Springer & Jacoby was once one of Germany's most admired agencies before closing its doors in 2010 following a slow but steady decline. The business had struggled to maintain its prominence since 2005, losing a number of key accounts as well as a succession of managers. The problems dated back to 2000, when the agency's original founders agreed to sell a minority shareholding to US group True North, later acquired by Interpublic. That relationship became increasingly strained, especially after S&J's flagship client Mercedes-Benz threatened in 2005 to find a new agency unless creative output improved. At the end of the year, S&J looked set to regain its independence by agreeing a merger with former subsidiary Elephant7. Yet that deal collapsed in 2006 when Mercedes confirmed the decision to move its account. Eventually S&J was acquired by investment group Avantaxx, but the economic recession kicked off a fresh set of problems in 2009 which eventually caused its collapse.
Konstantin Jacoby and Reinhard Springer first teamed up in the mid-1970s as executives at GGK, a continental European network which later tied up with the Lowe Group. In 1979, Springer jumped ship to set up a Hamburg office for independent agency Eiler & Hiemel. Following the purchase of Eiler & Hiemel by BBDO a year later, the Hamburg office was bought out by Springer and partner Holger Nicolai, and Jacoby was recruited to join the business, which adopted the new name Springer Nicolai Jacoby. Following the departure of Nicolai in 1985, Springer & Jacoby took joint control of the business.
The agency's reputation grew steadily over the next few years, but the big change came in 1989 when Mercedes took a chance on placing their creative account with the company. That win catapulted S&J into the top ranks of German agencies, and led to a number of other new business wins. (It also led indirectly to the creation of rival Jung von Matt, founded in 1991 by two former managing partners from Springer & Jacoby). In 1994, S&J began to consider branching out beyond Germany, encouraged by Mercedes, which was keen to see Springer & Jacoby apply the same creative edge globally that it had already demonstrated in Germany. The agency took a 49% stake in what was then Ayer Europe, the loose group of agencies which had previously acted as the European arm for ailing US agency NW Ayer. Two years later they sold the stake on again to FCB as Wilkens.
For several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s Springer & Jacoby was widely regarded as one of Germany's most brilliant agencies, consistently ranking in first place in the local industry's creativity rankings. In 1999, S&J launched a London presence, followed by Spanish offices in 2000. Meanwhile, there was no shortage of interest from the ranks of the major global marketing groups, all of them keen to add S&J to the portfolio. For some time Omnicom seemed the favourite, offering to take a 20% stake, but in the end it was True North which got Springer and Jacoby to the table, acquiring a 35% shareholding. This was later inherited by Interpublic, which subsequently increased that holding to 51%.
In 2001, S&J acquired a stake in Milan-based Colnaghi & Manciani, which became the Italian arm of the network. That agency, launched in 2000, already handled part of the local advertising account for DaimlerChrysler. Later the same year, S&J opened a French office, successfully picking up some more local business for Mercedes. In 2002, the group sold its interactive subsidiary, Elephant Seven, to publicly quoted rival Digital advertising AG. The merged group adopted the Elephant Seven name a year later, and later Elephant7.
The London office of Springer & Jacoby was widely regarded for many years as the least successful of the agency's international outposts. In early 2003, it was merged with the local office of Interpublic's Marketing Drive network under the new name of The Reef. Later it was announced that former St Luke's founders Andy Law and Kate Stanners had agreed to relaunch the shop under the new name Boy Meets Girl S&J. After protracted negotiations that agency finally opened in early 2004 as a five-way partnership between Law, Stanners and CEO David Pemsel (also Stanners' husband), with Interpublic and S&J. However the arrangement fell apart towards the end of the year after Stanners and Pemsel fell out with Law over strategic direction. Law later led a management buyout of the business from IPG and S&J, but it went bust in 2005.
Meanwhile, the main agency in Germany announced a radical restructuring in 2005, calling a consultation over intended job cuts in order to boost profit margins. That led to the abrupt departure of two senior managers, Joerg Schultheis and Alexander Schill. Industry rumours that the agency would shift its headquarters to the Netherlands were strongly denied. The turbulence had a marked effect on the quality of S&J's creative output, so much so that it plunged from the #1 spot in Germany's 2005 creative rankings to #40 in 2006. That led to a public warning from key client Mercedes that it would call a review unless the standard of S&J's work on the account improved.
Interpublic put its shares in S&J up for sale towards the end of the year, but despite hopes that the business would attract bids from Omnicom or local group Scholz & Friends, there was only one bidder, former subsidiary Elephant7. Despite the group's renewed independence, its relationship with Mercedes-Benz was apparently beyond repair. S&J was dropped from the account in June 2006, and the Elephant7 deal collapsed soon afterwards. Instead, E7 merged with rival interactive agency Pixelpark (itself later acquired by Publicis). S&J was rescued by Avantaxx a few months later.
Initially, Avantaxx agreed an alliance between S&J and PixelPark. In an unusual joint role, Horst Wagner, the executive chairman of Elephant7 and a board member of PixelPark, was also appointed as CEO of S&J. That alliance was terminated in May 2007. Instead, former E7 director Ercan Ozturk was named as CEO of Springer & Jacoby. However, Ozturk left the group abruptly two years later and was not replaced. His departure came a month after the equally sudden resignation of Norbert Lindhof, previously head of Y&R Germany, as CEO of parent group Avantaxx. Appointed to that role in March 2009 Lindhof, spent only three months in the job before quitting, along with CFO Thomas Seitz. Avantaxx founder Lutz Schaffhausen remained group managing director until the closure of S&J in 2010.
Between 1998 and 2004 S&J had established several international offices, mainly to manage core client Mercedes. Despite the loss of that account, the network remained, albeit reduced in size and influence. Towards the end of the decade, control of each foreign agency was transferred to its local partner. In 2005, the group sold a majority shareholding in its French office to local independent marketing services agency Extreme. It operated until 2010 as Extreme Springer & Jacoby. In Italy, local agency Colnaghi & Manciani was part-owned by the group, as were El Laboratorio in Spain and Krieg Schlupp Burge of Switzerland. Extreme and El Laboratorio continue as independents.
Reinhard Springer now operates his own as "brand coaching" consultancy in Hamburg.
Last full revision 26th April 2018
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