Large operations feel the benefit, but times are tough for smaller media
players which pay a high price for keeping up with changes, Janet Izatt
A few years ago about 40 per cent of Germany’s media buying was handled
by specialist media agencies, with the bulk going through full-service
agencies. Media agencies now handle 80 per cent of media buying.
A few years ago the average German media planner/buyer had about 600
choices - they now have around 5,000.
A few years ago media planner/buyers were, to put it gently, not exactly
in the Young Turk league. Today, companies can’t get enough young people
and are raiding other industries, as well as colleges, for recruits.
There is no doubt that German media buying, long renowned for its lack
of creative planning and its steadfast adherence to buying at ratecard
prices, is undergoing a major transformation.
More evolutionary than overnight, the changes in Europe’s biggest
advertising market point to a fundamental change in media buying
Driving the change is the development of highly sophisticated computer-
led planning tools such as complex television optimisation systems.
Germany’s leading data suppliers are also developing systems which will
allow comparative evaluation of advertising performance across
television, press, radio and cinema buying.
In a straw poll of the top German media buying agencies about the key
problems facing their industry, the development of more sophisticated
evaluation systems to assist effective planning, and associated concerns
about costs, consistently came out as top priorities.
Kai Hiemstra, the chairman of HMS/Carat, says: ‘Before, we would have
bought a lot of spots and hoped we got results; today, there is a
permanent optimisation process where we are always adjusting the quality
and quantity of spots.’
Although clients want to be assured that their media spend is effective,
German media buyers are hamstrung by a system which requires that all
media is booked in September for the following year - that is, all the
spots are booked, as opposed to the UK practice of an agency committing
an amount of money to a TV station. Television channels often change
their schedules which then means planning changes have to be made.
But the introduction of complex systems, and the hiring and training of
an ever-increasing number of staff to operate them, doesn’t come cheap.
According to Paul Voegler, the managing director of Ogilvy and Mather’s
media operation, the Network, demand for TV planner/buyers is three
times higher now than in the 80s.
An increase in advertising spend following the reunification of Germany
in 1989 certainly helped fund some of the new investment. However,
advertising growth is expected to slow this year to around 5 per cent, 1
per cent down on last year.
Agency chiefs are also fearful of expected increases in television
rates. These are already high due to the limit of 20-minutes-a-day
advertising airtime and the ban on advertising after 8pm - essentially
ruling out peak-time advertising - on the government-owned channels, ARD
The increasingly complex nature of German media buying has helped
reposition it as a crucial discipline, distinct from the creative
advertising process, and resulted in the movement of accounts out of
full-service agencies and into specialist media-buying-only agencies.
But this has been hard on smaller media buyers for whom the high costs
of staying abreast of new research systems, and the growing acceptance
of discounts, have been crippling. To survive, smaller agencies are
tending to specialise. Fewer, but bigger, media agencies now account for
the bulk of media buying in the country.
The managing director of Initiative, Ernst Wilhelm Wohler, believes that
in five years’ time there could be as few as ten key media buying
Currently, the top ten agencies account for just over half of Germany’s
DM23.2 billion (pounds 10.5 billion) media spend.
HMS/Carat, which has three offices, was the number one player in 1995
with billings of DM2.7 billion. MediaCom is snapping at its heels in
second place with billings of DM2.2 billion.
At this stage the jury is still out on whether HMS/Carat will maintain
its supremacy over MediaCom this year. Some senior agency figures
predict that the two agencies are running neck and neck due to account
losses at HMS/Carat.
In third position is the Media Partnership (DM1.5 billion) followed by
Universal (DM1.2 billion) and then the Daimler Benz-owned Debis GFMO
A quick glance down a list of the top ten agencies shows that German
agencies tend to be owned by the major international networks.
HMS, founded in 1972, became a member of the French-owned Carat Group in
1989. MediaCom is part of the US-owned Grey network; the Media
Partnership is the joint venture between BBDO, DDB Needham and WPP’s
Ogilvy and Mather and J. Walter Thompson agencies.
McCann-Erickson has Universal and Lintas’s Initiative network is also
Of the top ten agencies, Debis GFMO, at number five, remains the only
German-based agency not signed up to one of the international players.
Instead, it has been looking at setting up a new independent media
network with Spain’s largest media buying agency, Media Planning, and
the UK’s Pattison Horswell Durden.
Mediahaus Strobel, at number ten, which operates as an Eastern European
network under the name Media Quality International, will, from 1998, be
wholly owned by the UK’s CIA Group, which will use it as a string
agency. CIA acquired a 21 per cent stake in Mediahaus in 1994.
The trends of the last few years look set to continue: a higher demand
for evaluation, leading to more investment in planning tools and people
and, consequently, a concentration of media buying into the hands of
It’s a far cry from the German media scene of ten years ago.
As an Englishman abroad, what is it really like to work in Germany?
You can tell a lot about Germans by the way they cross the road. If the
street is empty, but the sign is red, nobody moves. Even at midnight you
will see anxious looking people standing on deserted corners, waiting
for the little red man to turn green so that they can venture off the
Respect for order lies deep in the national consciousness. It is not
rational, but then, contrary to popular belief, neither are the Germans.
To take another example, there are two classifications of music in
Germany, ‘E’ music and ‘U’ music. E music is nothing to do with raves.
It stands for ernst (serious) music. U music is unterhaltsam
(entertaining) music which means you are not allowed to listen to Mozart
for fun - or jazz seriously.
Language has a peculiar power here, in that saying and doing are very
close together. In most other European countries you can happily say one
thing, mean another, and do something completely different. But when a
German says he will do something, he usually means it.
On the surface, office life is formal (everyone is addressed by their
surname) but that doesn’t inhibit a friendly atmosphere with one
exception - the German joke book is, indeed, a limited edition.
Does all this produce any lack of instinct or adventure in the business
culture? Quite the opposite. Supported by working practices that
actually work, and a supply culture that pays on time, there are plenty
of eccentrics around and lots of inspiration in design and service
Germany is a good place to come to work or to visit - as long as you
cross the road when you are told to.
Oliver Cleaver is the non-German managing director of MQI, the German-
based European media network, and works in the UK and Germany.