Executive creative director at Wunderman Thompson Germany, Myriam Fynecontry-Herke stumbled upon the advertising industry with her first experience as a junior copywriter at McCann Erickson. Working across the creative hubs of Germany, such as Hamburg, Frankfurt and Berlin, and navigating her career through permanent agency positions and quite a few years of freelance work, Myriam has gained experience working with international brands like L’Oréal, JTI and Condé Nast.
Her bilingual upbringing and unfiltered passion for storytelling were key for her entry into adlandand since her first day of copywriting, she knew this is her calling. Seeing the industry move through its latest two decades of exploration, Myriam has seen the environment change from agencies owning “one computer with internet access for all creatives,” to today, where the metaverse is at our fingertips. From her first days at McCann she took to heart the slogan ‘Truth well told’ and combined it with her own moral pillars and work ethic, to elevate her career from one position to the next. Now she stands as ECD at Wunderman Thompson Germany. LBB’s Zoe Antonov caught up with Myriam to find out about her career journey so far, her freelancing experience and how creativity in Germany has changed.
LBB> Tell us more about your initial steps into the industry - what did you study and what were your first experiences getting into the industry?
Myriam> It’s kind of funny to say, but a coincidence led me into the ad industry. In the year 2000, I was living in Frankfurt and had signed up to study script writing for film at the Berlin University of Arts. I couldn’t get a spot for that year, so I was looking for a job to bridge the wait time. Advertising hadn’t been on my mind at all. However, in my search, I met a creative director from McCann Erickson who was desperately looking for a junior copywriter to join his team. After a few test projects, I landed the job and instantly loved it. I’ve stayed in the ad industry ever since. The rest is history. I assume it was my bilingual upbringing and my passion for storytelling that were key to getting the gig.
LBB> You started off as a copywriter at McCann Erickson and you were there for five years. What was that experience like and what were your biggest challenges and lessons from that time in your career?
Myriam> My first years in advertising were really frigging exciting. Within the first year, the whole agency world changed. From one computer with internet access for all creatives on the floor, to all creatives having internet on their work computers. From carrying heavy U-matics and real film tapes between the studio and the agency fearing I’d destroy all that money and work by tripping in the streets, to digital copies being sent out directly to media companies. I was also given great opportunities. I was part of the launch of the very first Microsoft Xbox in Europe, which at that time was a revolution in the gaming market, and worked for other big international brands like L’Oréal, JTI and Condé Nast. The work culture at McCann left a huge impression in my heart as well. ‘Truth well told’ is an amazing company slogan and is still a message I believe in today.
LBB> You went freelance for quite a few years - what was that like and what kind of work did you do during that time? What would you say are the pros and cons of being freelance versus being at an agency?
Myriam> I went freelance after I gave birth to my son 12 years ago. I couldn’t imagine returning to the agency world in a permanent part time position. I hadn’t seen this work out in a satisfying way. Going freelance was perfect. I could work whenever I had time and got to meet interesting clients and partners along the way. It taught me respect for the other departments in an agency as I had to be my own account manager and finance department. The latter was basically the reason why I went back into a permanent position. I was, and still am, bad at doing my own paperwork.
LBB> Throughout your career, you worked in many different cities across Germany. Did you notice any significant changes in the culture of creativity between those and if so, what were they? What would you say is the best creative space in Germany, if that can even be specified?
Myriam> Definitely. I started my career in Frankfurt. At that time, Hamburg was the epicentre of creative agencies in Germany. But Frankfurt was big in serving global clients due to it being the capital of financial business and because of its airport and proximity to the car industry in Germany. For a long time, Berlin didn’t play a role when it came to creativity in advertising. Only a few film productions had settled in Berlin as it was quite cheap at that time. Today, I would say Hamburg and Berlin are the most attractive for young creatives from all over the globe which makes these two cities strong in creativity. Hamburg with more focus on local brands and businesses, Berlin as a melting pot of cultures for the more international side of things.
LBB> And what about the industry en large - since you started, what has changed in Germany when it comes to creativity, what trends have you seen wither away and what have you seen arise?
Myriam> The German industry used to be a very closed, some might even say elitist, circle. German humour, and also German rationality used to be characteristics that made our ads stand out on the international stage. In my eyes this has changed completely. It’s a global phenomenon and I believe a consequence of the media landscape changing drastically over the past two decades. Local insights are still precious and will always be needed, yet they’re decreasing, and a more cosmopolitan mindset is establishing all over Europe.
LBB> What was the transition from a copywriter to a creative director, and then to executive creative director like? Was it smooth and what kind of challenges did you face when that was happening?
Myriam> Because of the break I made after becoming a parent, the step from senior copywriter to creative director took longer than I had anticipated. Yet, after that I felt everything happened quite organically. I feel like there is a certain point in your career where you have collected so many experiences along the way that it’s a crime to not share your learnings with the younger generations. I love leading teams and developing talent. I consider the biggest challenge is staying open to learn from everyone. I observe many creatives in my generation who are struggling with learning from younger generations. That’s dangerous in my eyes. The ones in leadership positions at this moment of time need to embrace the fact that they need to learn from their younger staff in order to create and judge upon relevant solutions in communication.
LBB> What are your comments on the industry from a feminist perspective - do you see enough women in Germany and in Europe as whole in the C-suite and if not, what do you think has to change?
Myriam> I see way more women in C-level and boards compared to the time I started in this industry. That’s great! Yet, I don’t want to sugar coat things. In my experience, women still need to work twice as hard to get to similar positions or salaries as men. I feel spoiled to work at an agency that has a very balanced staff and many role models to look up to. But I also know we’re not average in that sense. Also, this is just Europe and Germany. I believe we still have a very long way to go in the fight for equal rights for women, for non-white employees as well as for employees who a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
For the past two years I have been a member of the Global IED Council at Wunderman Thompson which was founded by our global CEO Mel Edwards, and shortly after handed over to our global chief inclusion & diversity officer Ezinne Okoro. The council has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn about IED topics in different regions of the world. The advertising industry has a huge influence on society. I am happy to see that a lot of agencies and clients are starting to use it responsibly