CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/THOMAS REMPEN; German hotshot spreads his international wings

Thomas Rempen is a half of the colourful top duo at Campus, Karen Yates says

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...’