The Danish lifestyle and that of America seem like polar opposites — one values simple joys and a relaxed overall lifestyle at work and home, and then there’s America. Yet Stellar Agency Founder/CEO Martin Pedersen has managed to bridge the two and make it work. Part of the reason for his success is likely a combination of his time spent in his early career working in Europe in the intense world of international sports marketing; and from watching as the agency that first brought him to Los Angeles, Razorfish, underwent three separate acquisitions in his four years there.
Those experiences, as well as a business version of the Danish concept of hygge, defined as a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being, that Pedersen calls Digital Hygge.
“It may sound simple but my goal for Stellar Agency was simply to build an agency known for great work and unwavering customer service to our clients,” Pedersen says. “The bottom line for me is I’d rather be a happy and successful $5-10 million company, than a constantly struggling $35 million company.”
Adforum spoke with Pedersen about his career, the agency he founded and their success working in the niche of ports, and how the concept of digital hygge drives their creative work.
Tell us about your professional background. We noted you graduated from college in Copenhagen, is that where you are from originally?
Martin Pedersen: I was born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark and moved to Los Angeles in the late 80's. I was only planning to be here for a few years, but 30 years later I'm still here. My background fits into two categories: sports marketing and digital marketing/customer experience. I spent 12 years of my career working in sports marketing. I was part of the marketing team for FIFA the World Governing Body of Soccer working on three World Cups, as well as one European Championship and two Asian cups. The sports marketing world taught me that deadlines matter. The World Cup will start on the date it was planned. There are no plan Bs. I took that mindset with me into the agency world. First for four years with Razorfish, Los Angeles, CA, during which we went through three different acquisitions. Following that, I worked with several smaller agencies before launching Stellar Agency in October, 2013.
Can you also introduce us to Stellar? What does the agency do and why did you decide to form the company?
MP: Stellar is a full-service digital agency based in Los Angeles. We specialize in strategy, customer experience, design and technology. About 70 percent of our work is with complex enterprise engagements, with the other 30 percent centered around client branding, website redesigns, content management system implementations. We’re happy being a boutique and servicing all of our clients like they are the only ones we have.
We noticed your recent article on "Digital Hygge." Can you elaborate on this idea and explain how it impacts your work with clients?
MP: Denmark has been rated the happiest country in the world many times -- not bad for a small Scandinavian country with less than 6 million people and long, dark winters. The Danes find ways to practice ‘hygge.’ It’s a form of contentment, coziness and ways to appreciate the smaller things in life. For many Danes, hygge is going for a walk with a loved one or a friend, sharing a delicious pastry or sitting with a great book in front of a fire-place. When I started Stellar, I wanted to introduce the idea of hygge into our relationships with our clients. We call it ‘Digital Hygge,’ and in the end it comes down to spending time to get to know our clients and the problems that they need to solve, and then have some fun as we work together to build a solution.
How does a European upbringing influence your work?
MP: I believe having had the experience of living in multiple countries has helped me in many ways to navigate my work career. In the digital marketing space especially, Europe and North America agencies tend to approach the work differently. Understanding those differences is a great asset.
Where do you see the digital marketing world going as we enter a new (hopefully post-) Covid era? Are you evolving your business to respond to the current business landscape?
MP: Covid has truly pushed digital transformation upon us. Most brands today fully understand that they need to have a strong digital presence, or they may as well not exist in the minds of consumers at all. When I started my career we all saw the potential of the Internet and wondered why most brands continued to spend most of their budgets on traditional advertising. Of course, traditional TV advertising is not going away anytime soon, but I believe most brands would be served better with a more balanced spend and approach between TV and online. Only now are you starting to see that and I think covid definitely played a role in that. The digital marketing transformation many predicted 20 years ago is finally here and now, more than ever, agencies have to up their game and support clients in new ways as they navigate and meet this new generation that’s grown up online and where traditional TV is not that important.
What are some current Stellar projects and is there anything you're working on that represents the agency's creative hallmarks or digital strengths?
MP: We have just started two exciting projects: One is in the new home construction industry, and the other in the sports and events world, which is exciting considering my background. Some in the LA region know us from work with the Port of Long Beach, who we’ve been partnering with for about three years. We have supported their rebranding, a major website redesign and a creative kiosk design for their new building in downtown Long Beach. It was especially gratifying recently when we watched the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on TV and saw our Port of Long Beach logo and much of our branding work everywhere at the event.
In today's Covid environment, ports are having a hard time handling all of the supply chain issues the world is currently dealing with. This sector is on a major growth path at the moment and we want to help them capitalize on it. Eight years in I finally feel that we are at a turning point where we spend most of our time partnering with clients to help them improve their digital marketing and customer experience -- and almost importantly -- offering the ‘hygge’ way to do it.