Patrick Gardner of Perfect Fools on Making the Client the Hero and the Value of Advertising [POV]

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



patrick-gardnerPatrick Gardner is the co-founder and CEO of Perfect Fools, an agency founded in 2002 that has offices in Stockholm and Amsterdam.

Tell us a little about yourself. Describe your job, how long you’ve been doing it, and how you got into advertising.

I didn't consciously get into advertising. I started working in digital in Sweden in the '90s, and there was an explosion of communications opportunities because of the internet. It took until 2003 until we realized we were in advertising, I think we sneaked in the back door.

I originally got into digital on the client side in 1995 at a company called EF, which was one of the world's largest language schools and an early online pioneer. I was head of digital marketing between 1996 and 1998. Then I moved to an agency called Reference Interactive where I met my two Perfect Fools business partners, Tony Högqvist and Tony Sajdak. Högqvist and I started Houdini Digital Creations in 1999 and from that was born Perfect Fools in 2002.

What differentiates your agency from others marketing advertising firms?

We have a style of doing things, small but smart and effective with a real focus on not just delivering work that is strategic but is genuinely interesting. While we create for the bigger picture, there is something in the middle that has PR value and drives the conversation. It also helps that the Swedish approach, like the wider Nordic mentality, is honest, humorous, integrated, and often sexually liberated.

How do you avoid the mediocre in advertising?

Core to our culture is self criticism — we are always criticizing ourselves. The way the Swedish industry works is to not do something that's been done before; we have to do something that is new, fresh, or innovative. There’s the expression “kill your darlings,” which is a great piece of advice for our team. In other words, you have to get rid of your most precious and especially self-indulgent thoughts for the greater good of your work.

What do you look for in a relationship with a client? How do you turn a good relationship into a great one?

We look for clients who are ambitious and understand the potential that digital tools have. People who have real integrity about how they want to approach the work over the long term.

How to get from good to great? We try to make our clients heroes in their organization. It works well over time to deliver one success story after another, but it takes time to build trust. Sometimes the initial ideas are the most risky, but if clients genuinely embrace what we are doing, it leads to a great relationship.


What does a typical day look like for you?

There are not many typical days; there's is always something new. One day we might be heading to Russia to set up a digital experience or we'll be in New York talking about an online platform. Variety ... new challenges ... no two days are the same, and that’s why I love it.

What is one of your favorite campaigns your agency has worked on?

For the launch of Fogg Mobile we released racing pigeons carrying special SIM card backpacks that tweeted messages across European borders.

What advertising trend do you find most interesting and why?

The growing integration between digital and retail has just started but has massive potential. The high street doesn't look that different than what it was 20 years ago (OK there are a few QR codes), but mobile and social will become more integrated in the next five years.

What one skill should advertising professionals should have?

The ability to learn and adapt because our world is changing constantly. To survive you need to learn your way to the future.

What do wish people understood about the advertising industry?

Depends whom you mean by people? When it comes to clients, I wish they understood that viral is not really a concept that works consistently. To achieve real success you have to backup concepts with strategic plans.

For the public, there is a lack of understanding about the value of advertising in society. If you take our industry out of the equation, then people would be stunned about what they would miss from popular culture, entertainment and education.

Must-Read Book:

"Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign"
Connect with Patrick on LinkedIn or follow @PerfectFools.

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