by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) Thirty or so pitch consultants/intermediaries attended the AdForum Worldwide Summit in Berlin last week, the first time that AdForum had been to Germany. As always, the April summit is a shorter version of the longer October event and generally takes place in one of the European countries as it focuses upon that area.

I was not in attendance this year, largely due to work pressures in South Africa and budget-conservation measures during these tough economic times, but, interestingly, feedback from the consultants on their respective economies — who were from Europe mainly, with one from the US and one from Australia — indicated that work was steady in their respective countries.

This summary of the three days of the Berlin Summit is largely based upon notes from the AdForum Summit agenda, Tina Fegent’s direct stream to me over the three days, and other occasional comments from other consultants. Fegent, you may recall, was here in SA last year talking to agencies and clients about marketing procurement, which is her speciality as she is one of the few international marketing-procurement consultants in the world. She was a big hit with the IAS and is someone whom we regularly consult on industry issues.

Day 1

Overview of the German advertising industry

SCOPEN and one of the German consultants from Cherry Picker provided some insights into the German market:

  • The German ad industry consists mainly of independent German owned agencies, with Serviceplan being the no. 1 agency in Germany
  • Jung v Matt and MC are in second and third place, respectively
  • Many global ad accounts are being led by independent German agencies, as opposed to the network agencies
  • The most-creative agencies are Grabarz & Partner, Kollie Rebbe, BBDO and Serviceplan
  • There are five or six main media agencies which manage 80% of the media spend in German — these are the top five global media networks, plus Serviceplan.
  • There isn’t an advertising capital in Germany (unlike London, Paris, Milan or Madrid, in the other European top five markets). The ad industry in Germany is spread out between Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Munich.


Chris Hirst, head of EMEA for HAVAS, commented on the importance of agency culture. Having recently moved to HAVAS in September 2015, after 10 years of running Grey London where he was instrumental in transforming what was a safe but dull agency into the exciting and successful creative business it is today, Hirst was certainly equipped to talk on this particular topic and its importance.

It’s all about attracting the best possible talent, according to Hirst, attracting more specialists, getting rid of the “production line” and getting rid of powerless account teams. It is more important to make decisions for and with clients and to trust the people who interact with clients.

He also commented upon the HAVAS Village structure and its simplicity being the key benefit for clients. Learning how to win pitches is key to developing agency culture — so new business and getting new clients are critical.

Hirst is focusing upon key staff recruitment in the UK and in Germany in order to build the culture, with six recent new appointments . HAVAS recently conducted a survey among its clients and staff, and found that a focus upon better creative work and a more-integrated offering was happening, and that HAVAS needs to make more of it in terms of its own profile building.

Scholz & Friends

This is one of the largest communications groups in the German-speaking region. It unites a fully comprehensive range of comms disciplines under one roof, according to the “orchestra of ideas” concept. With offices in Hamburg, Berlin and Dusseldorf, it is represented in all main European markets. Clients include Opel, Siemens, Unilever, Vodafone, Tchibo, DB Bahn and Muller, plus some political institutions such as the German government.

Scholz did not spend time on a lengthy presentation to the consultants (which was disappointing) but instead took them to dinner and a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic concert hall. The way in which the orchestra works demonstrated the method that Scholz &Friends uses for its clients.

Day 2

Saatchi & Saatchi

Robert Senior, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, was up first on the second day and showcased work from around the network (Australia, US). He then went on to talk about the new structure within the Publicis Group. The three divisions are Communications, Media and Healthcare, plus Sapient — its acquisition of 18 months ago is being treated separately still while the integration process is under way.

Clients are at the core of this new structure and the chief client officers within the group are judged by client satisfaction and not by revenue. Senior was very bullish on the economic climate, the pressure on fees and that agencies need to adapt to survive. He also talked about the tech-orientated creative department or “drugstore” concept within the group — where Publicis has created an environment for startups so that Publicis can share its client problems with these startups, which will help solve the issues. Interesting innovation.

The local Saatchi & Saatchi agency in Berlin, MetaDesign, then presented and talked about the main topics among its clients: digital transformation and the gap between marketing and sales. This is where the agency sees its role to help.

The Hirschen Group

This agency group — with offices in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Dresden, Stuttgart, Munich and Vienna — has tripled in size over the past few years. It has approximately 400 staff members working upon more than 70 clients, making the Hirschen Group the fifth-largest owner-managed agency group in Germany. It consists of comms agency, Zum goldenen Hirschen; advertising agency, Freunde des Hauses; multichannel agency, ressourcenmangel; strategy consultancy, Deer Hunter; e-commerce agency, TraDeers e-commerce; digital consultancy, iDeers Consulting; and, corporate affairs and policy advisors, 365 SHERPAS.

This agency group advocates ‘tailormadeness’ so that it can have a deep understanding of client issues. This is especially important as there are so many communication channels. It has also set up clusters of agency staff around client accounts and then pulls in additional resources as needed from the pool of 400 or so people.

The agency presented all the different parts of its group to the consultants, commenting upon their client dashboards that enable it to check facts instantly, and commenting that digital creative needs a “post-digital” attitude.

