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Ich bien nicht ein Berliner:

May 16, 2011

Flickr: hfichtner

So, having recently returned from our M&C Saatchi Worldwide meeting in Berlin, I’ll share some observations, most of them probably not that useful, but amusing (well to me at least). Firstly, a lot has changed since I was last there in 1998, at the time I was invited to share the 360 degree integration model that I’d pioneered for running the Volkswagen account in South Africa and they wanted to adopt this model throughout the international company – this was at my former agency. In 1998, we stayed at the sumptuous Adlon Hotel (a favourite of Hitler’s henchman) and I returned there last week, with my team, for a “high tea” having just visited the powerful Holocaust museum across the road. Needless to say the mood was sombre. The museum is a profound reminder of “man’s inhumanity to man” and an ongoing cautionary note to be intolerant of any form of intolerance. One can see where calling people “cockroaches” can lead to…

On a much lighter note, we stayed at the Hotel Camper this time (owned by the iconic Spanish shoe brand) and it is indeed a great spot. Contemporary, generous and chic but very well priced at an all-in 140 Euros a night (thanks Tripadvisor-Abel).

The team: Jacques Burger (CEO, Gauteng), Gordon Ray (Exec Creative Director) and Robert Grace (Head of Strategy) joined me on this trip – and given the conference started on Wednesday morning, we had Tuesday afternoon and evening “at leisure” – not that smart phones truly allow this…

We were delighted to find a table for dinner at the famous “Dos Pallilos”. It is a restaurant run by one of the ex- chefs from El Bulli (the iconic Spanish eatery). Well, as most of you now know, (per above), I hail from Port Elizabeth, so when the first of our 12 course degustation menu arrived and it looked liked broiled periwinkles floating in a confusion of vegetables that I couldn’t recognise by sight or flavour, I knew we’d possibly made a bad choice. This was unfortunately followed up by thin slices of chilled monk-fish liver…. So once the thimble-sized “burger” arrived, we inhaled it in less than a second. Whatever happened to good old Bratwurst and Sauerkraut? We left after “downing” our microscopic dessert of foamed mango and chilli. Afterwards, we took the lift up to the 7th floor eatery of our hotel and wolfed down whatever chips, smoothies etc were still on display.

The conference was very interesting. The “new offices” around the world, including ours, each gave a 15-20 minute update of their offering, positioning, clients and most importantly, actual work. These presentations included, inter alia, our Moscow and Milan agencies.

We then had a few key presentations including one from Milk, our new strategic CRM & Data Company whom, like ourselves, is investing heavily in better understanding customer behaviour – and using this information in developing powerful predictive models and communication.

An excellent presentation was delivered on Social Media from Human Digital (our London-based specialist company) as well as SERMO, our global PR network of agencies and affiliates. It was fascinating to hear the latest trends and thinking around luxury brands and how these actually drip down to affect every-day purchases in the mainstream segments.

We spent time at our Berlin agency which truly is doing outstanding work across their client base – it was also really good to meet their people. We had (a late) dinner that evening at an uber chic eatery called Cookies Cream. I chastised our taxi driver for clearly having dropped us off in the wrong spot. A very dark alleyway with a garbage truck doing its collections. We needless to say, were at the right spot but I am unused to restaurants appearing in the most nonsensical venues. We averted the various debris and climbed a short staircase to a single metal door. As we walked in, it was pitch black with the odd spotlight, Hansel and Gretel like, showing the way. I was certain that I was going to be jumped by someone in a gimp-suit in the Hannibal Lechter-type lair. Finally we walked upstairs towards the bright light of the eating room to be greeted by a large painting with 3 words “Ficken American Express” …..”Ficken” as I understand it, is German for Fuck. Clearly they don’t take the card at the innocent sounding Cookies Cream.

The meal was another culinary adventure with our starter being cucumber done three different ways, frozen, shredded and sorbet, all on a bed of crumbed pumpernickel bread. It was downhill from there.

Having subsequently eaten copious glasses of Red Wine for dinner we staggered to our business presentations the next morning. We saw a fascinating talk and case studies, sharing some of our best strategies and work, demonstrating the power of our proprietary tool and thinking around Brutal Simplicity of Thought. We had a really powerful presentation by one of Germany’s top pop-stars around sustaining personal creativity. Although an entirely fresh take, it reminded me of that wonderful talk by Sir Ken Robinson on this subject (on

We spent a good few hours looking at creative work from around our network. We saw terrific stuff coming out of most offices, but great content/ movies out of Spain, good digital work in every market but some very smart use of technology from LA to engage consumers. All in all, the quality was excellent.

Another highlight was a talk given by Bill Muirhead and David Kershaw (two of the PLC Partners heading our Group) and the original Founders of M&C SAATCHI (and the gods at Saatchi & Saatchi) before that. Their “from the heart” talk on “Saatchiness” captured some of the incredible and iconic moments in both our company history and actually, their impact on global advertising. We left inspired.

I did get to eat a fat steak at the Airport !

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