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German MD Christian Leipacher brings “sporting spirit” to advertising

12 March 2018

Horizont interviewed Christian Leipacher, our Managing Director, Germany, on his vision for Essence in Germany, his leadership philosophy and his unswerving commitment to the continued happiness of our clients and our people.

You can read the article on Horizont (in German) or the English version below:

GroupM intends to cause a stir with Essence, its newly launched agency. HORIZONT met the German MD, Christian Leipacher for his first interview in his new position.

2017 saw extensive reorganisation within GroupM: the media agencies MEC and Maxus were merged into Essence and Wavemaker, while Mediacom and Mindshare were restructured in terms of their people. Above all, however, the group announced the German launch of the agency Essence acquired by WPP in 2015. The man whose job it is to get the newcomer off the ground is Christian Leipacher, who achieved great success as the German head of Maxus. Essence employs 1100 people at 19 locations worldwide. After London, Düsseldorf is the second largest location in Europe, with Google as the agency's most important client.

By Jürgen Scharrer

The self-professed anthroposophist Christian Leipacher has the responsibility of making Essence a major player in the German media business. It won't be easy, but at least Google is one of the big names on the client list. In an interview, Leipacher is at the same time modestly reserved but highly self-confident: "We intend to set benchmarks!"

Mr. Leipacher, what's the situation at present - is Essence already fully operational or still occupied with moving in the furniture and sorting things out?

We moved into our agency's offices in Düsseldorf in January, and we're now working with twelve clients. After all, this isn't the first time that I have set up an agency. Everything is already in place.

How many people do you have on board?

I've put together a founding team of 20. They're all people with digital expertise, in-depth client experience and the absolute passion needed to build up a new agency. I want people who are willing to cross borders and take on responsibility. The great thing about the present situation is that everybody has to take on new tasks. That applies to me, too. At Maxus I had a specialist for every area – here at Essence I'm not just the MD, but basically also the Head of Finance and Head of Human Resources and New Business. All of us are now wearing several hats.

Are your colleagues all from Maxus?

Yes, nearly all of them. But of course we're also screening the market for new talent.

Do you have a clear idea of how big Essence should be by the end of 2018?

No, there's no exact plan in this respect. I'm not driven by vain ideas of multiplying the number of employees within a year. If there are 60 of us by the end of the year, that'll be fine - if there are 35 of us, that'll be fine, too. My goal is stable, sustainable growth. I want to build an agency here that really sets benchmarks.

Let's talk about your clients.

We have ten domestic clients and, with Google and DAZN, two global companies which were previously serviced from London.

Are the domestic accounts former Maxus clients?

Yes. These are all companies that are highly digital, have high growth potential and who I personally have a very close and trusting relationship with. They include clients like Subway, Discovery, Bandai Namco and the fintech start-up Friday, which joined us a couple of months ago.

How's business with your international accounts, especially Google?

Essence has been managing Google in the digital field for ten years, with 500 to 600 employees worldwide working exclusively for this client. That's a particularly close partnership. In Europe, all clients have so far been serviced from London. Now it's time to build up more European locations. Germany is the beginning, further big markets could follow.

Maxus always had a life of its own in Germany and in some cases Germany was distinct from other markets. Will that be different at Essence?

Yes, at Essence the goal of globally consistent services is absolutely central. Of course, that's also because of Google, which relies on Essence's proprietary systems and would not accept differences in individual markets. One of our main tasks in Düsseldorf is to harmonise our technology and processes with London. This has already happened to a considerable extent.

How close is the relationship between Google and Essence exactly?

It's a very close, almost symbiotic relationship. We are tightly meshed and get privileged access to beta versions as an agency.

Let's talk about the positioning of Essence. After all, there's no shortage of media agencies in Germany - GroupM alone is represented by Mediacom, Wavemaker and Mindshare. Apart from supposedly or actually superior technology, what does Essence have to offer?

What I find really remarkable is that the three Essence founders, all former financial analysts, formulated principles as early as the beginning of 2005 that are still valid today. The central proposition of our positioning is: "To make advertising more valuable to the world".

Making advertising more valuable to the world - sounds very much like Silicon Valley.

For me there is an almost moral philosophy behind this. Essence positions itself as an expert with proprietary technology that designs every single contact for the benefit of the client, consumer and publisher. The promise to the client is: we deliver a demonstrable contribution to your business success. For the consumer this means that we only offer relevant advertising messages. And for publishers, "more valuable" means that if we know in concrete terms what contribution their medium makes to business success, it will be given full consideration and fairly remunerated in the media plans.

Sounds good - but also a bit general and interchangeable.

Do you know what I'm really convinced of? That the competition is increasingly being determined by the details. It’s all about a better understanding of individual issues and providing better solutions - based on data and communicated in customised messages. For me, that's what we stand for: Essence stands for excellence in detail!

Essence is not just any new agency, but is intended to play an important role in the GroupM network. How strongly do you feel the pressure that weighs on your shoulders?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I don't need external pressure. I am passionate, I am focused, I am a meticulous worker with a great desire for success. I don't need any additional external pressure. Jürgen Blomenkamp and Kelly Clark, who managed Maxus prior to becoming GroupM boss, know me very well and know why they entrusted me with the task of building up Essence in Germany.

What is your ambition, how big is Essence to become in Germany?

You really want to hear numbers - how many employees, how many billings, what turnover? My goal is first of all to have really satisfied clients and employees who are happy and able to develop their talents. Essence will be a very intense agency, we're looking for close relationships to whom we can dedicate ourselves lock, stock and barrel. We want clients who have an ongoing interest in evolving and sharing their data with us, so that together we can optimise their business KPIs.

Even if you may not wish to hear this, the media industry will, of course, be watching very closely to see which makes better progress in Germany, the new Omnicom media agency Hearts & Science or Essence. When will you be ready to make pitches?

We first want to become 100 percent Essence and gain the right experience. After that I will be able to tell you more exactly how fast we want to grow in Germany. As for pitches: of course we're ready for them and of course we want to win pitches. And this very year, that's definite. And last but not least, there are 500 people in our office in London - we get all the extra support we need from there.

Let's talk a bit about you personally. How hard was it for you when GroupM decided to break up Maxus and merge it with MEC to form Essence and Wavemaker?

That was a real shock in the beginning - after all, I put a lot of passion and energy into building up Maxus. I also had unbelievable freedom to do everything the way I wanted to. You rarely find something like that in a network.

Did it quickly become clear that you were going to be MD of Essence in Germany?

Basically yes, even though in the beginning I wasn't able to talk about it publicly, of course. I believe that due to my history, Jürgen Blomenkamp and the Essence founders knew very early on that I would be the right man for the job. I just love creating something new with huge sporting spirit. I also appreciate it if a company has a friendly and family atmosphere. When I was in charge of Maxus I could have given you a ten-minute account of the personal lives of every one of my 85 employees - what kind of music they listen to, where they go on vacation, what is important to them.

And will that be the same at Essence?

One of the things that make Essence so special is the agency's values. It has its own cultural team and a director of culture on the global board. For me that's an excellent idea.

Do you actually have a personal role model in the business world?

Yes - Götz Werner, the founder and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of DM (large German drugstore chain). He is my absolute role model as an entrepreneur.

That's not an answer I was expecting.

Like Götz Werner I'm a convinced anthroposophist, my children go to a Waldorf school (school with a humanistic orientation) - that's very important to me. Also like Götz Werner, I'm convinced that you don't have to push people, you have to engage them. And I think I'm quite good at that.