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Agency Profile: Serviceplan Munich

Posted on July 2, 2013 and read 5,389 times

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brettihaismall Agency Profile: Serviceplan MunichBrett McKenzie
Content Producer
Art Directors Club

 

In the great big world of advertising, most European countries’ ad industries are centered around a single cosmopolitan city. For the UK, it’s London. France? C’est Paris, bien sûr! And although you hear of great work coming out of places like Barcelona and Gothenburg, Spanish and Swedish ads are still dominated by the respective machinations of Madrid and Stockholm.

But Germany is different. The most populated country in Europe boasts a number of cities that could feasibly consider themselves the “hub” of the German ad scene. In the north, there’s Berlin and Hamburg, both home to the headquarters of more than a few renowned agencies. In central Germany you’ll find Frankfurt, whose agencies can often be found in the credits of international award shows. And in the south near the famed Bavarian Alps, the city of Munich has also held its own, in both big business wins and in flashy ad awards.

And in Munich, it could be argued that the winning-est around is Serviceplan.

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Maxvorstadt is an area in central Munich rich in cultural history. Right in the middle of it all sits Königsplatz, a square surrounded by the Kunstareal, one of the city’s most popular museum districts. It is immediately to the west of this wealth of ancient, classical and modern art, along the famed Brienner Straße that you’ll find the sprawling “Haus der Kommunikation” that is Serviceplan.

Founded here in Munich in January 1970 by Rolf O. Stempel and Dr. Peter Haller, Serviceplan has grown quite a bit in its 40+ years. What began as a small, traditional ad shop is now one of the biggest independent agencies in all of Europe. A holding company for an expanding empire that covers every facet of marketing and advertising, the Serviceplan Group has offices and partnerships all over the globe. Combined, these offices employ more than 1500 people, but you know that Munich still steers the ship, with over 950 of that staff in the Maxvorstadt headquarters.

Knowing how big and expansive the company is, I expected to find a giant monolith of a building in the middle of town. I was quite surprised to see that Serviceplan’s headquarters are far less intimidating; it’s made up of a series of connected buildings surrounding walkways and a peaceful grassy courtyard with a bubbling little stream. It’s hard to believe that so many people check into this space every day… and even with all of those people, there’s still plenty of room for a great big rock-climbing wall inside.

climbingwall Agency Profile: Serviceplan Munich

Getting all of those people under one roof is one thing, but what about the culture of the agency? Stefanie Paulus, art director and longtime Serviceplanner, says that’s one thing the office has covered. “One thing that I really appreciate about Serviceplan is that the atmosphere is very friendly. There is a competitive environment, but not overly so. And you don’t really find anybody here that thinks they’re too cool. I had spoken to a colleague who used to work here, and he had said he misses it here because where he is overrun with hipsters with ironic moustaches.”

The creative department of Serviceplan still has the trappings of a large traditional advertising agency: there are still two person teams made up of copywriters and art directors who work underneath various creative directors and brands, but these pairings aren’t working in isolation. Instead they meet regularly and informally with designers, digital experts, strategists and other disciplines, gathering for impromptu chats in the agency’s many meeting rooms, cafes and smoking lounges (yes, North American readers, many companies in Germany still have areas where employees are free to have a cigarette) “We tend to be assigned specific clients, but there’s no reason why we can’t fluidly seek advice and help from other areas,” says Nicolas Becker, creative director. “And if you aren’t on a client, you can always approach the team who is on that client and share your ideas. We’re very structured here, but that structure is very flexible.”

Germans have a reputation for efficiency, and you’ll certainly see that in the various creative groups at Serviceplan. This isn’t the kind of place where creatives stroll in later than the accounts staff; instead most departments are buzzing by the time the clock strikes 9:00 AM. “We like to start early, and this usually leads to us finishing on time,” says Stefanie. “There are occasionally some very late nights when we are working on a pitch, but those are fairly rare when you begin the day on time.” Nicolas agrees. “Our days are spent working hard. We have Playstation, we have table football, but those things are used to wind down at the end of the day, not as a distraction in the middle of it.” Nicolas gestures down the hallway and laughs. “Since you’ve been here, have you seen anybody on the climbing wall?”

