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Agency Profile: BBDO Proximity Berlin

Posted on January 30, 2013 and read 3,943 times

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brettihaismall Agency Profile: BBDO Proximity BerlinBrett McKenzie
Content Producer
Art Directors Club


“Don’t quote me on this, but the decor here is a little dull,” says Darren Richardson, Regional Executive Creative Director of BBDO Proximity Germany as he leads me through the grey and white halls of the famous network’s Berlin office. No Day-Glo colors or crazy artwork, at least not in the reception area. I promise Darren I won’t mention it.

A half-hour later, I’m chatting with Jan Harbeck, Co-Executive Creative Director, and I am asking him what is the most inspiring thing about their office space. He looks about the room, shrugs and says “well it isn’t the walls, I can tell you that. This part looks like an insurance company.”

Darren looks back at me, pauses a beat and says “okay, now you can quote me on what I said earlier.”


“The backbone of BBDO Proximity Berlin is, in a sense, an offshoot of of the backbone of Jung Von Matt.”

It’s not often that a conversation about one advertising agency starts with the mention of another. Yet here I am, sitting in the Gendarmenmarkt area offices of BBDO Proximity, and this is how our chat begins. It does make sense though; A few years ago Jan Harbeck and his Co-ECD David Mously were an award winning creative team at the highly acclaimed Jung von Matt’s Berlin office until they were recruited by top execs Frank Lotze and Wolfgang Schneider — they themselves recent hires from JvM. David and Jan were tasked with shaking up BBDO Berlin, which at the time might’ve been considered the quietest BBDO office in the country, behind the Hamburg and Dusseldorf locations.

And how did they begin shaking things up? “We hired the people from Jung von Matt we most enjoyed working with,” Jan laughs sheepishly. “We wanted the best people, and that’s where they were from. So it was a bit like getting everybody together again, except to do things a bit differently than what we did before. Jung von Matt is a lot of excellent things, and one of those things is that it’s built by the vision of its founder, Jean-Remy von Matt. This was opportunity to build something new, and to grow it.”

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Of course like every new venture, there are bound to be some bumps in the road, and building the new BBDO was no exception. “The first year or so was a bit of challenge because we had to bring together all of the old BBDO and Proximity people, along with the new hires, and try to work together,” explains Jan. “There were all sorts of different philosophies and personalities, and we wanted to make sure everyone understood what we wanted to achieve. That’s an ongoing process, but I’d like to think we are getting there.”

One of the things that the new BBDO Berlin wanted to achieve was to tear down some of the walls between the departments. In the early 2000s, BBDO, much like the other global networks, created digital divisions. Fast forward a decade or so; there’s no need to silo off their ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’, and so part of the mission of Jan and David was to figure out how to do this. “The thing that excites me most is that we aren’t just bringing digital back into the fold, we’ve made it our heart,” says Jan.

Today that heart is beating quite strongly; only a few years ago, the Berlin office was home to only about 30 employees, and the biggest client was a building society. Nowadays BBDO Proximity Berlin boasts a staff of nearly a 100, with most of those within the creative department. Its roster of clients has grown as well, with Daimler’s smart car being a jewel that draws creative talent from all over. The agency also has people from 25 different nationalities — but don’t think you can just slip in from anywhere, at least not without a strong German background. “Hey, I’m trying! I’m taking classes!” jokes Darren Richardson, a British born Regional ECD who happened to be passing through the Berlin office during my visit. (Hmm, how would German sound with a Cockney accent?)

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BBDO Proximity Berlin has not only quickly grown in size, but also in accolades. Prior to the shake up, the office hadn’t had that much luck on the international award scene, and had never won at Cannes. A year later, the agency won its first Lion, and last year it took home five of them, along with a number of other acclaimed prizes.

BBDO Proximity is a strong believer in the traditional creative model of an art director and copywriter team working together. There isn’t a lot of switching around or rotating through various accounts — the agency really wants their teams to get to know and become experts on their assigned clients — but whenever a new perspective is needed, BBDO is quick to introduce new people to the project to inspire the original team. One of the advantages of being part of a network is that these new people aren’t necessarily coming from down the hall, but also from BBDO’s other offices in Germany. On very special occasions, such as pitches or particularly challenging briefs, the net is cast even further, and creatives from all over Europe can be flown in for a few days of “hothousing”.

There is a strong social culture embedded here at BBDO Proximity; alongside the traditional summer and Christmas parties, the agency also has frequent barbecues for the staff. On a more informal note, many of the staff enjoy putting together bowling and laser tag nights. And then… there’s the weekend, “I’m a good boy, so I never see this,” jokes David, “but if you come in here on a Sunday before the cleaning people have arrived, you’ll see beer bottles everywhere. Apparently it’s very popular for people to stay here late on a Friday until 5 AM or more. Umm, so I’ve heard.” David also let me in on a little secret that his staff is apparently unaware of: YOU KNOW THAT EMAIL ON FRIDAY AFTERNOONS THAT ANNOUNCES THE BEER FRIDGE IS UNLOCKED? IT’S NEVER LOCKED TO BEGIN WITH.

So now that the new BBDO Proximity Berlin is off to a rousing start, what’s next for the agency? “I love the direction we are going in, creatively speaking, but I know we have more work to do,” says David. “Our goal is to rise up the creative rankings, in Berlin, in Germany, on the world stage, in the BBDO network, and show everyone what we can do.”

And the insurance company surroundings? “Well we were looking to move not too long ago, but that is on hold for now,” laughs Jan. “But you know what? After having a career that has taken me through some crazy office spaces, I can honestly say that the walls have no effect on the quality of the creative output here. In fact, it might even be an improvement — nothing to distract us from doing amazing work!”

Many thanks to Darren, Jan and David for showing us around BBDO Proximity Berlin. An extra special thanks to Getty Images for making this visit to Berlin possible.

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