Blackwood Sev7n

This is a technology and consultant company within media and marketing. Its vision is to make it simple for advertisers, as well as ad agencies, to navigate today’s fast-changing media environment and increase their media ROI. This is made possible through a software platform that uses advanced predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to predict and achieve the optimal effects from all paid media. It has venture-capital backing and the consultants were wowed by what was presented. The company said that there is no need for a media agency as you can plan the media in real time with its system — what would take an agency five days to plan takes it 10 seconds. Definitely one to definitely.

Robert/Boisen & Likemind

This is actually an independent Danish agency located in Copenhagen, founded in 1998 and awarded the most-creative agency by the top 200 marketing directors in Denmark for the past five years. An achievement. “Emotionally angled PR and social-driven content that will take you a long way on a shoestring budget” is its premise. Nice people with some different creative work that was very emotionally driven.

Some of its learnings:

  • Find a larger cause than the purely commercial
  • Use opinion polls to leverage PR
  • International PR can create meta-stories
  • Create synergy between own media, seeding and PR
  • Make the execution shareable
  • Build native equity to increase performance
  • Don’t burn all resources before launch
  • Activate the campaign tactically
  • Make sure everybody is on board

Publicis Pixelpark

This digital agency has offices in Barcelona, Berlin, Bielefeld, Erlangen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne and Munich. MSL, the PR agency within Publicis, also is located within its Berlin offices and works closely with this agency. It develops online and digital systems for the German market and is seen as a sister agency to SapientNitro.

It did an entertaining German afternoon coffee speed-dating session, where the six tables of consultants got to talk in-depth to a board member for 10 minutes at a time. It was a great format, one that all consultants thoroughly enjoyed. Some interesting facts on social media emerged: Snapchat is huge in German and yet Twitter has only 1.5m users. Compare this to Turkey, where there are 38m Twitter users.

The agency is predicting large social media growth in the PR space.

IBM ix

This is a next-generation services company with a network of global studios that put clients at the heart of everything it does. It is positioned at the intersection of business, art and technology.

As part of its global strategy, it is acquiring agencies to gain creative insights, building customer platforms and starting to learn more and more about the customer journey. Its clients are chief tech officers (CTOs) rather than CMOs. Agencies that IBM ix has acquired so far include Aperto, where the presentation took place, Resource Amirati and X;O.

A fascinating presentation, according to Fegent’s feedback — and probably one of the most-interesting — and forward-looking — of the summit so far.

Day 3

MullenLowe Group

Most agencies who come on the AdForum Summits welcome our feedback as constructive criticism for future growth. One such agency which regularly attends is the MullenLowe Group and, following its attendance at the New York Summit in October 2015, it took on board feedback from the consultants and made sure that, at this latest summit, it showed work which would demonstrate its commitment to integration, along with proof that it works.

Some wonderful creative work from UK, France, Spain and Germany was shown, plus a demonstration of its hyperbundling strategy with lots of digital examples, including Persil and IKEA. The agency also talked about its long relationship with Unilever and that it manages more than 50% of Unilever brands.

MullenLowe is carefully developing its media-hub concept in various parts of the world as it knows that this integrated offering is the future.

The Foundry

The Foundry is a full-service content marketing organisation that helps design and develop large-scale content-marketing initiatives and campaigns that engage audiences across paid, owned, earned media. It is a division of Time Inc.

The work it showed at AdForum included work for Volvo and BMW. The company has recently purchased Drive YouTube channels and other digital channels. It has a very fast creation process during which it can produce and upload in one day.

We will learn more about them in New York at the summit in October 2016, where it will be presenting to us more fully and where we will be allowed to visit its offices in Brooklyn.

Grey Advertising Germany

The agency showed a short film on Grey EMEA, which was very well received by the consultants; it positions itself as brand advocates rather than as an ad agency. The presentation was locally focused.

Select World

We met this agency in New York in October 2015; it is impressive, with six offices globally and a commitment to personal relationships through its work. All its offices are run by women; the split of staff is 70:30 female to male. Key clients are Wella and Merck, and the emphasis is upon entrepreneurial spirit. Committed to magic with logic, uniting heart and head, it develops brand stories that are emotionally seductive and cognitively persuasive. The agency is very focused on women, beauty and fashion.

And that was the final meeting of the summit. Although very fast, the consultants received some interesting new views and trends which they will be able to share within their own markets.


  • Some interesting meetings with companies which supply industry and clients, as well as traditional agencies
  • Summaries from four networks about how they are seeing the business
  • Some breakthrough technology offerings which could change how agencies do business

And now we look forward to the AdForum Summit in October, which will — for the first time — take place in New York and Los Angeles. Not to be missed.


Johanna McDowellJohanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) is managing director of the Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS), which stands at the forefront of the complex world of agency selection in South Africa, and she is one of the few experts driving this mediation and advisory service in SA and globally. Twice a year she attends AdForum Worldwide Summits as an international consultant, which helps her lead the SA advertising industry forward to keep in line with international trends and remain competitive.

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