THE BIGGEST - BBDO
The heaviest of the German big guns is BBDO. It's topped the league for 12 years, with the network rivals Grey, Publicis, Ogilvy and TBWA just below. It boasts 3,500 employees and some major, stalwart clients, including Deutsche Post, Allianz and the detergent giant Henkel.
But it's not all been plain sailing. Its creative reputation has been in the doldrums for a few years and earlier this year it received a blow when the newly appointed group chief executives Hubertus von Lobenstein and Andre Kemper, the renowned former chief executive of Springer & Jacoby, decided to quit before they had their feet under the table. Since April, the new chief executive, Olaf Gottgens, has been picking up the pieces.
Ralf Zilligen, the chief creative officer of BBDO Campaign, says: "It was a terrible event." But he insists the agency is recovering from the fallout. It seems that Gottgens is continuing the group strategy of different agencies representing different disciplines in the various German regional centres. He's also working at the creative reputation, which varies from agency to agency.
BBDO Germany is certainly no Abbott Mead Vickers, in terms of its creative track record. That's partly down to the more conservative German clients, but the group also knows it needs to pull its creative socks up. "We're trying to be innovative and inventive and to raise the bar for our clients in general," Zilligen says. He reports progress, with inspired clients keen to go to Cannes and learn more, but the tanker is unlikely to be turned around quickly.
THE FRESHEST - Kempertrautmann
One new German agency has been dazzling the market in the past few months. Kempertrautmann was founded in July by Michael Trautmann, formerly Audi's global marketing director, and Andre Kemper, the same man who left BBDO earlier this year. Before that hiccup, he ran the much-admired shop, Springer & Jacoby.
With Germany still in recession, it isn't the most obvious time for a start-up. "No-one was asking for anyone to set up agencies," Trautmann says. But set up they did, with nine people in total. Trautmann is bowled over by the agency's reception. "There's been overwhelming interest," he says. As well as positive press coverage, the rival agency Jung von Matt has declared Kempertrautmann to be the most interesting start-up for ten years. It even ran an ad in the trade magazine New Business to welcome it.
But it seems the hype is justified. Earlier this month, the agency won the 103 million euro account for the electronics retailer Media markt - Germany's third-largest advertiser. There have been conversations with DaimlerChrysler too, and Trautmann says clients have been coming to them, rather than the other way around.
As for rival launches ,Trautmann says that he's not alone in looking with interest at the imminent launch of M&C Saatchi in the region. But in a market with 4,000 agencies, more comings and goings are likely.
So is Kempertrautmann a new German hotshop? "Some people say so," Trautmann says, citing Bartle Bogle Hegarty as one of his most-admired UK agencies. "I prefer to say we're a very ambitious young agency."
THE MAVERICK - Jung von Matt
There are two agencies with lashings of credibility that vie for this title. Springer & Jacoby is one and Jung von Matt the other. The two normally occupy the number one and two spots in the German creative rankings by virtue of the number of awards they win. But Springer & Jacoby recently lost its chief executive, leaving a question-mark over the agency.
Jung von Matt was founded in 1991 by ex-Springer & Jacoby people. Despite its size - with 13 agencies in its group and coming somewhere in the teens in German agency rankings by size - it has managed to sustain its reputation as something a little bit different. "We see ourselves as a creative challenger," Karen Heumann, the group's head of strategic planning, says. "We challenge our clients to see things differently."
Heumann sees parallels with arguably the UK's most maverick agency. "Mother has a reputation of being the creative hotshop, though maybe we're a bit less cool, crazy and freaky because they are younger."
Jung von Matt is pedantic about quality and has been known to part with clients that can't work with its culture. The results of its work for clients, such as the publishing giant Axel Springer (whose titles include Bild, above) and BMW, which both won silver press Lions at Cannes, and Sixt car rental, which has been with them since they launched, sets it apart.
But exciting new campaigns in Germany are thin on the ground and German attitudes to advertising haven't helped agencies such as Jung von Matt in its quest to challenge. "In Germany more than in other countries, advertising is seen as a dark manipulator," Heumann says.
Things have moved on, but the legacy remains.
THE FASTEST GROWING - Media Consulta
Given Germany's gloomy economy, any growth for an agency is hard work. So Media Consulta's 37 per cent growth last year in Germany is pretty spectacular. Other agencies did well. McCann Erickson Frankfurt has won 19 out of 30 pitches this year, including Beck's beer and MasterCard (media).
But Media Consulta takes the biscuit.
The company also claims to be one of the first Germany-based agencies to set up a European network and now has a presence in each of the 25 countries in the European Union, having just launched in London. The rate of growth in the network as a whole is 30 per cent, with 500 employees bringing in billings of 350 million euros.
According to the managing director, Harald Zulauf, the figures for this year aren't anything unusual. Right through the recession Media Consulta has been clocking up similar growth rates.
Zulauf puts some of its success and its recession-proofing down to its specialisms in corporate, youth and political communications. He also says that Media Consulta is "one of the few agencies to have a truly integrated offering", with efficiencies meaning lower overheads.
The agency's international expansion shouldn't be surprising since Germany is a lead market in Europe. But its size and regional culture - with various cities holding equal sway - has held agencies back from launching networks abroad. "For German agencies, 80 million people is quite good enough," Zulauf says.
That insular attitude is giving way as international thinking becomes the norm. Zulauf is clearly convinced that he has invested in the future.
"We in Germany can't rely on those 80 million Germans in the next five years," he says.