The tech industry has become the new Hollywood. The worldwide public has their eye constantly fixed upon what will be their latest and greatest creation. Those successful in the tech industry live in modern palatial homes, drive the most expensive cars, and throw lavish parties. TV and films often depicts the lives of these individuals. In the same way that the arts have delivered the general public out of the everyday grind, advancements in technology allow the citizens of the world to escape into numerous chosen states. The arts and technology have a symbiotic relationship, advancing each other’s methodology and allowing it to be presented to us. We watch movies on our smart phones; virtual reality transports us to other worlds from the safety of our own home. Individuals like Johan Friedner epitomize how those who possess both a creative sensibility and fixation/knowledge of groundbreaking technology are constantly raising the bar. Part artist, part entrepreneur, and completely immersed in the process; Friedner (like those of his generation) is a constant multitasker whose ideas are only limited by the number of hours in a day. Though a native European, he has gravitated towards San Francisco and Silicon Valley…which is the tech equivalent of Hollywood. Residing in this location is seemingly a requirement these days in order to be a part of and excel in this industry.
It’s appropriate that Johan was born in Stockholm, Sweden. Summer in Stockholm provides twenty-four hours of sunlight, allowing for long days of work. The city is known as a start-up hub in Europe and this led to Friedner’s early interest in advertising, startup, and business strategy. An early entrepreneur, at seven-years-old he was selling everything from pastries to key chains; eventually starting his own newspaper at age ten. He concedes, “I’ve always been very entrepreneurial. I wanted to be an inventor when I was 6, but soon realized that I needed money for my experiments. I’ve always been interested in PR and advertising in one way or another, just not realizing that it was what I was doing. I used PR techniques that I figured out myself for my YouTube channel. I did online marketing for our school newspaper and developed sales strategies for my freelance filmmaking. I think I realized that I wanted to do marketing when friends from a marketing class in my school came to me, asking for help in making a commercial. I ended up making three groups of commercials from that class and all of them got an A+. I think I was about 18 years old at this point. I applied for Berghs School of Communication in Stockholm; a highly regarded internationally recognized ad-school and got in.”
While later attending Art School, Johan made films but realized that he preferred logic and order to the chaotic randomness that his friends came up with. While desiring to create, there was an undeniable scientific need for things to make sense and have a practical use in his thinking and aspirations. His first job in advertising reinforced his belief that some ads are true pieces of art and often not even meant to be ads. Rather than having the intention of selling, someone can create phrases or visuals relating to a brand and people love the brand for it. Many people ask Friedner “What is art?” he often responds with “What is an ad?”
Beyond his work with PSFK Labs as an Advertising Strategist and Social Media strategist, Johan is often the face of PSFK Labs as their event strategist. He organizes a number of events for clients around the country. Adriana Krasniansky of PSFK states, “A great deal of what Johan does is highlighted in the work he conducts for our PSFK in-house events. For example, the thought leadership conferences about our Future of Retail and Future of Work reports are industry-recognized events that receive industry press and are attended by several Fortune 500 brands. His technical expertise directs how we livestream and digitally broadcast the events, helping us reach a broader audience and grow our social influence.” Friedner adds, “We organize a lot of different events. We do workshops for clients based on our research, presented to executives of large brands - usually around 7-10 client employees and 7-10 PSFK employees/guest speakers. We do monthly smaller in-office membership events that I also live stream; these present our monthly trend reports. They can reach up to 30,000 people, which is fun. We also have our annual big ‘report events’ such as the Future of Retail event or the PSFK conference. They are half or full day gatherings with over 200-400 attendees, usually hosted in downtown Manhattan – with press and an array of brands and experts attending. I prefer the major live events before streaming. Live streaming is never an exact science. Even with today’s technology, companies still have difficulty with regular conference calls. Imagine doing a video conference call with 30,000 people on a budget! With my technical side, I’ve managed to make it work, which has been very appreciated by our followers that are not located in New York. However, even if there are more nerves involved when doing a live event, you can say ‘hi’ to your followers, talk with experts, and get on a personal level; this is one of the best parts of my job.”
Johan’s pursuits and goals are highly diversified and not simply limited to his work in advertising. His work with the fitness app SUND resulted in receiving the Young Glory award in 2014. SUND is an app that encourages family members to push each other to exercise more. By tracking the exercise of each family member through a smart watch app and giving everyone in the family access to everyone’s data, members can motivate each other to be healthier when they see another member hasn’t been exercising. Friedner was in charge of strategy: developing the idea, reshaping the competition brief to a “creative brief”, doing market research such as expert interviews, consumer/user interviews, feasibility of project and technology, copywriting and project management. Johan provided a more trends-first approach to the technology. Interacting with potential users and customers, he realized that the focus should be on the community of the fitness culture. The SUND brief was focused on solving childhood obesity. It was Johan’s idea to add a layer of interactivity to the app, allowing parents and children to view each other’s exercise as a provocation to motivate activity. When talking to family members and children, it became clear that they simply wanted to have family quality time together and not see the process as “exercise.” With this insight, the app became more of a reminder to spend time with your family than forcing you to go and work out.
Jens Marklund, one of Friedner’s partners in SUND comments, “As a designer in the SUND project, I worked with Johan to conceive the idea of an app that encourages family members to push each other to exercise more. Johan was a key member of our team to push the idea to a finished project stage for competition submission, which ultimately lead to SUND winning a gold for the Young Glory fitness brief. As the strategist at SUND, Johan’s exceptional ideas, consumer research and ability to look at the long-term trends of fitness with a social perspective helped me make sense of the design aspect of the project and pushed the idea to an award worthy level.”
For someone who has excelled in a variety of approaches to the way the public interacts with different products and technology, the process is evergreen for Johan. When you are constantly pushing forward to challenge yourself and the industry there is rarely time to look back on your achievements. Friedner confirms, “Every time I start a new job, school, or project, I needed to show how I could contribute and exceed expectations. It would be great to get to a point in life when people take your word that the quality of work is great. It is something you have to earn. I have accepted that. I have found that it is paramount to always be curious and open to everything. Don’t pick sides and be open to new ideas. Even if you hate how someone behaves, try to put yourself in that person’s shoes and understand why that person acts in a certain way. In more situations than not, you’ll kill a piece of your own worldview…which can be scary, but that is where the conversation starts about how to compromise and move forward together. This is something that applies in advertising, now more than ever. In short, be non-judgmental and listen to people because it will always serve you and others well.”