Given Germany’s position as Europe’s largest media market, it is inevitably a source of some frustration to its media practitioners that London remains Europe’s leading city for media networks to locate their headquarters.
Talking recently to the German advertising magazine W&V, Alexander Schmidt-Vogel head of MediaCom Europe and the first elected president of the European Association of Advertising Agencies (EAAA) Media Division, has gone some way to unravelling this paradox.
While most countries would relish the opportunity to take a media leadership role, Germany, he believes, should be the pre-eminent contender. The German TV and magazine markets are arguably the most complex in Europe and subject to the fiercest competition. In the increasingly important realm of media research, Germany is acknowledged among the world’s leaders. Finally, Germany’s local advertisers are becoming increasingly international.
This combination of factors should add up to a tremendous opportunity for German media practitioners to take a lead role in Europe. The reality, however, is that most European media accounts are handled out of London.
The standard explanation for this is that London remains the obvious choice because English is the international language of business. But Schmidt-Vogel says that this is no longer the key reason for British dominance. Instead, he argues, the decisive factor is the British ability to export their knowledge. When they develop a new product, their first thought is to market it worldwide. By contrast, the Germans become embroiled in discussion and refinement so that while they are chewing over methodology, the British have already exported their systems and expertise across the world. The net result is that the UK has become a media exporter and Germany an importer.
“When I became involved in the EAAA, at the beginning of the Nineties, people were shocked to see a German,” says Schmidt-Vogel. “During discussions on the question of research I realised that the English had a disastrous image of German methods: all lederhosen and yodelling, that kind of thing. There was no ill-will in this, simply the fact that no-one has ever been made aware of our skills and knowledge.”
There is much truth in Schmidt-Vogel’s observations. In the increasingly global media market, with advertisers centralising their media business, it is inevitable that those countries that have exported their products and systems around the world will stand a greater chance of winning lead agency status. As Schmidt-Vogel observes, the UK has been particularly effective in this respect. German media products, the AGF TV audience measurement system for example, are among the most rigorous in Europe. But unless they become international standards, Germany will find it hard to compete for the role of leading European media centre for international companies.