Large networks have seduced Germany's best creative talent, triggering a round of musical chairs in its normally serene ad community. Friedhelm Gieseking reports.

In recent months, a number of high-level changes in agencies' creative ranks has stunned the usually calm German advertising community. The most spectacular move is Andre Kemper, the creative captain at Springer & Jacoby in Hamburg, who is leaving to become creative head at Germany's biggest network, BBDO Group Germany, based in Dusseldorf.

And that's not the only loss that Springer & Jacoby has suffered. Amir Kassaei, who was expected to succeed Kemper, announced his departure only a few weeks later. He is set to become the new chief creative officer at DDB Group Germany's new headquarters in Berlin. With Kassaei leaving, Springer & Jacoby did not only have to say goodbye to a candidate for the vacant post at the top - Kassaei was also responsible for the creative work on the highly important Mercedes-Benz account.

The DDB chairman, Jochen Placking, welcomes Kassaei's automotive experience.

Kassaei will oversee the creative work for DDB's major client, Volkswagen, although he will not be directly reponsible for the Volkswagen team. Until recently, this was the job of top creative Erik Heitmann, the manager at the Berlin office. But Springer & Jacoby, the main agency for DaimlerChrysler in Germany, managed to take revenge on DDB for stealing Kassaei and lured Heitmann to Hamburg to replace him on the Mercedes-Benz account.

Other networks are also active in their efforts to improve creative firepower.

Last December, McCann-Erickson gained two creative directors, Harald Linsemeier and Volker Schrader, who had previously won adwards for Audi working at Saatchi & Saatchi. They now create ads for the car manufacturer Opel at McCann-Erickson BCA in Frankfurt/ Main. And just recently J. Walter Thompson Germany announced that it is thinking of hiring a chief creative officer for the group or buying a hot creative shop.

What's behind this run on top creative talent by multinational networks in Germany? Frank Dovidat, the creative head and partner of Publicis Publicity in Hamburg, says: "There are two 'doctrines of salvation' driving developments in the ad business these days - integration and creativity." In a relaxed market for agency staff, networks, he believes, are using their financial clout to improve their standing in terms of creativity. The former creative executive of the smaller Hamburg ad agency Brand Factory moved to the Publicis network this year, were he heads the group's new agency Publicis Publicity. His aim, he says, is to combine an approach of integrated marketing with a high standard of creativity.

In the eyes of people from the smaller, more cutting-edge agencies, it's not so much the networks' desire to invest heavily in creative talent.

It's pressure from the client side. Hartwig Keuntje, the co-owner and creative head of the relatively small independent Hamburg agency Philipp & Keuntje, says: "On the executive floors of big advertisers it's being increasingly realised that creative advertising can be more effective." Many of his colleagues, such as Stefan Kolle, the creative head of another independent, creatively oriented Hamburg agency, Kolle Rebbe, agree.

"We are talking to big international advertisers these days," Rebbe says.

Those big clients, he adds, understand that creativity can be an important factor in reaching marketing objectives with smaller budgets in these tough times.

Network bosses tend to play down the notion that there is anything unusual in their hunt for creative talent. Rainer Zimmermann, the chief executive of BBDO Group Germany, says: "To be innovative, which includes being creative, has always been an objective for BBDO internationally as well as nationally." But Zimmermann, Placking and others declare that they want their networks to move up in the rankings of agencies by creative awards won. This will certainly be one of the consequences of the networks' creative build-up, which is going to make life more difficult for other agencies with a creative image.

Oliver Schwall, the top executive of the Springer & Jacoby holding company, expects that the competition could become tougher but doesn't see the agency's leading position in creative performance endangered. "Competition has always kept the markets as well as us vigorous," he says. "That's good for the creative product and in the end for the client's success, too." But it could be more difficult for smaller agencies.

The independent shops are certainly in a squeeze since they are also faced with an ongoing hunt by networks for top creatives. "They are constantly calling here," Andre Aimaq, the creative head of Aimaq Rapp Stolle, Berlin, reports. So far he has not lost any of his people. "But who knows what will happen if the network people open their wallets even more?" Kolle asks, hinting that the networks' demand for creative talent is pushing up the price for hiring and keeping good people. Which is the last thing agencies need at a time of dwindling profits. Gabriele Weig of the Frankfurt headhunting company Zambo & Weig thinks that only the price for the relatively few high-ranking creatives has gone up. Yet some agency owners disagree.

Despite this, the bosses of the smaller agencies aren't too worried.

Many question whether hiring top creatives will make any difference to the networks' creative performance and their success in the market. Will someone such as Kemper attract clients for BBDO who otherwise might have been more interested in Springer & Jacoby or Jung von Matt? BBDO may get more invitations to participate in reviews, Kolle believes, but he wonders how much one top man can influence the creative product of a group of more than 3,500 people to guarantee success in pitches.

"And producing good creative work is only one aspect of the job in a network role," Aimaq points out. "It's much more difficult to ensure that good ideas survive in the agency and on the client side." In his view this is an exercise from which creatives shy away.

Schwall agrees. "Networks will have to change if they want to improve their creative performance," he argues. "Just exchanging some creative heads won't be enough."

For reasons like this the big networks' creative competitors are confident that they will survive this round of musical chairs. "We'll just always have to be one step ahead," Keuntje says.


Rank Agency Income 2002

(millions of euros)

1 BBDO Group 316.23

2 Grey Global Group 150.75

3 Publicis Gruppe 125.41

4 McCann-Erickson Gruppe 111.21

5 Ogilvy & Mather Gruppe 105.15

6 Young & Rubicam Gruppe 79.39

7 Scholz & Friends Berlin 71.19

8 Springer & Jacoby Gruppe 68.58

9 J. Walter Thompson Group 62.49

10 DDB Gruppe Deutschland 60.95

Source: Abeitsgemeinschaft Rankingsliste/GFK.