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5 Minutes with…Vanessa Kerkhoff


Vanessa Kerkhoff, CEO of Wunderman Thompson Germany on how young creatives can get recognized in the industry, the talent crunch in Germany and advice for other leaders, writes LBB’s Zoe Antonov

5 Minutes with…Vanessa Kerkhoff

As chief executive officer of Wunderman Thompson in Germany, Vanessa Kerkhoff’s passions and areas of expertise span female mentorship, diversity and inclusion, as well as sustainability. A key objective of hers in the role is to increase visibility and relevance for these topics, whilst establishing a strong and lasting culture around them within the company. 

Vanessa has been in her current role since August 2022. her previous experience includes leading Havas’ German headquarters in Düsseldorf, hosting over 200 employees, working across different leadership roles for American Omnicom agencies, i.e. as vice president global director for BBDO New York and as part of the leadership of HealthWork New York. Having spent over 10 years in the US, primarily in New York and Chicago, before moving back to Germany, Vanessa has extensive knowledge of the two markets and their overlaps (as well as the stark differences between them).

Her love of creativity stems from her art-filled childhood, which subsequently led to her pursuing her career through her first internship at BBDO. Through her time as a junior creative, as well as her time in leadership, Vanessa says that to her the most valuable lesson learned was to ‘be bold and never give up’ - evident through her hard and solid work through the industry. 

LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Vanessa about what makes her leadership style stand out, her first ever projects and what are the passions that keep her busy. 

LBB> Was there an inkling towards creativity in your early life and if so, what was it? 

Vanessa> I always appreciated art. I admired creativity, loved to analyse it, to converse about it. My mom designed fashion, so I guess one could say I grew up in a creative environment, which probably influenced me too. 

LBB> What were the first tangible steps you took to enter the industry (e.g. school, university, internships)? 

Vanessa> It was an internship at BBDO. At that point I had started building my career at one of the most influential retail enterprises in the world. The team who hired me perceived me as a pretty exotic candidate, my friends thought I’d lost my mind going back to start. It was worth it. ☺

LBB> What were the biggest lessons you learned in the beginning stages of your career?

Vanessa> Be bold and never give up. If you believe in something, be a pain in the neck and fight for it. It’s the only way to be recognized as a young, aspiring talent in this crazy industry. 

LBB> When and what was the moment you knew your love for creativity had become your career?

Vanessa> There was this new business pitch for a hip hairstyling brand. I was part of the team, supporting as an entry-level account person. We spent a summer preparing for the big presentation. On the day of the pitch, the CCO saw me in the hallway, wearing shorts and flip flops, and decided I should attend the meeting as a proof point that the agency understood the “young generation”. I even had to present a few slides. I was close to shitting my pants but went along and absolutely loved it. 

LBB> What is the project you're proudest of and why?

Vanessa> I’m passionate about the work and understand my role is to help to make it better. People appreciate my directness and if it’s needed, I’m happy to play devil’s advocate so we don’t miss a beat. With that said, I don’t like delivering mediocre outcomes to clients, so generally speaking I’m proud of all projects I have been involved in. In our industry people work so hard to get good work out of the door – if this isn’t worth our pride, what is? 

LBB> Tell me about the biggest challenges you faced on the path to becoming a leader?

Vanessa> Being too young when I started, too female shortly after, too foreign when I worked abroad, and too global when I returned to my home market. I couldn’t change any of this, so decided to ignore the noise, carry on with my career, and leverage each and every point. It worked. 

LBB> What are the biggest challenges of the industry in Germany currently? 

Vanessa> I’d say finding the right talent. Our business has significantly increased in complexity during the past few years and as employers we compete with companies that are able to pay much higher salaries than an agency could ever afford.  

LBB> What part of your job as CEO of Wunderman Thompson Germany do you love most and why? 

Vanessa> Working with people, making their lives better, helping them thrive in their careers. I had wonderful mentors in the past and love playing this role for others too. 

LBB> What does it take to be the key decision maker in the company during a time of crisis in Europe and what is your advice to other CEOs for the coming winter, especially within advertising?

Vanessa> Believe in the quality of your work and the value you create for your clients. Then don’t be afraid to ask for fair and appropriate compensation. It’s a well-known challenge for agencies, but even more important in times of economic crisis. 

LBB> What is your biggest passion?

Vanessa> Travelling to exotic places that teach you new things and allow access to fresh perspectives on life. 

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Wunderman Thompson Germany, Thu, 24 Nov 2022 16:29:37 GMT