Spotlight: Amsterdam

Chris Carroll, global director of marketing, Under Armour, outlines how the creative-led city offers myriad opportunities for comms professionals.

What makes Amsterdam great?
Amsterdam is cosmopolitan, vibrant, forward-thinking, tolerant, and full of multinationals. You have the large scale of a major city, but the charm of a village.

How does the marketing and PR atmosphere differ from other markets?
It’s very creative-led. That is one major difference where other regions may be more commercial or financial-led. Amsterdam is a creative hotbed of multicultural people, who can deliver marketing solutions to global brands. Nike, Coca-Cola, Under Armour, and Heineken all have their creative partners here.

What is it like for recruiting talent?
Recruiting for top talent is competitive because the talent pool of people residing in the Netherlands and Amsterdam is full of potential. People can be selective of where they go and it really is about quality of life, which is a Dutch influence.

In terms of agencies, there are large conglomerates, but there are a lot of boutiques, or what I call hot houses for PR, creative, and marketing. These are people who have opened up their own shops to offer best-in-class, speedy services to clients.

Previously, I lived in London, which had large WPP, Omnicom, Havas, and Publicis firms, mixed in with some boutiques. However, Amsterdam is a scene that prides itself on boutiques and hot houses. The ratio of large firms to boutique agencies is about 65-to-35.

What is the business environment like?
Retail is prominent. You have G-Star Raw’s headquarters, Tommy Hilfiger, and Dutch supermarket holding company, Ahold here. Also, there have been increases in the tech and mobile industries. The financial sector has cooled like everywhere else. 

What areas are growing in PR and marketing?
There has been a large increase in digital, social, and PR as clients start evolving how they spend to reach and connect to their consumer base. Every marketer and MD is figuring out what percent of marketing spend to put toward digital, and there’s a thin line between PR and digital and social.

Those three areas are rising in importance, priority, and spend across all industries compared to traditional advertising. 

What does this mean for advertising?
Many people think that advertising has decreased in importance, but the role of it has really become more important. While the expenditure may have decreased, what you use traditional advertising to achieve has to be sharpened and more focused so you can get more value out of it.

Under Armour is all about disruption and building an emotional connection to athletes. Being a challenger brand, we need to disrupt in marketing strategies to build emotional connections, and that is why I look at different opportunities to connect and disrupt in very distinct roles. Communications plays an important part in that.

What are some common misconceptions about Amsterdam?
The misconception is that it is a place of liberation where anything goes and it is stuck in the 1960s permanently in a wild haze, but that’s an industry that targets tourists.

Being a citizen or an expat, you are oblivious to all that. It is a place of comfort, coziness, and worldliness.

What are the marketing and communications challenges in the region?
There are two sets of communities within Amsterdam: a vibrant international community that resides and works here, and the Dutch national community. The biggest challenge is getting Dutch companies to reduce their aversion to risk when it comes to marketing and PR.

The international companies based here are so forward-looking and thinking that they are on the cusp of providing solutions, programs, and campaigns to their consumer base in the Netherlands and globally.

The other challenge is that the Dutch people as a nationality don’t outwardly celebrate their pride or shout about it, so marketers here need to walk with a little more swagger. Not arrogance, but swagger.


1. Logeion (organization for PR pros)
Koninginnegracht 22b
2514 AB Den Haag

2. Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce
Stadhuisplein 1, 1315 HR Almere
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Vijzelstraat Amsterdam,

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