Interview: Pablo Steffa

Interview: Pablo Steffa

Following my visit to Amsterdam to see Agent Pekka open their first branch outside Helsinki, I managed to get a hold of founder Pablo Steffa to ask him a few questions about running an illustration agency and setting up in Central Europe.

GG – Hello Pablo, can you give us a brief introduction to Agent Pekka and why you set up the agency.

PS – Hi Glenn, Agent Pekka is a creative consultancy that we launched here in Helsinki in 2007. The consultancy was initially set up to promote Finnish illustrators globally, because we noticed that while there was a growing interest in Finnish illustration, potential clients were having a difficult time finding and getting in touch with the talent they were looking for. We’re the first company of our kind in Finland. Prior to us there were no illustrators’ or graphic designers’ agents in Finland, so there was all this remarkable talent, but nobody was managing or promoting it professionally.

— What do you expect from expanding into central Europe and what excited you about Amsterdam as a city?

During the five years we’ve been in business, our biggest challenge has been our location. Helsinki is somewhat remote from Central Europe, so I’m very excited about our Amsterdam branch. In addition (or due) to its location, I think that the city has an incredibly interesting mix of international and local advertising agencies, and it’s the home of some very strong global brands. All this combined with the appreciation that the Dutch have for good design made the city an obvious #1 choice for our first branch.

— Can you explain the importance of having a local agent rather than just dealing with clients over the internet?

As we deal with a very select clientele and this is a business that relies on good relationships and trust, it’s extremely important for us to have a local representative. The tools available today for working with clients over the Internet are of course great, but you just can’t beat meeting with a client face to face.

— Are you looking for new local talent or are you going to focus on promoting your existing roster of illustrators in the Netherlands & Central Europe?

You’re the first one to hear about this; I’m pleased to tell you that we’ve actually just signed Dutch illustrator Merijn Hos. He joined us just this week and we now represent him in Europe. We’ve had our eyes on Merijn for quite a while so I’m thrilled to be representing him. He has worked with a lot of heavyweight clients – Coca Cola, Nike, Stolichnaya, Adobe, Converse, the list goes on – and I think it’s fantastic that we signed such an experienced local illustrator right after launching our Amsterdam office. With Merijn on board, our roster totals 25 illustrators and two creative agencies. We have no definite plans to sign any new illustrators, but I can say that we’re always on the lookout for new talent. (For those illustrators reading this and considering getting in touch with us, please limit your email attachments to 10 MB, thank you.)

— What do you look for in an illustrator and what do you think illustrators look for in a good agent?

I look for four things in an illustrator. The illustrators we work with must have a strong unique style. They must also be technically very good at what they do. “Good taste” in lack of a better definition is also important. Last but not least, the illustrator must show a capacity to work in a commercial environment.

The obvious task of an agent is to market the illustrators that the agent represents and to take care of all the contracts and such that go with each commission. In addition to this, we handle the production of all projects that go through us; we have a dedicated producer working on all of our projects – even the smaller editorial ones – making sure that all deadlines are met and that everything goes according to plan. We also tend to mentor the artists we represent: we spend a lot of time talking to our illustrators about what they should do with their careers, which jobs to take, how to develop their styles, and so on. I think a good agent should “be there” for the artist as much as possible and I think this is something that our illustrators appreciate.

— How important to you find promotional projects and events such as the ‘Pekka is here’ exhibition and do you expect your illustrators to get involved?

Very important. The best way for an illustrator to take his or her style in a new direction is through self-initiated projects and promotional projects such as exhibitions, give our illustrators the opportunity to flex their creative muscles and to come up with something new. It’s also just a lot of fun and very refreshing to do something totally different every now and then.

— What’s next for Agent Pekka?

Right now we’re focusing on getting the Amsterdam office up and running and we’re also working hard on marketing our new design services: we recently added creative agencies Kokoro & Moi and Tsto to our roster. For us, offering services in graphic design was a very natural next step after representing illustrators. We’re now able to supply a broader package of creative services to our clients. The new branch and these new services should keep us busy enough. Once our Amsterdam branch is running smoothly, the logical step is to open another branch a bit further from home. I’ll keep you posted!

— And finally, have you got your eyes on any talent at the moment? Who’s your ‘one to watch’?

I know he’s already quite well established, but we’re all big fans of Micah Lidberg here at Agent Pekka.

Thanks very much for taking the time to chat to us Pablo. Best of luck for the future, we’re excited to see what it holds for Agent Pekka.

Glenn Garriock