Tim and Niels are living the American dream
Who knew, back then, that it would be such a meteoric rise? Back in 2008, Tim Schoenmaeckers and Niels Sienaert met in college. They hit it off and haven’t stopped working together since: an internship and a job at Duval Guillaume, a transfer to Happiness and after that the big leap to the US of A, at FCB Chicago. By now they’ve won – and this might even be a euphemism – a buttload of top-notch prizes and awards, created a Super Bowl commercial and helped nudge the African American community towards the voting booth with the astounding Boards of Change campaign, after the tragic death of George Floyd.
They’ve been in the states for four years. At first as creatives, now as creative directors at FCB Chicago. Talk about an American dream, right? Yet they still carry the Belgian flag proudly.
- N. We’re still considered ‘the Belgians’ here, I guess. But we like to embrace that. It’s who we are, it’s part of our strength.
You’ve been working in the United States for four years, now. Is that a whole new world to live and work in?
- N. Of course. It all starts with scale. The clients are bigger, the agencies are bigger, the budgets are bigger. There’s no way getting around that. And it changes everything. Our very first briefing was for a crowd of 30 people: 4 teams, 3 planners, 2 account managers, someone from digital, a data person… That’s pretty overwhelming when you’re used to much smaller teams. Before, we’ve worked at Duval Guillaume and Happiness, where there was a much more rock ‘n roll vibe. Quite the difference with the very structured way of working in the States. There are a lot of different levels, a lot of processes. You can’t just waltz into anyone’s office. Everything takes a long time. Your ideas go via a junior team, then an ACD-team, then a creative director, then ECD… It takes a lot of steps, but each one elevates the idea: grinding and crafting. And that really makes the work better.
- T. Aside from the budget and scale, there are some cultural differences. Us Belgians are pretty straight forward. We possess a decent amount of unfiltered dark humor. And we had to tone that down a bit (laughs). I remember us presenting a script which featured the C-word, as they call it here. You know, the one that refers to a female body part. In our defence: it worked and it was funny. But when we got there, the whole room fell quiet. You really, really, really can’t use that here. So we had to learn to filter ourselves (smirk). Also the way of communicating is very different here. Americans like to sugercoat things, they’re never just gonna shoot an idea down. If I was ever to return to Belgium, I’d try to take that along. It’s not bad to try and make people feel good, right?
How do you look at the Belgian advertising world from afar? What makes as good, what could we do better?
- T. We’re a nation of ideas, that’s quite extraordinary. We tend to come up with really good ideas: always clever, smart, cunning. I don’t know how we do it, but it’s a trade Belgium’s always had. For instance the classic Push to add drama, or a more recent campaign such as The Breakaway. Those are such clever ideas, our American colleagues really look up to that. Belgium’s got a knack for things like that.
- N. Although the scene is improving on all levels, there are still things that could improve. For instance really polishing away until an idea is exactly perfect. Keep pushing the craft. I’m not exaggerating that in the US sometimes we churn out 76 new edits of the same idea. But I know: that has a lot to do with resources.
What tips can you give your Belgian colleagues with an American dream of their own?
- N. Just be yourself. If you want to make it here, go for creativity. Go for the odd, the bizarre, the surreal, the wtf-factor. That’s a very Belgian way of thinking, and that’s what they love about us.
- T. Exactly. Our creative identity is key. That’s what they want, so give it to them.