German agencies are at home dealing with both domestic and international
advertisers - and they are in demand by many clients. Nicole Dickenson
reports on four successful shops
BBDO Dusseldorf, the largest agency group in Germany, is very clear
about its edge over the competition. Anton Hildmann, the vice-chairman
of the group and managing director of its headquarters BBDO Dusseldorf,
says: ‘We believe in excellent mass advertising. It’s our job to market
big brands in a successful and respectable way. Our clients entrust a
lot of money to us so we have to attract great masses of consumers.
Anything else would be a misuse of our clients’ money.’
Rival agencies are not so appreciative. BBDO has a reputation within the
industry as a purveyor of solid, but not particularly inspiring,
advertising for big-brand clients. ‘BBDO’s strength is emotional,
middle-of-the-road advertising that tugs at the heart-strings,’ one
While there may be an element of sour grapes behind this damning with
faint praise, Ursula Fuhrhop, an account director at BBDO Dusseldorf,
admits the agency is good at emotional advertising, but stresses that it
is only part of its repertoire. ‘We make very creative and emotionally
appealing advertising, but that’s just one of our approaches. We have a
wide range of clients and markets and a wide range of creative styles.
We don’t have one particular BBDO style that you see in each ad - unlike
some agencies,’ she counters.
Fuhrhop is clear that BBDO’s strategic thinking and creativity sets it
apart from other German agencies. ‘Sometimes the German press tries to
divide agencies into strategic or creative agencies. Ours is a very
integrated process,’ she says.
The BBDO Germany chairman, Vilim Vasata, one of the founders of Team,
the agency set up in 1956 which became Team BBDO in 1972 and simply BBDO
in 1991, has a reputation for creativity, and Anton Hildmann is renowned
for strategic skills.
Michael Hausberg, the chairman and executive creative director of BBDO
Dusseldorf, says of its creative success: ‘If there is a philosophy, it
is simplicity, combined with strong emotions.’
These days, BBDO is equally at home creating international work as
domestic advertising. Seventeen of its 45 accounts are international
assignments, including Gillette, Henkel, Delta Airlines, Wella, Pepsi
Cola and Mars. Fuhrhop says: ‘The level of uniformity depends on the
product category. For Wella we make ads which can be adapted for other
cultures, but for food brands we focus on national characteristics. Even
if we have different messages for different countries there is a common
Heye and partners
Heye and Partners has spent 20 of its 35 years ensconced with the BMP
DDB Needham network. Its strong international links are reflected in its
client list - four of its biggest clients are multinationals:
McDonald’s, Johnson and Johnson, Blockbuster Video and Compuserve - but
it also has an ample German account base including the hi-fi giant,
The Munich agency can boast enduring relationships with clients. It has
held on to most of its accounts for between ten and 20 years, compared
with an average German client-agency relationship of five years, and
this year it celebrates 25 years with McDonald’s. Heye and Partners is
synonymous with McDonald’s and some rivals say it would be severely
weakened if it lost this key client.
Its creative work for McDonald’s, the second largest individual
advertiser in Germany according to Nielsen, has won numerous plaudits,
from the prestigious Art Directors Club of Berlin to the Houston
International Film Festival, and has helped Heye and Partners to feature
consistently in Germany’s top ten rankings by creativity.
The McDonald’s work is one of the few Heye ads that runs outside Germany
- in Austria and the Benelux countries. Apart from creating pan-European
ads as lead agency for Grundig, most of its advertising is created for
the German market.
Creativity is a key focus for the agency. The deputy managing director,
Wolfgang Muggenthaler, says: ‘We see ourselves as a creative agency, but
also one which is responsible for brands and brand building.’ He adds
that the agency has two aims: to grow and make a decent profit and to
produce good advertising. The first goal was achieved last year; the
agency increased billings by 19 per cent to DM275 million in an
otherwise uninspiring ad market, and it has managed to resist clients’
demands for lower fees.
‘A lot of clients are trying to get more for less, but our clients
accept that they are getting a quality service which gives them a
competitive edge so they are willing to pay more,’
Muggenthaler explains. He adds that the agency is selective about
clients. ‘We wouldn’t take on any job. We only work with clients that we
know we’ll be able to work with.’
