Originally published in Advertising Week
Often in pop culture advertising is presented as a highly-competitive, fairly ruthless endeavor (think: Mad Men et.al.), but for Danish-born Martin Pedersen, Founder and CEO of the boutique El Segundo, CA-based agency Stellar Agency it doesn’t have to be that way. As a Dane, Pedersen embraces the ‘hygge’ lifestyle a form of contentment — a form of contentment, coziness and appreciation of the small things in life. Professionally he’s brought that same mindset to his agency in the form of ‘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.
We sat down with Martin to discuss the topic and its relevance to our daily lives, and arguably critical meaning for the advertising community.
Q: Your background includes tenures with high-profile shops including Razorfish as well as startups. Tell us about some of those experiences. How did they (or did they) culminate in your decision to form Stellar?
MP: During my four years with Razorfish, we went through three acquisitions, all of which were instructive about how to — and not to – run a business. After Razorfish, I worked with an agency to establish their new LA office in Los Angeles that grew into a $6 million business in about three years. Combined, we managed to make the business a $32 million business that resulted in a very successful acquisition. These experiences shaped my vision for Stellar Agency: I wanted to build an environment where the reasons for attrition are addressed and turnover minimal. I also wanted a company that didn’t jump from one client to the next and gave special attention to the new shiny brands at the expense of others. I have this kind of Cinderella wish to reach a point where Stellar picks our clients and work, and where business development becomes a thing of the past. We are almost there.
Q: Sounds like some of those experiences were tumultuous. Given that your point of view on hygge particularly makes sense. Tell us more about Hygge and how you’ve woven it into your business.
MP: Hygge is that feeling of contentment one gets from simple joys in life — going for a walk with a loved one, sharing a delicious dessert with friends, or sitting with a great book in front of a fireplace. In my home as a child, my mother expressed hygge by always lighting candles at mealtime. When I started Stellar Agency, I wanted to introduce hygge into our relationships with our clients. We ended up calling that ‘digital hygge.’
About 70 percent of our work is enterprise engagements, with 30 percent being more around client branding, website redesigns and CMS. These are complex projects that require a steady hand, a sense of collaboration and a desire for some calm in the midst of tough deadlines, complex technical challenges and conflict resolution. A hygge mindset helps us understand our client’s challenges, problem solve with them and have some fun at the same time.
Q: Can you tell us about a client where Digital Hygge clearly manifested itself in the relationship?
MP: One perfect example is the ongoing, 8-year relationship we have with our first enterprise client. Our relationship with them has been as important as the work we have built together. Some great friendships have been built and continue to flourish today.
For UX/CX to truly be effective, designers need to incorporate empathy into the experience so they can better understand what the end users’ needs are, why they’re there, and how to actually help them. A user experience that leaves the user feeling more stressed than when they first sought help is an epic fail. One that was likely created by a designer who wasn’t really thinking about the customer’s experience, definitely not feeling cozy I’m sure.
Q: Speaking of flourishing, web design, e-commerce and digital marketing really accelerated with the pandemic. For companies like Stellar, have you seen an uptick? Is it representative of the industry overall?
MP: Digital budgets have finally started to increase in a more balanced and fair way in tandem with digital spending outpacing traditional media. I truly believe that the digital transformation we’ve all craved is finally here. So now, more than ever, we have to up our game and be ready to support our clients as they navigate this new era where almost everything happens online, with a new generation that has grown up online.
Q: How can an agency achieve this?
MP: We don’t have a magic bullet on how to navigate this for our clients for many reasons. It’s still new and every client has different problems that they need to solve. But we are good at learning from each client relationship and problem that we solve and along the way, we’ve continued to build on our playbook for our clients. It’s centered around a concept of documenting all the problems that need to be solved in an enterprise landscape, so we can bring the right plan to each engagement and make sure that we help our clients understand all the items that they’ll need to navigate and execute well.
Q: You’re involved in cause-related organizations like LA Works and Ambition.org. I imagine hygge courses strongly through these organizations. What is your experience with non-profit organizations, especially given your agency’s focus on Hygge?
MP: I had never seen a homeless person until I moved to the US as a native of Denmark. At one time in my early career in the US, I had an office in downtown Santa Monica where homelessness is a big problem. It was devastating. In the early days of the Internet, I decided to build a homeless website for Los Angeles aimed at highlighting the issue and educating people on how they could help with the issue. Giving back is in my DNA and it’s a big part of what ‘hygge’ is. It’s hard to watch people struggle but it’s such a hygge feeling when you do something to help.