Note: This is the translation of the article below. Werbewoche is Switzerland's most important advertising trade magazine. In every issue they have something called the "head of the week" a portrait of someone they find worthy for such a feature.
Another note: The name of the company... An eplanation: My last name "Wrage" (as often in German, the "W" is spoken like a "V") sounds almost like "Frage" which is the German word for "question". As you might have already guessed, "Antwort" is the German word for "answer". Makes for a pretty good name. In German.
Wrage’s Agency For Boosting Creative Powers
After 20 years in international advertising agencies, Folker Wrage is starting his own consulting company. His “Wrage/Antwort” wants to help companies find creative answers to business challenges.
During recent years, his work was characterized mostly by change management projects. On his last assignment that lasted over a year and ended in August 2013, he helped bring back McCann Erickson in Istanbul almost “from 0 to 100”. Wrage’s answers to change were also in demand when McCann Erickson wanted to improve their position in Zurich in late 2010. Their change management was well on its way when their headquarter in Frankfurt lost the Opel account globally. In Zurich, this was more than half of the business. Consequently, the office was closed. “Not the right decision”, as Folker Wrage is still convinced today.
Still, this turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for him. “Without my transfer from Zurich to Istanbul, I probably wouldn’t have gone back to school again.” Folker Wrage turned his experience with the creatives on the Bosphorus into his thesis at the renowned Berlin School of Creative Leadership, earning him his MBA. The subject of his thesis: “U-Turn – How To Turn An Agency Around In 12 Months.”
When the Turkish office was running well again without him, taking the courage to start his own thing was the logical next step. His new company Wrage/Antwort is operating from Zurich and offers companies a variety of consulting products. One of the main offers is a combination of interim and change management, aiming to use times of transition in the management to start working on important change projects within the company. And even in shorter analysis assignments, an integration into the work process is sought.
“The basis for this is my conviction that after many rounds of cost cutting and efficiency programs, companies will increasingly need to tap into creative potentials within their company and use them to differentiate themselves from the competition. This is not only true for communication and product development, but for all other parts of their business.”
Discovering creative potential
The offer is primarily directed towards companies of the creative industries, but is explicitly not limited to those. At the moment, Wrage is in conversation with his previous employer McCann, and is already working on several small projects for the Swiss branch of an international brewery.
Wrage can also help find answers when, for example, an agency or any other company does have creative abilities and capacities within their organization, but somehow struggle to “transfer” it into the creation of their products. “We put too much focus on simply carrying things out, just operating, and don’t make any progress in creativity” is what these businesses might be concerned about. Wrage also thinks that many agencies have not been able to tackle the digital challenge very well yet, both on an organizational and on strategic level. “That’s a question of structures and processes, really. My role in this can be either strategic or tactical – but always very close to the work process” explains Wrage who can look back on more than 20 years of experience in different agencies.
Folker Wrage started out studying psychology. Around that time, he also worked as a flight attendant for five years. “But that’s not necessarily a profession that you really want to do all your life. So the question arose: What can I do that challenges my brain more?” The answer for him was writing. The music connoisseur that still DJs from time to time on his days off, worked his way up to being an editor-in-chief for a magazine for the club- and in-crowd in Frankfurt, primarily writing reviews. And since he knew a creative director at OgilvyOne, the music journalist could occasionally take jobs writing on small advertising assignments. His work was well received, and so he was finally asked to work 100% in advertising. In just ten years, the DJ moved from being Junior Copywriter to CD, and finally Executive Creative Director at OgilvyOne.
In 2003, Wrage moved on as CD to Leo Burnett in Frankfurt. 2006 he changed for the same position in the same town to Saatchi & Saatchi. And finally, in 2008, he was called to work in Zurich. At Publicis Dialog the task was to creatively push the integration of Fisch Meier Direkt.