The founders of the Munich agency,.start, are proud of the close
relationships they have developed with many of their clients. The joint
chief executive officer, Claudia Langer, says: ‘We don’t have regular
agency client relationships - we see ourselves as partners in crime. We
don’t just get a brief, we start much earlier and develop strategy with
our clients. We’re more like a brand or corporate consultancy than an ad
agency at times. All agencies will say the same thing, but it’s actually
hard to develop the mind-set to do it. A lot of German agencies are more
concerned with making profits or just putting out creative campaigns. We
take pride in being great consultants first, and producing highly
creative ads that work second.’
Being a partner for other brands was one of three key aims identified by
Langer and Gregor Woltje when they founded.start in 1992. The others
were to create a brand and to launch it with a real communication
strategy. The agency’s strategy was to start slowly. In the first
year.start was content to work with six clients and keep itself to
But all that changed when it was approached in 1993 by the music
network, MTV, to come up with an awareness campaign. The MTV advertising
has been highly acclaimed and focused attention on the agency,
catapulting it into the bigger time (.start now has 19 clients and
billings of DM30 million).
Its work for MTV continues to win awards and in 1995 .start was ranked
second in the Art Directors Club of Berlin after winning one gold and
two silvers for the MTV campaign. There is now some pressure on the
agency to repeat its success with another client.
.start is essentially a virtual agency. It doesn’t house a creative
team; instead the creative director, Woltje, oversees the work of 16
satellite creative teams, made up of an art director and copywriter, ten
of which aren’t based in Germany.
The teams work exclusively for.start clients, but not the agency. ‘We
put together a custom-made set of people for each client. The creative
teams work very closely with us - they’re not just hired for five days.
If they come up with a great idea they follow it through and have full
control,’ Langer explains.
It is ironic that such a small agency (it has a staff of 27) which is
not part of an international network, should have three quintessentially
international companies - MTV Europe, Levi Strauss and Mercedes-Benz -
as clients. Langer is fiercely proud of the agency’s independence. ‘I
don’t believe in networks at all, I believe in partnerships. We’re part
of a network of intelligence,’ she says.
Rempen and partners
Rempen and Partners is the German advertising success story of the 90s.
Founded by Thomas Rempen and three other colleagues from his previous
start-up, Hildmann Simon Rempen and Schmitz, in January 1994, the agency
now boasts billings of DM90 million and an impressive client list which
includes Mazda, Siemens, Microsoft, Dresdner Bank and Deutsche Post, the
German post office. In addition, the agency was voted newcomer of the
year by the ad industry last year.
Rempen, the energetic and charismatic art director, is highly regarded
and credited within the industry as being the driving force behind the
fast-growing agency. Thomas Rempen is Rempen and Partners, others say.
Rempen himself puts the agency’s success down to its expertise in the
whole range of the communications mix. ‘The key challenge for an agency
is to find the best investment mix between TV, online, direct marketing
and so on for the client. We’re trained in everything from online
communication to direct marketing, event marketing, packaging and
corporate design,’ he says.
The agency’s main aim is to get the most out of the client’s budget. ‘We
aim to find the right balance between the two goals of selling the
product and building brand image,’ Rempen says.
Rempen and Partners is generally acknowledged within the industry to be
an exciting agency that stands out among the dinosaurs in Dusseldorf and
is very good at advertising. ‘It is way above average in terms of
advertising, but it has yet to make a single campaign that stands out as
Microsoft did at HSRS,’ one admiring rival says.
The next phase of Rempen and Partners’ development involves expanding on
to the European stage. At the end of last year, Rempen founded a
fledgling international network named Campus, in which Euro RSCG
agencies in France, Italy and Spain have bought stakes.
Ever since Rempen and Partners started, clients such as Microsoft, Mazda
and Siemens have demanded a Europe-wide capability and the Campus
network will enable Rempen to attract other German clients that need to
be serviced across Europe.
And, in any case, as Rempen himself points out: ‘It is about time a
German agency founded an international network.’