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
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
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.