Project Description

Laurent Burdin

Founder, Space555 Projects and Ex-MD, Springer & Jacoby

After graduating from university, he pursued a career in advertising. He successfully managed several agencies and eventually made the shift to the digital and now mobile field. Today, he builds his own company called Space555 Projects. Read the full story here. 

  • Where did you study and how did you get into advertising?

After the French “classe préparatoire”, I was accepted at the EAP (now ESCP Europe) and studied in Paris, Oxford and Düsseldorf. I always say I was three times abroad since I’m originally from Southern France. Oxford was brilliant and my last year in Germany was very defining.

During my time in Düsseldorf I did an internship at Young & Rubicam. Maybe you’ve heard references to them in the TV series Mad Men. I’ve always been fascinated by the advertising industry but this world seemed far, far away when I was still studying.

But, after I graduated, I knocked on the door of Young & Rubicam again and they accepted me. All of a sudden it became real.

“You can talk to millions of users and consumers”
  • What’s important when starting a career in an advertising agency?

The advice that I give to everyone is to spend the first years in a company with good reputation. The agencies in the “Premier League” are very structured. You will learn how the business works very quickly. The quality of people is better, the processes are already there: you get further.

Also, you should not give your soul to your first job. I’ll explain this with a little anecdote: I started as an assistant at the same time as a young woman did. Since we were in the same situation we became friends. Every time we met I asked her how she was doing and she replied: “Fantastic! I’m having so much fun. I love my job!”

I came home and thought: “Damn. She’s having so much fun and I… well, I think it’s okay. But that’s it.” I was distanced to my work. Not thinking that it was good or bad but seeing it for what it is. After four or five months, I went to look for her at work: ”Where is she?” I asked, and I was told that she didn’t make it through the probation period.

That’s why I tell people: Keep a certain distance to your company and your work, even if you’re just starting. Have a look at how the firm and the people work. And keep that helicopter view.


  • Can you give us a summary of your next career steps?

I was two and a half years at Young & Rubicam and then changed to a subsidiary of the French agency TBWA in Düsseldorf. I learnt a lot and travelled a lot to New York. It was quite exciting.

After another four or five years, I helped founding a company called KMM with a client from the automotive industry. I did not have any shares in the company but was the first employee and built it up. It was the first time that I had a managing position. Though I was a bit too young, around 30, and had too little experience it worked somehow.

After the company was sold, I took the opportunity to change to EuroRSCG in Düsseldorf as managing director.

“That’s what makes it so thrilling”
  • What’s the position of a managing director in an agency like?

The job of the managing director is very clear – may it be an advertising, digital or media agency: You spend 80% of your time with your clients and with representation; you have to go on stages, to the press, do interviews and be open.

You spend the remaining 20 % of your time on leading the company somehow. Whether it’s collecting numbers, personnel management or envisioning the future of the company.


  • To what extent are you involved in the creative process?

That’s something I resolved or understood early on: I don’t intervene in the creative process. Though I am glad to help, when asked.

I’ll explain my job a bit more: Since 15 years I make a yearly strategy presentation on a topic that I find interesting for the upcoming year. For example in the digital field, I had a presentation called “The magic of mobile and connection”, which I must have presented like 25 times now. I show my clients where the industry is headed and we start discussions based on that. Discussions lead to projects.

This is done every October and November because that’s when the budget decisions are made in the companies. So it’s very systematically: You have to keep up with the news, produce a study and make a presentation, which has to be just right to the point. You present, discuss and are assigned with projects. These have to be defined and you negotiate the terms. You don’t want to be paid just € 5.000.

When everything is settled you pass the project to your colleagues from creation. They design a concept and the campaign is launched. You analyse what worked and possibly stop, modify or prolong the campaign.

Of course, all this is done with 20 clients at the same time. You work on every project at different stages. One day you’re with your client in Munich, the next day in Düsseldorf. Sometimes you have three different meetings in one day. Everything has to be prepared in perfection. I always say it’s like a large restaurant kitchen.

That’s what makes it so thrilling. You need to think ahead and be able to switch between clients immediately.

Presentation by Laurent Burdin at Next Conference 2012: “The Call To Mobile Adventure”
  • In 1999, you joined Springer & Jacoby, the agency of reference in Germany. Could you shed some light on this passage of your career?

Yes, I was with Springer & Jacoby for more than eight years. Initially, I was managing director for a specific division in Hamburg, then for the subsidiary in Paris, which I helped to built. And eventually became managing director for all of Springer & Jacoby.

It was an exceptional time. You have to know that 80 % of the agency heads today (in Germany) were at Springer & Jacoby at that time. Period. It was an assembly of the best people of the industry.


  • So what made it so special?

Springer & Jacoby shaped a very unique company culture. It was like in the big consultancies like McKinsey.

It was super clear how you had to appear in front of clients. How the offices had to look like. Clean Desk policy, which means nothing on your desk when you leave the office. The assessment of an idea – even if it was creative – followed a clear structure. Social intercourse was also clearly defined; meetings were ritualised.

