Thomas Rempen is a half of the colourful top duo at Campus, Karen Yates
Thomas Rempen was on great form last week. He sprayed taut one-liners
around with such abandon that Britain’s champion in the sport - the WCRS
chairman, Robin Wight - could barely get a word in.
The venue was Dusseldorf. The occasion was the launch of Campus, a new
international network linking Rempen’s agency in Germany with WCRS and
three other Euro RSCG shops (Campaign, last week).
‘I will not have a frequent-flyer card by the time I die,’ Rempen
‘We want to focus on advertising not air miles,’ Wight agreed.
‘Campus will think local, but act global,’ Rempen affirmed.
‘After a long engagement, we are going to get married - and it will be a
Catholic marriage,’ Wight countered.
The pair met and bonded only last year, but they have already hatched
out Euro’s new ‘alternative’ agency brand, with Wight as chairman and
Rempen - the largest single shareholder - as chief executive. Some
industry pundits may have wondered what Rempen was getting into. One of
Germany’s free creative spirits tying up with the enfants terribles of
Euro’s network and a wily old bird like Wight? Does he know what he’s
In fact, those who know Rempen know he’s a good match for Wight. A man
with a clear sense of purpose and able to fight his corner with the best
of them. In fact, there are some marked similarities between the two
advertising veterans. Both Rempen and Wight are old hands at advertising
in their own country, but have designs to spread on to the international
stage. Both started out as creatives and now run their own successful
agencies. And both chose...well...singular outfits for the launch day.
Wight was resplendent for the occasion in pale lime corduroy, while
Rempen wore a vivid green check shirt, matched with a floral waistcoat
and bright red tie. Only a Teutonically restrained jacket prevented him
from stealing the show outright.
Rempen isn’t, however, overtly showy. No grandiose movements or loud
attempts at humour accompanied his bon mots about Campus. Yes, he can be
funny, but it’s done with wit rather than bluff. Instead, he moves
through the room, a grey, inscrutable and yet friendly gaze travelling
across the audience. Rempen, you feel, can win over souls when he wants
Perhaps this is why he made such a successful transition from art
director to agency boss. In any event, when the jollies are over and the
champagne drunk, we slip away later to talk about it.
Rempen was born to a pianist mother and architect father some 50 years
ago. As a child, he used to drift off to sleep to the sound of the
piano. ‘It was beautiful,’ he recalls.
‘Beautiful’ is a word that crops up often in his description of life.
‘My parents are beautiful,’ he says. ‘I liked going to school, and I
didn’t hate university.’ There’s a pattern here. He’s an irrepressible
optimist. A man who sees glasses half full rather than half empty.
Apart from his family (both his first and second wives are ‘beautiful’),
another obvious joy to Rempen has been his relationship with one of
Germany’s earliest advertising greats, Helmut Schmitz.
Schmitz was a leading light both in German advertising and at DDB
Needham 30 years ago when he hired Rempen for his first job. It was
Schmitz, for example, who personally devised DDB’s famous Volkswagen
campaign with Bill Bernbach himself. Schmitz formed a deep attachment to
Rempen and became his mentor: ‘It was a beautiful time for me,’ Rempen
recalls. ‘He was my professor. I learned the history of advertising from
him, and he helped me all the time.’
Later the pair became creative partners, and then in 1974 they left DDB
to form their own agency, Hildmann Simon Rempen and Schmitz. It would
grow to be one of the best in the country. Actually, the best agency for
film, Rempen says, who has no scrap of false modesty.
Rempen’s career shows none of the frenetic dash from agency to agency
that Londoners often get sucked into. In three decades he has worked for
only three agencies, and it might have remained just the two if HSRS had
stayed independent. However, the agency was part sold to the American
network, Scali McCabe Sloves, and this was the beginning of the end for
But to start with it worked well. ‘I’m still good friends with Martin
Sloves,’ Rempen says. ‘The man has style and he loves good advertising.’
The problems started when SMS sold out to Martin Sorrell’s WPP group.
Sorrell’s atavistic approach to advertising rankled with Rempen’s
natural Germanic restraint, and sparks began to fly. Finally, things got
so bad that Schmitz went into retirement and Rempen took three
colleagues and formed his own shop.
‘No, no, no, never. I didn’t take anyone or anything [from HSRS]. They
came to me,’ Rempen’s voice is still quiet, but the point is strongly
In any event, by January 1994, and despite some formidable opposition
from Sorrell, Rempen and Partner was born. Now, two years later, it has
billings of dollars 90 million and a string of prestigious clients, such
as Microsoft, Mazda, Toshiba and Siemens. Last year it was voted
Germany’s ‘newcomer of the year’ by the ad industry.
But he learned his lesson. Only 12 months after setting up Rempen and
Partner, he had already registered the name Campus, and flagged his
intention of setting up an international network over which he would
have some control. Rempen, not some distant fat cat, will be calling the
On this side of the North Sea, fans of Rempen’s energy and creative
impact call him ‘a German John Hegarty’.
Bruce Haines, chief executive of Leagas Delaney, says: ‘I got to know
Thomas and his work when his agency and ours were briefly associated
with SMS in the late 80s. At the time the two agencies had a mutual-
admiration society running, we have always regarded his work as
Others applaud his all-round commitment to art in any form with the
epithet ‘Renaissance man’. It’s true. Rempen, who only needs five or six
hours sleep a night, has fingers in any artistic pies going, from
architectural design to the fine arts, from social projects to composing
music. In fact, his legendary energy and alarming enthusiasm can be a
real trial for friends and colleagues.
Stefan Telegdy, co-chairman of Rempen and Partner and his creative
partner for four years, describes him as a ‘mean machine about sleep’.
Often, Telegdy says ruefully, when it’s late at night before a pitch,
everyone else is flagging or falling asleep, but Rempen’s mind is still
boiling away. Coming up with ideas, looking for better ways to do
things. Keeping everyone awake.
Some 18 years younger than Rempen, Telegdy knows he is in some way
replaying Rempen’s relationship with Schmitz. After all, Rempen calls
Schmitz his ‘one great piece of luck’.
As a result, he is always on the look out for ways of returning the
compliment to life and youth. Cue for one of Rempen’s less original one-
liners: ‘I love young people - I was young myself once.’
It has worked for him. Apart from being one of Germany’s more exciting
agencies, Rempen and Partner is at the cutting edge of new media, thanks
to the youthful Telegdy and his affinity with computers. It was one of
the things that first attracted Wight to the agency.
Wight describes Rempen as creative, forceful and direct: ‘He says
exactly what he thinks, is extremely intelligent and has a lot of
drive.’ Praise indeed from a man who, it turns out, is not a general fan
of German advertising: ‘Rempen was one of the very few agencies around
for us in Germany,’ Wight declares. ‘Most German agencies remind you why
Germans are very good at making motor cars...’