Antoni: building bespoke agencies for brands

Antoni CCO Matthias Schmidt takes us inside the German agency group with a highly unusual business model.

por Mark Tungate , AdForum

Photo by Robert Wunsch

 

Germany’s antoni isn’t exactly an agency – it’s more like an ecosystem of separate agencies, each working for a specific client. The journey began in 2015 with Mercedes-Benz and progressed from there, in the form of  tailor-made agencies for the likes of Aldi, Vodafone and Kärcher, among others.

Chief creative officer Matthias Schmidt shared some insights into the group’s history and philosophy.

 

Matthias, before we talk in more detail about antoni, can you tell us a little about how your career led you there?

I am from  Germany so I’ve loved cars since I was a kid. As I grew up in Frankfurt, our financial capital, I ended up in a bank. Actually I was really bad as a banker and felt bored. Berlin was a very fascinating place at that time. I enrolled in the local arts school and somehow woke up studying communication. Working as a bicycle messenger was my first contact with ad agencies. I joined Scholz & Friends as a student copywriter and somehow we won the Mercedes-Benz trucks budget. Not really cars, but close at least. Since then I think I’ve never not worked for an automotive client. After Scholz & Friends for more than 14 years I had stint at DDB for Volkswagen and then joined antoni to help build the agency.

 

I believe antoni was originally founded in 2015 as the lead agency for Mercedes-Benz. How did that come about? Did it break away from an existing agency due to a conflict?

Mercedes-Benz is one of, if not the most prestigious, advertising budgets in Germany. In 2014 the brand invited the who’s who of the industry to a pitch, including their existing agency Jung von Matt. None of the agencies really convinced in the process, especially because none of them was able to answer a very simple question: “Can you guarantee that all the fantastic people you were presenting to us in this pitch process will dedicate 100% of their time and energy to our precious brand?” Questioning the whole (and as I believe nonsense) pitch game led directly to the birth of antoni. The car brand called André Kemper, the former CCO of Germany’s legendary boutique agency Springer & Jacoby and Dr. Tonio Kröger, formerly at Mercedes and CEO of DDB, to found an agency exclusively for the brand. You may have noticed that the name an-toni comes from our founders – André and Tonio.

 

Today antoni is not just one agency but several, all dedicated to specific brands. Tell us a little bit more about how this unusual business model works. How many agencies are there? And do staff move between the agencies?

For me, working exclusively for one brand, not being distracted by other clients, was life changing. After a few months I felt that the quality of the creative was significantly better, because it was rooted deeper in the brand. At same time, promising our client 100% of our time meant that antoni was not able to participate in pitches. Our agency model was born, but quite honestly we were not sure if we had a business model too. Other brands took notice of our work and our philosophy. Both seemed to be convincing as we were able to build one agency a year for a new brand, with antoni_99 for the retail brand ALDI as our latest baby.

Each of the agencies is a bespoke unit with people who have a specific expertise matching the needs of their client. And of course they work for this client only, because that’s our idea. We were growing and the people were able to grow with us. Many antonis of the first days are now in leading positions in one of the younger agencies.

 

Many of us have begun to work differently since the beginning of the pandemic – working from home, migrating from the city, or benefiting from more flexible office hours. How has this new freedom impacted creativity among your people, or even in society?

Working from home has made me see clearer, why we have and need offices – and why it’s sometimes better to be not in the office at all. Excellence is at the core of antoni. I think real excellent work is not made in remote work, neither are excellent teams or an excellent company culture. At the same time I know that we live in the 21st century and it would be very stupid to order all my colleagues into the office. Because there are definitely things you can do even better at home. Writing this text for example. The answer to all these questions is trust in the people at antoni. They know their work and they are the best to decide when it’s crucial to be at antoni and when it’s better to be at home, taking care of your laundry. That’s what I do when I try to crack a brief. So why should I interfere?

 

Awards season is about to get into full swing. How do you feel about awards and the importance (or otherwise) of putting your work on a global stage in this way?

Unfortunately I’ve seen quite a lot of work from Germany in the last years that was designed on purpose for award shows. It’s something I find rather ridiculous and, again, is against our agency philosophy to dedicate our time to the clients who pay our salaries. But awards are important to attract and retain talent. So we have a very simple strategy. Our best work to the best shows only. German ADC, Cannes, D&AD and maybe one more. It’s not really a strategy to top the annual agency rankings, but I’ve never heard a client asking me about antoni’s position in a ranking.