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Thomas Dempewolf: “Germany Is Attracting Global Talent"

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Thomas Dempewolf, creative partner and ECD at Scholz & Friend tells LBB about how being on a waiting list for university led him to advertising, and about Hamburg’s creative evolution

Thomas Dempewolf: “Germany Is Attracting Global Talent"

REKORDER, the Berlin-based film and photography creative production studio, is proud to support LBB. Over the upcoming months, as part of the sponsorship of the German Edition, we will celebrate creativity and introduce some of the most innovative and creative minds in the industry.

Today, Scholz & Friend creative partner and ECD Thomas Dempewolf speaks with LBB about joining the industry by chance, falling in love with copywriting and feeling “not done with it” yet, over 20 years later. He also reflects on Hamburg’s creative evolution, the silver lining that Covid-19 brought to the local industry, and his best career advice to date. 


LBB> What were your influences and inspirations growing up? And at what point did you know a career in this industry was the right one?

Thomas> To be honest, I did not fall in love with the industry at first sight. When I finished school, my plan of what my future career would look like was completely different. Growing up with a mother who worked for an airline for as long as I can remember did not prepare me for advertising, but for seeing the world from above. That felt very good and very right. But then I got in touch with the fact that maybe not everything goes as planned and had to change my plans spontaneously. After entering the waiting list for university, I thought maybe I could use the waiting time to do something. That “something” was advertising. The rest is history. I started copywriting. After over twenty years in business I’m still not done with it. I added some additional skills to that, and met great people. It is still a great industry, has exciting possibilities and never-ending challenges. It feels awesome to be a part of it.


LBB> Over the course of your career, you’ve spent the bulk of your time working in Hamburg. How have you seen the city’s creative culture change and evolve throughout that time?

Thomas> I think the last twenty years have been the most challenging for the evolution of creative culture overall. For a long time, Hamburg had a big magnetism for people in the industry as a city. Entry to the best shops was restricted, living here was expensive. We were all in that little Hamburg bubble, where everyone knew everyone and no one was looking much outside this box. There were many reasons why this couldn’t go on forever, and in the end covid finally changed this for the better. 

We learned a lot about opening up. Working remotely together with people from all around the world. People who don’t have to sit in the office every day to be a part of our gang. We got even more diverse, more international; we challenged the limits that Hamburg’s location gave us. And now we are facing a different challenge: recruiting the best talents – no matter where they are from – to work with us. And that isn’t about Hamburg anymore. It’s more about the agency’s creative culture and the creative output. The range of reasons that make them say “yes, I’m in” is growing and growing. Collaboration instead of city limits. “Hello future” of advertising. 


LBB> And how does that fit into the bigger picture nationally? To what extent is Hamburg’s creative culture distinctively ‘German’, or specific to Hamburg?

Thomas> When talking about the ‘German’ creative culture, most people are talking about Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich. These are the cities where the big names in the industry were located, where the best creative structures were set up and where most clients anticipated to get the best creative value for money. But advertising is a people business. And these people – together with their creativity – are literally coming from everywhere. The four strongest German advertising cities are still a magnet for creatives, but it became a lot less important to actually be there for our creative staff. And that’s good! You can also be creative at a high level when you are working from home or from a small village. I really love the dynamics that have taken over now. The real passion for talents is growing and growing. People from everywhere are starting to work with us because they want to and not because they can because of where they live; they are sharing their visions and cultures with us. That is the beginning of a perfect collaboration without local limits.


LBB> You joined Scholz & Friends as ECD in 2019 and now you’re creative partner / managing director. How has your role developed during this time and what changes have you seen in the German ad landscape?

Thomas> When I started at Scholz & Friends, my role was executing creative excellence with my teams and colleagues to excite new and existing clients. It was about the craft and the creative product, adding that special something to remember, to perfectly blend in strategy, or just to make work into a thoughtful piece of advertising. I really loved doing that together with people. When taking over the creative responsibility for Hamburg, that somehow changed a little bit, but also stayed the same. On the one hand we are still working all together on our creative product and I’m part of that process like anyone else. 

Job titles don’t matter, it’s always about gathering the best people to get the job done. On the other hand, I got the chance to change what I thought might stand in the way of a future-oriented agency that you would recommend to your friend. That’s why I tried to introduce a possible change process in the agency. Implementing that meant adjusting structures, challenging points of view, changing roles of people. Developing a sustainable framework for new work that aligns with our agency’s vision and everything that comes with it, is now a part of my daily work. Additionally, the role of being a coach to my creatives also stretched a lot. We grow together, fail together but we are always moving forward. I really enjoy that. 

When I look around, I see this kind of change is happening in many places. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. However, the industry is not only talking anymore but keeps pushing, because – hopefully – they have all seen and agreed that we must change in many ways. 


LBB> Scholz & Friends believes in making connections in a fragmented world. What does this mean to you and how does it play out in your everyday role and through the company?

Thomas> I know how important connections are. All of us at Scholz & Friends do. But only if they are meaningful. For over 41 years, we have been creating brand experiences with passion and creativity that change the way people think, feel and act. It is in our DNA. And we believe in friendship. That’s how we work together. In this case, it’s the friendship of creative aspiration, strategic excellence, and a trusting partnership with every client. That is what I personally stand for. And it is my mantra for everything that leaves the agency. I hope to be a good role model with that.


LBB> Looking back over your career, are there any projects or pieces of work which stand out as especially significant for you?

Thomas> I loved my work for Volkswagen. I worked with Robbie Williams, for the Golf, for the Up, had the pleasure to learn from and work together with Amir Kassaei or André Kemper. Together with a gorgeous team and Max Lederer, I reinvented ‘BMW.com’ once or twice. I did lots of fun stuff for Mini, Opel, Mercedes-Benz, but also Mastercard, VHV, PETA – all the great brands. I laughed my ass off writing audio spots for music schools, editing services or adult streaming formats. I won prizes with many of them. But to be honest: TMTL I’d say. However, what really stood out to me was that there was never a safe ground like focussing on doing TV, or dialogue, or online, or social, or mobile, or whatever … but always a challenging question that was the beginning of all of these projects. And I love finding that answer. Still. 


LBB> And finally, what is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career so far?

Thomas> Well, as you all know advertising used to be and still is very competitive. Someone told me in the beginning of my career I should leave the industry, because I was a mediocre creative who would never amount to anything. These kinds of comments from some ‘old famous guys’ in advertising made me ask myself if I really wanted to make it. The answer was yes! And that was my ultimate motivation, and proving them wrong was also quite fun. What I want to say is this: If you want to do it, listen to yourself. Don’t let people that don’t know you and have no interest in you tell you what you are capable of. If you are good at it, if you love what you do, there will be a place. And if not, you’ll find out by yourself. This is what I still believe in.

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REKORDER, Fri, 04 Nov 2022 08:27:29 GMT