CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/SPRINGER & JACOBY: Springer drives forward global expansion plans - The German-based agency is set to strike a deal with Omnicom

Like the Scottish Guide to Sunbathing and the English Book of Great Lovers, a German network of creative agencies just doesn’t sound right. Surely German advertising has the reputation of being rather, well, German? Heavy on information and light on pizzazz.

Like the Scottish Guide to Sunbathing and the English Book of Great

Lovers, a German network of creative agencies just doesn’t sound right.

Surely German advertising has the reputation of being rather, well,

German? Heavy on information and light on pizzazz.

Yet two things are indisputably true. First, the Hamburg-based Springer

& Jacoby is planning to set up a number of advertising agencies in all

the major capitals of Europe, as well as some in America. Second,

Omnicom is taking an interest. More particularly, its president, John

Wren, is in direct talks about taking a 20 per cent stake in the agency

in order to fund its expansion.

Step one in acquiring an international culture came last year when

Springer set up in London where it already had a small unit handling

brochures for Mercedes-Benz. Steps two and three will come with Spain

and Italy.

In each case, Michael Trautmann, now one of four managing directors of

Springer London, says the agency will have to pitch and win the Mercedes

account since, as in London, this is not always under the parent

company’s direct control. There are also, according to Trautmann, a long

list of other German brands out there keen to have a fellow countryman

handle their brands in the international arena.

’We have many clients who say they want to work with us overseas but

they can’t because we are not international,’ Trautmann claims. ’In

fact,’ Stefan Schmidt, his creative director adds, ’they already have

their bags packed.’

So, like the Americans with Standard Oil and McCann-Erickson, or the

French with Publicis and Renault, the market could be poised for a new

wave of agency expansion. This time, however, it would be led by

Germany, an economic force energised by re-unification. Is this what

Omnicom sees in any putative deal? Being a listed corporation, Omnicom

is, understandably, keeping its cards close to its chest on this one,

but there are some obvious synergies.

Merkely Newman Harty, for example, the creative New York agency which

runs the Mercedes account in the US, is owned by Omnicom. Merkely is not

part of any network but has worked closely with Springer, Mercedes’

German agency, for more than a year. They could make a snug fit. To this

end, Omnicom has a fine history of forging networks, however loosely,

from creative hotshops and as Messrs Abbott, Mead and Vickers can

testify, it often does this by first taking a minority stake.

One sticking point, aside from price negotiations, could be the likely

conflagration when a proud American creative heritage meets a proud

creative German one. Even worse, a German one determined to keep its own

name above the door. Wise heads might ask whether Omnicom really needs

the trauma of setting up a fourth string to its bow, when its existing

networks, BBDO, DDB and TBWA, are doing a very good job already.

Here the answer could be the stock markets. Omnicom has enjoyed

phenomenal share growth over the past ten years, and it will need to

pull something spectacular to keep the upward spiral going. What better

than to be at the forefront of the next trend in mainstream advertising:

the rise of Germany? If indigenous brands from Germany feel like flexing

their muscles abroad with domestic agencies, then Springer is well

placed to lead the charge. A better question to ask might be: why has it

taken so long?

Who are these upstarts threatening to overturn our most precious


And where did Springer get the balls to take on the big boys such as


The free-wheeling, golden-haired Konstantin Jacoby met Reinhard Springer

in the heyday of GGK, the nearest that Germanic countries have come so

far to a creative network of their own.

Back in the heady 70s it seemed unstoppable. Springer was leading the

charge in Germany as the local managing director, while Jacoby, at 26,

was the agency’s youngest creative director. By 1979, though, big agency

life had palled and the pair quit to start up their own ad business in a

place that they both loved - Hamburg.

Hamburg was the right choice. A smallish sea port, it had always been

more willing than the conservative south to embrace new ideas from


So when the explosion in TV advertising came, Springer and Jacoby were

ready and, in only a few years, their agency gained a reputation as one

of the best in the medium.

Growth at that stage was modest until Springer won the Mercedes account

in 1989. A giant car company - an international brand with a lot to lose

- had chosen a gang of guys and a computer in Hamburg. ’Everybody

thought they were mad,’ Trautmann recalls. ’They thought either we

couldn’t do it or we would kill ourselves in the process.’ Needless to

say the doomsayers were wrong. Mercedes sold well, while the ads won

armfuls of awards, even abroad, and Springer grew into the country’s

sixth-largest agency.

By the time the account’s tenth anniversary came around, Mercedes was

ready to announce that it would like Springer to handle its advertising

outside Germany where possible.

The agency didn’t, of course, have a network, but Springer did try in

the mid-90s to buy itself a network. It took up a large minority share

in Ayer Europe, a hotchpotch of affiliations and acquisitions put

together by the venerable US agency NW Ayer.

However, in less than two years Ayer Europe, now known as the Wilkens

network, had sold out to FCB. The fit had never been neat, since Wilkens

had Volkswagen’s Spanish car company Seat and so had to be kept at arm’s

length from the main agency.

Moreover, there were cultural differences too, and when a good offer

came along from FCB, they sold out with some valuable lessons


’The only way to build up a network is to go in with local people and

set up business together,’ Trautmann, who now has responsibility for

Springer’s international ambitions, says. ’We don’t want a German

culture, we want an international one,’ he adds by explanation.