Explore the inspiring journey of Ymke Verbeek and Sophie de Groot, founders of The Next Chapter Agency, as they transformed their experience into a modern boutique agency in 2017, symbolizing their next chapter. Dive into their story, exploring their passion for creative matchmaking, adapting services to unique client needs, and the joy derived from curating talent.

How did you end up founding your company?

We—Ymke Verbeek and Sophie de Groot—founded The Next Chapter Agency in January of 2017 after working at a photography agency called House of Orange together for 3 years (well known in our industry, mainly for their hair, makeup, and styling artists). The Next Chapter was just that: our next chapter. Our take on all the things we’ve seen and learned over the years. We took the parts—and artists—that we liked and gave it a modern, boutique spin. Not a big agency with lots of artists on the roster, but small and boutique: just a few handpicked artists with a clear signature that we proudly put out into the world.

Next to that, we started working as art buyers for our clients, matching them to artists who suit their brand, concept, and personalities best. We believed—and still do—that there are many wonderful and talented artists out there and that you cannot represent them all, nor can you always pick an artist from a roster if you want to serve your client best. Some shoots call for specific signatures or skills. We focus on just that: the best match out there. Next to this big difference (not limiting ourselves by working only with artists from our roster)/(only working with artists from our roster VS working with any artist that will be a perfect match), we had learned that many brands came to us with a rough idea that still needed some art direction or final tweaking. Sometimes that last bit of concepting would come from our photographers, sometimes from ourselves. We noticed that many clients wanted and benefited from us being their creative and productional sparring partner. And so we decided to add art direction to our services. Either done by us or any of the many freelance creatives we work with.

Last but not least, we decided on focusing less on being agents and more on the parts that made us happy and in which we thrive: full-service production and everything needed for a project to succeed.‍

Can you describe your creative process when conceptualizing and planning a project for a client?

Ymke: When a client approaches us with a project, we initiate the process by organizing all the necessary elements. The mood board or the initial concept serves as our starting point, and we build from there. We identify the right creative(s)/team, interpret the concept, develop the budget/estimate, move into production, oversee art direction on set, and then proceed to the post-production process.

Sophie: We thoroughly enjoy being the creative sparring partner for our clients. Whether they present a complete concept or ask us to develop one for them, we embrace the opportunity to contribute and make the process as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Our goal is to find creative solutions to maximize the budget and resources available. We have a passion for storytelling—I come from a background in magazines as a stylist and editor, and I've conducted numerous interviews. Ymke has experience in advertising agencies. This combination is what we believe makes us proficient in our roles; we comprehend the industry from various perspectives, having been on the client side as well. With expertise in working with both substantial and modest budgets, we are inherently storytellers.

Ymke: Clients come to us with a variety of questions and budgets, and we relish the challenge of finding creative solutions to their problems. Our mantra is simple: we don't dwell on the problem; we focus on solving it.

Sophie: Typically, the initial inquiry is whether they need a photographer, video artist, or assistance with production. When we founded The Next Chapter, we coined the term "boutique agency" because we represented a handful of artists. Recently, we made a bold move by removing artist portfolios from our website. In the age of social media, artists are often discovered directly on platforms like Instagram. Our role as agents has evolved into part art buyers and part producers. Clients seek us out for our production skills, industry expertise, and taste. Rather than requesting a specific photographer, they often seek our advice on who to work with. We focus on finding the right creative and personal match for the team to create magic—we call it creative matchmaking.

Ymke: We are a client-focused agency: our goal is to find the client the best creative match, period. This match may include artists from our roster or even those we don't represent, possibly from other agencies. Importantly, this approach benefits our artists as well, allowing them to work on jobs they are most passionate about and where they are the best fit for a brand.

What was the most memorable project you’ve worked on?

Sophie: The most memorable projects (yes, multiple ;-)) are the ones where the team collaborates seamlessly, reaching new heights together. It's when work feels more like grown-up play, and the satisfaction of bringing a long-nurtured concept to life is the ultimate reward.

Ymke: We thrive on big productions where we handle everything – assembling a great team, finding the right faces and locations. We've done this for many brands shooting in Amsterdam/Europe but not based here, like MRporter.com, Ecco shoes, The Sunday Times Style, etc. Those are always fun!

Can you explain how you tailor your services to meet the unique needs and goals of different clients?

This is a crucial aspect that distinguishes us. Our services are tailored to each client and their specific projects, recognizing that not everyone and every project requires the same approach. While it may seem obvious, we see so many companies doing the same thing for each of their clients and working with the same amount of people each time.  Producing a TVC differs significantly from creating a small IG campaign, necessitating distinct equipment and skills. When a client presents us with a preliminary idea, we explore various options to determine the most suitable approach.

Additionally, we always take the available budget into account, allowing flexibility in our approach based on the client's financial constraints. This includes considerations such as the number of team members involved and the production style – whether it's a lean and efficient approach or a more high-end production.

Ymke: Our working methodology is shaped by the specific preferences of each client and the allocated budget. The proposed creative concepts come with different day fees and approaches. Our production methods also adapt according to the budget – from reserving a location to adopting a guerrilla-style shoot if necessary. Our tagline, "We tell your story from A to Z," has a second part that explains it:  "and for every step in between." Whether it's handling everything from concept to content or assisting with particular requests like casting or finding a photographer, we adapt to best serve our client's needs.

You offer a wide variety of services. Which one is your main specialty or what you enjoy doing the most?

Our main services are creative matchmaking and full-service production. Very often, we combine the two for our clients. We curate the right talent and produce the shoot, telling our clients' stories from A to Z, if you will. We notice that clients trust us and seek our advice. We often start by providing one service and end up handling everything for a client. That's amazing, of course, that they trust us and recognize our understanding of their company/brand and unique wishes very well. We love servicing our clients. We often say: we don’t focus on the problem; we focus on solving the problem. It comes naturally to us to stay optimistic and focus on getting things done in the best way possible. It is so nice when you see your ideas and hard work coming to life. We have the best job!

As a women-owned company in a majority male-dominant sector, do you notice a shift towards more female perspective in advertising imagery lately? Do you ever feel like clients are looking for more balance in the creative team?

We've realized that most of the people we work with are women. Photographers, video artists, creative directors, our employees, interns and freelancers… even clients! Most of them are female. We like men too, no worries! And we work well with men too. But we do love working with women indeed; we appreciate their energy, creativity, and friendliness. We think in this day and age it is also completely normal haha. Or it should be at least. We never have clients that specifically ask for women or men, to be honest. However, we do ensure that the energy of the artist matches the energy of the project. And that can sometimes be a more feminine or more testosterone-like energy, for instance.

How do you stay updated on the latest trends and technologies to ensure your services are cutting-edge and effective?

I think this comes naturally. When your work is your hobby, you tend to be interested in all aspects and investigate what’s out there. Read, watch, listen to news and opinions, and get inspired by magazines, artists, museums, etc. Talk with like-minded people or people in the industry and take note of the changes happening in the industry. A lot has changed over the past 10 years, mainly due to social media taking over and print slowly losing ground. But, as a print lover, I hope and believe there will always be a (small) market for print too. However, we used to shoot with a focus on print, either magazines (advertisement) or OOH, and now digital images are just as important. That's a big shift. Also, the way clients look for artists has shifted. That is one of the things that made us change too.

Thank you to Ymke Verbeek and Sophie de Groot for generously sharing the story of The Next Chapter Agency. Your insights into creative matchmaking and storytelling have deepened our understanding of such a dynamic and interesting venture.