German work ethic notwithstanding, the creatives at Serviceplan do like to let their hair down at the end of the work day, either pursuing their own interests or heading out to the many nearby bars. Every Thursday evening, a group of about 50 or 60 young employees hang out in the agency’s cafeteria, and in the summer months, the rooftop terraces fill up with staff members looking to catch some late afternoon sun. For the most part, it’s the individuals who start these little gatherings; at nearly a thousand people, it’s extremely difficult for Serviceplan to put together agency-wide outings.

It’s not just tricky for an agency the size of Serviceplan to hang out together, but it’s also a challenge to know exactly what’s happening, be it in the other side of the building or in one of the other offices. To this end, Serviceplan produces a TV program of sorts, broadcast across monitors in all of their offices. These screens are perfect for catching up on all of the news happening throughout the network, be it a new hire over in strategy, a new client for the network, or just what crazy things are happening over in the Milan office at any given time.

So what challenges do Serviceplan face in the near future? I received a number of different answers, but two main points kept on surfacing, no matter whom I spoke with. One, the agency is looking to close the gap between awards and client success. “Traditionally agencies rely on a few of their clients to be the ones where the creative opportunities lie, and the other ones pay the bills,” says creative director Moritz Dornig. “We want all of our clients to be award winners.” Stefanie agrees. “I find that many clients in the German market aren’t as courageous as you’d find in the US or Scandinavian markets, and that it takes a lot of encouragement to get them to move out of their comfort zones. That can be frustrating, but at least here at Serviceplan you are allowed to try to open the clients’ minds to braver ideas.” So far it appears to be a success: the agency is coming off rare back-to-back Cannes Lions Design Grand Prix wins for the kinds clients that don’t usually win big creative awards. Throw in additional international accolades, including the ADC’s own Gold Cube, and you have yourself an agency that has really polished its reputation.

The second challenge for Serviceplan is to manage its impressive growth, both here in Munich and in its European and overseas offices and partnerships. It’s hard to believe, but it took only about five or six years for the agency to double in size to its current 1500+ numbers. One of the ways Serviceplan is trying to build upon its international growth is to become a more ‘international’ agency. This means that there is a concerted effort to bring in more foreign talent into the offices, a move more commonly seen in cities such as New York and Amsterdam. To this end, Serviceplan has hired creatives from other countries who know little or no German, and have set them up with apartments and free language courses. And of course, the Munich headquarters is always looking to work with their smaller offices around the globe, tapping into their local insights on global projects and pitches.

It’s not just on pitches that the entire Serviceplan network gets together. Every June, the entire network is invited from all corners of the globe to a resort on beautiful Lake Wolfgang in Austria. All employees are welcome, and at least 90% are able to make the trip. What unfolds is a full day of meetings, lectures and presentations, which eventually turn into a late-night party to end all parties, followed by an overnight stay for everyone who doesn’t wish to trek back into Munich right away. “To summarize, it’s two days of getting together, receiving news and information and having tons of fun,” says Claudia Kirchmair of Serviceplan’s Corporate Communications division. “There’s always lots of spirit!”

kikk off LakeWolfgang Agency Profile: Serviceplan Munich

When all is said and done, if there was one thing that the ever-growing Serviceplan would want to leave with readers who might not know the agency beyond its award show wins, what would it be? “I believe that whatever your ideas are, Serviceplan is the place to make it happen,” says Nicolas, after some contemplation. “Not many agencies will champion your craziest ideas, but Serviceplan will let you explore to see if those crazy ideas have merit. That is a formula has success written all over it.”

Thanks to the entire Serviceplan team for inviting us into their Munich offices! An extra special thanks to Getty Images for making this visit to Munich possible.






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