanding this further felt like a logical step for Fleur and myself.’
Father Willem was less convinced. He was afraid that it would be a fad and rightly noted that this discipline was not yet widely embraced. In the 1990s, direct marketing was the holy grail for some time. And that promise, he said, was never fulfilled. Fleur: ‘But he also said: if you really believe in it, we’ll go for it. He gave us carte blanche. In retrospect I only realize how brave it was of him to leave his baby to his children.’
Get out of your pan
The first years are mainly dominated by investing in the internal organisation: hiring the right people, grafting the company culture to the new positioning, taking a critical look at the customers you work for and, above all, what work you do for them. Always with the aim of delivering award winning work. Creating a new organizational structure that fits the new mission.
Patience is a virtue. 2015 saw the first major success: Zandbeek wins a prestigious Digital Communication Award with its unique Fashion Blog Battle for a large shopping centre. 50 fashion bloggers competed for the title Entre Deux Fashion Blogger. The target? Reach as many young people as possible.
Jasper: ‘When we won, Fleur sent me a selfie of her and a colleague from a stage in Berlin. They went all the way out of their pan. Taking a selfie on that immense stage was actually not done, but the joy was so genuine that the presenter went along with it.’
After that first award, other professional awards soon followed. This was partly due to the bold choices the agency makes. Take the case This also applies to the children, to ABN AMRO. Without any theater experience, Zandbeek put together a complete play in 8 weeks. With success: the piece was rated with an 8.1 by visitors to the event.
Or what do you think of the case Light is Life, for Signify, where Zandbeek opted for a bold statement during the international light festival GLOW. To stand out among all the lightning, the content marketing agency dimmed the lights to entertain the 770,000 visitors with an intimate audio story.
Zandbeek has also won several awards in the field of ‘classic’ content marketing. With The Meridian for example. A journalistic multimedia platform that shows the inspiring applications of location intelligence with surprising and accessible content. It became the most awarded case at the last Grand Prix Content Marketing with 5 prizes, received international recognition with a Digital Communication Award and 6 nominations at the American Content Marketing Awards.
In 2017 and 2018, the agency was rated the best marketing agency in the Netherlands in the MT1000. And in 2018, colleagues voted Zandbeek agency of the year at the Grand Prix Content Marketing. Fleur: “Of course that gave us a lot of confidence and confirmation that we were really on the right track with our positioning.”
No one trick pony
So there have been plenty of compliments in recent years. But what do Fleur and Jasper think is the strength of their company? According to Fleur, it has to do with the DNA of a family business. ‘We are extremely involved with our customers. Always be there for them. Customer surveys also show that this involvement is highly valued.’ Jasper adds: ‘Zandbeek distinguishes itself by pioneering content marketing. And that is so much more than chasing the latest technological innovations. I think it’s important as a marketing agency to do more than just stimulate consumption. By finding and telling stories that can really contribute to our society. Because sustainable brands are the future.’
This article was produced in collaboration with Zandbeek.
Photo: Jasper (l) and Fleur van Zandbeek.