Marketing Report
[Interview] Sjef Kerkhofs, Managing Director, Positive

[Interview] Sjef Kerkhofs, Managing Director, Positive

Positive is a digital agency and was created a year ago thanks to a merger of Daily Dialogues and Havana Harbor.

Marketing report speaks to Sjef Kerkhofs, Managing Director at Positive about the merger. This article was originally published in Dutch on

We are now a year since the merger. What have you achieved in the past year as a merged company?
Merging two companies is no walk in the park. McKinsey research shows that 70 to 90 per cent of mergers fail. Usually due to communication problems or unrealistic expectations. This is precisely what we tackled from day one. Apart from that, we managed to be back to our old pre-merger ratios in terms of profitability within three months of the merger. Above all, we achieved to be among those 10 to 30 per cent successful mergers. This both financially and in terms of culture and DNA. That is truly a pleasure to see as Maniging Director.

What business strategy have you deployed?
Positive positions itself as a digital-first brand builder. We don't invent your brand story, other agencies are much better at that, but we are happy to pick it up once the big idea has been formulated. Just leave it to us to develop your brand idea into concrete campaign and content concepts and their production so that you have content for your marketing communications all year round. Both owned and paid. So we literally build your brand and we do so from a digital-first mindset.

What are you proud of?
I am most proud of our team. The Positive team, which gave us the trust and time as directors and management to merge two agencies with their own culture and working methods into a successful new agency. We are obviously not finished, you never are, but I am and incredibly proud of where we are after 1 year. And that also results in a very strong performance, high customer satisfaction and brilliant client portfolio.

You mentioned earlier this year that digital first means that digital media is the starting point for strategy, rather than traditional media like TV or print. How are you dealing with that now?

That's right, and it has gained further momentum since the earlier interview. We, with our digital-first production focus, are one of the parties benefiting from this. Digital-first marketing requires a different type of production than traditional campaigns, and we are excellent at that.

In your approach, you focus heavily on online video. What are the latest developments in this area?
Video (or rather motion) is the basis of our work. Increasingly, that comes in the form of short-form video. All the big tech giants have accelerated their focus on this type of short vertical video by 2023. TikTok at the forefront of course, but short form video is also getting an increasingly prominent and central role within apps at Instagram (reels) and YouTube (shorts). So we are increasingly focusing our production on this type of video.

How do you deal with technological developments like AI?
We fully embrace it. We already use AI frequently, when it adds value. For social copy, for example, or ad copy. But also for visual material, when stock image does not suffice and/or the budget does not allow for custom materials or shoot. Then AI is a great solution. For example, we have a client who operates in more than 40 countries and likes to use local images in the campaigns. There is no budget to shoot images in 40 countries and so we use AI to generate locally adapted images. Change is the only constant obviously applies quite literally in our field. Something changes every day. Our survival depends largely on our agility to embrace and adopt new technologies.

What clients did you win over the past year?
We welcomed some great new clients. For example, Friends of Inland Navigation, which Marketingreport created a story around. And AGU, a beautiful Dutch brand with international ambitions. And let's not forget Rotterdam Central Station, which we are working on together with our Candid colleagues from Coopr. Or Dynamo Retail, which we are working on together with our Candid colleagues at M2OC. Too many to mention actually. But, I am at least equally pleased with the work and new projects for our new clients. In the agency world, the focus is often on pitches and new business, which is different at Positive. Our primary focus is always on growing with our existing clients.

What are your (international) plans for 2024 and beyond?
For us, 2023 and 2024 are all about strengthening our position in the Netherlands. In doing so, we focus on small specialist (boutique) agencies to acquire, which directly add very specific value to our agency and our clients. An example is the recent collaboration with SessionOne.  We plan to make at least 3 more similar additions to our agency in 2023-2024. From 2025, our focus is on building a European agency network. In doing so, we want to start spreading the culture and DNA of Positive in Europe. Perhaps, given that our parent company Positive UK operates from London, we will make the step to the UK market a bit earlier.