You may not yet know the name TRY/APT but, even if you live outside of Norway, and work outside of the ad industry, you may know the two-in-one agency’s work. In particular, you may have seen a web video that depicts an everyday sort of blond woman waking in a fog in a hotel room, trying to piece together events of what was clearly a big night before. The final piece of the puzzle walks in the door a few seconds later in the form of George Clooney, oozing charm and making plans to buy the dazed room guest—his new bride, as it turns out—a cozy place in Lillestrom. The spot, for Norway’s DnB Bank earned two millions views online and loads of media attention all over the world.
It’s one of many examples of a small agency from a small ad market making disproportionately large waves and consistently turning out fresh, attention-getting work. For the past few years, it’s seemed that every time you saw something that stood out, there was a good chance it was coming from TRY/APT. Which is surprising considering the size of the market and the fact that usually it’s slick Sweden that gets all the attention. The agency’s profile makes slightly more sense when you realize that the work is really coming from two agencies. And in itself, that duality makes the agency/(ies) more interesting. While many ad shops have bolted on digital capabilities and called themselves “integrated,” TRY/APT has made the deliberate choice to remain a partnership of two distinct agencies, that work together across platforms.
TRY/APT is known regionally for its portfolio of high profile traditional and high impact digital campaigns. Its VW campaign using Google Maps and Street View to turn Norway’s equivalent of Route 66 into a national roulette board, meanwhile, prompted tens of thousands of Norwegians to 'bet’ on how far a VW Gold BlueMotion driving north from Oslo would get on a single tank of diesel.
A bold campaign for Solo aimed to make the country proud of Norway’s national soft drink at a time when multinational soft drinks companies have been playing hard in its back yard.
The agency launched an outdoor campaign for Solo in Hollywood supported by a sampling campaign which was turned into a TV ad. Norwegians were then encouraged to go online to make their own ads which were broadcast to a digital billboard on Sunset Boulevard that their countrymen and women could watch in real time via a web site where they could also monitor related buzz. This site attracted 300,000 unique visitors—not bad going for a country with a population just shy of 5 million. Or, for that matter, an agency that’s only existed in its current form for the past five years.
Recently, APT created Hormone Check, for the Norwegian Consumer Council, an iPhone app-based hormone scanner. The app scans bar codes on cosmetics and other personal products and lets users know if they contains scary, hormone-disrupting chemicals. Users can then alert their friends and automatically send a petition to manufacturers of the offending products.
And then there’s the DnB spot. With it, the agency somehow sidesteps the gratuitous cheese that attends most celebrity-focused spots and delivers something watchable and charming.
It was back in 2007 that TRY—an ad agency founded by leading Norwegian copywriter Kjetil Try almost a decade earlier, acquired digital specialist APT—launched in 1999 by Ole Kristian Hustad, Espen During and Joakim Levin to build web sites and create digital ad content. APT moved into the TRY building that same year but five years on the two organizations remain distinct and operate as separate brands.
This may sound counter-intuitive in today’s integrated, 360 degree, digital world but it is an approach that works—70 to 80% of client business being shared, says Kristian Bye, APT’s outgoing MD. "We have discussed on many occasions the potential to smash the two together into a single, mother brand but each is strong and the structure offers existing clients the best of both worlds and new clients two routes in," he says.
"The philosophy throughout this company is to be entrepreneurial—TRY entrepreneurs own 51% of APT, APT entrepreneurs own around 30% of TRY and all of these entrepreneurs still work within the business. Over and beyond that it’s about recruiting the best people - people with the best skills who also have the greatest potential to work collaboratively."
Collaboration is another important aspect of TRY/APT culture, says Trond Sandø, who last August moved across from TRY to APT to take over as MD. "It took four or five years to grow the two businesses together by really getting to know each other," he explains. "Though we shared the same ideals, each side is different due to the origin and age of each business and profile of staff who are younger and more digitally-focused in APT and older and more broad-based in experience in TRY."
Each side has also therefore had to bend. So, TRY learned from APT to become more digitally-aware and multi-discipline in outlook. APT, meanwhile, developed its own infrastructure— building its own account management structure, for example.
Today, cross-discipline teams from across the company spanning 'traditional’ creatives, designers and software developers work side by side on almost all initial briefs. "This means a problem can be solved from any direction preventing you from getting locked into one idea too soon," says Bye. "For projects with the greatest potential we create closely integrated teams on day one. We also work hard to ensure energy around a project isn’t lost through lengthy upfront planning - a problem many other agencies face."
It took time, and would have been easier - and cheaper - simply to set up a digital department in-house, TRY Creative Director Petter Bryde, concedes. But the journey travelled created a chemistry between the combined, 110-strong workforce which has made both sides of the business grow and strengthen. "Increasingly, everyone within the business is becoming digital as it impacts across everything we do," he insists.
Of course creative teams in any traditional agency tend to compete against each other, Bryde adds. But TRY has always encouraged its staff to see the whole business as a single team. "We have always worked collaboratively and finding how best to join with TRY forced us to be more so," he explains. "Our creatives are encouraged to share work with each other before presenting to clients - something many of our rivals would like to copy but struggle to do so because of ego."
Moving forward, TRY/APT hopes to compete and win business on the international stage. For the time being, however, like many Norwegian agencies it is yet to actively pursue this because of the relative stability of the Norwegian ad market where consumer spending is steady and 98% of ad agencies’ revenue comes from Norwegian budgets or Norwegian clients, Bye explains. As word of the agency’s creative reputation spreads further afield, however, this may be about to change.