Being on time was crucial. For example, the doors to a meeting were shut, one minute after it started. If you were too late, no big deal, it happened. But you couldn’t participate and you couldn’t make decisions. This sort of discipline was consequently followed through.

Within this strict framework everyone could evolve in whatever way they wanted. It was a paradox: The framework gave you no freedom at all but at the same time every freedom you could imagine. I incorporated a lot of these things and applied them in later stations.

“Transforming a technical-oriented software firm into an agency”
  • Your next job was at SinnerSchrader, later SinnerSchrader Mobile. Why did you join a digital agency and what was your task there?

After I left Springer & Jacoby, I decided to travel to Japan for 6 weeks. I was hooked by their technological advancement and had a vague idea of wanting to enter this field. At the same time, I met Matthias Schrader, one of the founders and we got along. I grasped the opportunity and joined them.

SinnerSchrader is a very technical-oriented agency. Over 50 % of the employees are technicians. For me, it was a whole new field and I systematically learnt it from scratch.

Back in 2007, we were 90 people; today it’s 550. So it was the beginning of a growth period and my task was its professionalization. I implemented and ritualized what I had learnt at Springer & Jacoby.


  • How did this work?

I had two positions and both times, it was basically the same task: Transforming a technical-oriented software firm into an agency. An agency is more agile, covers more creation services, involves a lot more strategic planning and analytics.

For example, when we bought TIC-mobile and renamed it SinnerSchrader Mobile, they did not have any creation: we had to build it from scratch. Then build the strategic planning, the account management. All the elements that make a customer say: “Okay, they’re good. Maybe I can trust them with bigger projects, not only software projects”. Because any software project will be replaceable at some point.


  • I suppose it was helpful to come from a traditional advertising firm to lead this transformation?

Indeed. That’s exactly what the clients were looking for. In 2008/09/10 the marketing heads of the big companies started to get really interested in digital; (after having ignored the topic for too long). But they didn’t want to talk to an IT manager of some software firm. They wanted to see the same approach they knew from traditional advertising. And that’s certainly a reason why I was chosen to talk to the marketing heads and CEOs.

“I’m going on a tour of the seven largest digital cities in the world”
  • In what way is it different to work in the digital or mobile industry compared to traditional advertising?

Well, it took me 12 months to understand what a digital agency is about – that’s quite some time. Then, it took me another 12 months to become autonomous.

And once you’re autonomous in the digital field, it’s a fantastic ride. The development of technology is tremendously fast – there’s nothing like it in traditional advertising.

For example Apple just introduced its new app language Swift. And there’s a free online course from Stanford University that you can watch. I did that. I don’t know how many people have done this in Germany, but not so many for sure. This illustrates that with technology you always have the chance to be ahead if you are willing to constantly look at new stuff. If you surf on this wave it will carry you along.

Now, at SinnerSchrader Mobile we call what we do a platform agency; as compared to a online/mobile marketing agency. It is not so much about online advertising like SEO, SEM, display advertising and so on. But more about building a platform like a commerce website, a mobile website or app. That’s a highly complex thing and the reason why we have so many technicians.


  • You actually had your last day at SinnerSchrader Mobile yesterday. What’s the plan for the future now?

Right now, I’m working on a new concept for agencies in the digital field. It is called Space555. “555” is the symbol for short, quick projects: 5 days, 5 weeks, 5 months at maximum.

“Space” because it will be a physical and virtual space where everybody who’s quick and smart can join and work with me. This space follows the open source approach.

Usually agencies hide away everything they do and create a sort of mystery around it. I will try to open everything: all the tools, all my work will be available, immediately. And every person who’s motivated and a quick thinker can join and add value right away.

So it will be built on the two pillars: speed and open space. I will test it but before I’m going on a tour of the seven largest digital cities in the world: San Francisco, Palo Alto, London, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo and Shanghai. And back to Berlin/Hamburg.

“What drives me is this constant fight against the boredom of the every day life”
  • As a Frenchman living in Germany, what can you say about working and living here?

I think I always had an advantage here as a Frenchman in Germany. I call it the French bonus. You know, being French, you always have this accent that you’re never really able to talk away. And people like it and are open to work with foreigners, especially French. It works.

With just a small exception: it doesn’t really apply to the very elite class. The very, very top positions are reserved to an elite and German circle in most cases. But for everything else, it’s been great.


  • So what makes you get up every morning?

What drives me is this constant fight against the boredom of the every day life. That’s also why I set up this new type of agency. It is important for me to work on exciting projects, meet exciting people.

If you studied business, there’s nothing more exciting than to have this understanding of the whole economic system and then see it in action. You get such deep insights in so many different companies and there’s always something new coming up. It is impossible to predict. To be at the forefront of new developments is what drives me. And I’m not doing it alone but together with talented, like-minded people.


  • Thanks for sharing your story.