First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Alex Hibbert

A glimpse behind the curtain

As you walk out of Hilversum train station the first thing you see is MediaMonks’ impressive headquarters. It’s an imposing, white-clad building that dominates its neighbours, a practical palace of Oz glistening in the sun at the end of a short train journey from the cobbled canal paths of Amsterdam city centre. Inside the building and behind the curtain, real treasures lie: answers to the question of how a company started in a basement just a stone’s throw from here became the world’s leading creative production company. A trophy cabinet currently stocked with 110 Cannes Lions, 86 Lovies, 68 Eurobest Awards, 28 D&AD Pencils, 26 Webbys and more than 200 FWAs is just one signifier of its evolving brilliance. A walk around the company’s expansive workspaces is another: as nestled down amongst the banks of laptops, cameras, tablets and toys, teams of developers, videographers and MediaMonks’ tech wizards conjure up futuristic visions for the firm’s clients around the world. Working on augmented- and virtual-reality (VR) installations, games, apps, websites and videos is the norm for a company which has, in the last year or so alone, created a gigantic robotic squid for Old Spice, turned a sandbox into a VR racecourse for Audi and transformed Singapore’s ArtScience Museum into a VR rainforest. In fact, it’s this commitment to jumping headlong into the unknown that’s helped MediaMonks spread its influence all over the world, and the company now employs more than 700 people at its 11 offices in four different continents.

The perfect business base

In his office on the ground floor of MediaMonks’ HQ, CEO Victor Knaap explains how Hilversum, in the heart of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, is the perfect base for the company’s global operations. “Hilversum is Amsterdam’s media city: we have the fastest internet in the Netherlands here, as well as the broadcasting buyers and the studio set-up,” he explains. “We’re right in front of Hilversum central station, so it’s just 20 minutes to Amsterdam, 10 minutes to Utrecht and 15 minutes to Zwolle and Amersfoort, where there is a big games industry and very good universities.”

 Victor Knaap

“Every creative loves to work here”

The Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is known for its world-class infrastructure, including the exceptional connectivity of the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, high-speed rail services and the award-winning Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. But Knaap says that it’s also the Netherlands’ high quality of life, relaxed working environment and tax benefits for migrants that help businesses like MediaMonks attract top talent from around the world. “From a knowledge perspective we have a very interesting 30% ruling on bringing in talent from abroad,” he says. “That has really helped us to bring a lot of people in. Hilversum and the Amsterdam Area in general also has a great reputation with people abroad – every creative loves to work here.” And Knaap says that being based in Hilversum has never been a problem for MediaMonks employees who live in the centre of Amsterdam. “Half of the staff here have an international background,” he explains, “so if they live in Amsterdam and they only have a 20-minute train ride to get to work – that’s actually a luxury. In the Netherlands, we are a little bit spoilt in that sense, everything is very close and it’s easy to get around.”

“Amsterdam is like the Silicon Valley of Europe”

Creative talent and ground-breaking ideas drive industry forwards in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, and it is home to a host of international brands’ global or European operations. Knaap says that Amsterdam’s outstanding digital infrastructure, “perfect mix” of international and homegrown talent, thriving startup and tech scenes and collaborative approach is creating something very special in the region. “Amsterdam is on the road to creating the metropolitan of the future,” Knaap says, “I really think we’re building something that is unique in the world. We have a strong creative community, there’s more international brands coming here, and we have a strong digital community.” In fact, Knaap likens the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area to another part of world which is working at the very forefront of creativity. Amsterdam is like the Silicon Valley of Europe,” he says. “They have LA as media and creativity and Silicon Valley as technology, but here it’s all together. It’s a great time to be here.”

MediaMonks Films - Showreel 2017 from MediaMonks Films on Vimeo.

Despite making apologies for being tired after negotiating a hectic work schedule, Knaap is a pleasure to spend a few hours with. Insightful, engaging and relaxed, he is clearly passionate about the Amsterdam region’s creative sector, which includes exceptional homegrown successes like Achtung and Superhero Cheesecake – as well as some of the world’s leading advertising companies, such as 180 Kingsday, Wieden+Kennedy and 72andSunny. “The advertising sector here is really interesting, because brands coming here can pick and choose the best agencies in the world,” Knaap says. “We have tech hubs and startup accelerators like TQ and Startup Bootcamp, a lot of scale-ups, and big, big brands. And when companies like this bring in talent, after three or four years those people aren’t going to leave Amsterdam, and so that talent becomes available for smaller scale-ups as well.” “That’s how Amsterdam has become like Silicon Valley,” he adds, “you have an ecosystem of companies that become stronger and stronger as each has to fight to get the best talent and for their position in the marketplace, then you’re suddenly relevant all over the world.”

A special city

It’s also the innovative and experimental work that companies like MediaMonks are doing that is helping to bridge the gap between traditional branding and technology. “Holland is an excellent testing market to get something on TV, or to test something out online. If it works here it will work abroad,” Knaap says. “We have a very good eye for formats that work abroad. We also have a small home market, which means we can test something easily and with an acceptable amount of money invested before scaling it up abroad.” Though Knaap often travels around the world to help set up MediaMonks’ international offices, he’s always happy to return home to the “old barge on the Amstel” that he calls home. “I have lived in Amsterdam since I was 18, and I love it. I am right in the centre of Amsterdam and I have absolute freedom,” he says. “I have lived in many countries and international cities and it’s great, but coming to Amsterdam is special. There’s no feeling like it.”