After the “fire drill” at McCann Zurich the troubleshooter was offered an assignment with an even more difficult task within the network, in Istanbul. “I didn’t exactly know what was waiting for me down there. But after a whole day of talks in the agency and dinner with the new CEO I simply looked into his eyes and knew: This is a big challenge, but also a chance.” Three weeks later, Folker Wrage moved to Istanbul.
The McCann office at the border of Europe and the orient was „de facto devastated, both regarding motivation and the business. Without their own fault, the office had lost two large international clients. As a consequence, many employees had to be let go. The executive creatives had left the agency, as well as the Chief Marketing Officer. “It was a mess. But I tried to find among the people that were left those that I could motivate again to create positive change. We immediately started to make some important decisions, primarily because most of the leadership had left. On the other hand, I wanted to go for a new positioning of the agency. I quickly saw that we needed to create a digital product that would be creative, visible, and of high quality. Without that we wouldn’t have had a chance to differentiate ourselves in that market.
After just three months they were already there: The creative department that “had been left without pride and confidence” had been turned into an “active, modern, and happily working department.” Of course, a bit of luck was involved as well. “We quickly won a large new client. That helped grow trust quickly.”
Developing in different directions
Towards fall 2013, Folker Wrage moved back from Istanbul to his tastefully renovated farm house close to Dübendorf. Here, he could take the time to enter the last chapters of his thesis for the Berlin School of Creative Leadership into his computer.
But the idea for this additional education had been circling in his head long before Istanbul. “There comes a point, when you have worked your way through the creative departments of the international agencies to reach management level, when you have two options: You either think everything is just fine and you’re satisfied with what you have achieved. Or – and in my case this is what happened – you want to take on more responsibility than “just” as the head of the creative department.” Most agencies, he says, are still organized in a way “where even the CCO is regarded as a CD, and not as part of the management.” Folker Wrage was way too interested in leading and shaping a company to be limited to this traditional CD role. “With an MBA, you do get more respect.”
With his international professional history in different agencies, and now with his degree, Folker Wrage counts primarily on advertising agencies to be interested in his services as consultant and coach. “Many companies have been reduced to efficiency and have been shrunk to the max. How do they want to improve their position now? They are under heavy pressure. Employees are overworked, motivation is low. In short: There is simply no more time for an “extra round”, do do something on top. In cases like that my job is to enable this organization to take a more creative look at how they work and how they are structured.”
Folker Wrage is convinced that there is more creative potential in every organization than suspected, “and that’s what I want to help harness.” How this is done and in which areas doesn’t have to be specifically defined in advance. “That becomes clear in the first conversations with my clients. They understand that they could do more, and then we approach the task together and analyze, what can be done where. There is no shortage in tools and models.”
Of course, being from Germany, Wrage has also thought about the possibility of starting his business somewhere else, and not in Zurich. He wants to work internationally, and has just published a long article in the American issue of Forbes. But the German feels that he is in the right place, even after the latest elections [that ask for a limitation of foreigners moving to Switzerland]. “Switzerland is an international place. I can work well from here, serving Germany, and Eastern Europe.” Plus: His wife Constantine, who was looking after their home during Wrage’s excursion to Turkey, is deeply busy with projects herself. As an independent producer she is working for different advertising agencies, and has just completed the production of a new TVC with Roger Federer for Credit Suisse. “That’s a big one,” as Wrage comments. From time to time he enjoys her help in organizing his projects. But starting an agency together is – for now – not an option.
Wrage/Antwort was constructed primarily around the experience of his creative head, and will work using his “exciting and diverse network.” He also relies on this network in communicating his new services. Wrage built it as a jury member of various creative awards and festivals like Cannes Lions, New York Festival, John Caples Award, and Golden Drum, as well as by being a speaker at a number of summits. This March, he is speaking about change management at the World Summit of FESPA, a global organization for the print industry. And in May, he will lead a workshop in Prague, asking “how can I make my company more creative?” The founder is convinced: “By being present at these events, and by presenting content and ideas, my business is more or less building automatically.”
Being asked whether Wrage/Antwort might one day turn into a “real” advertising agency, the versatile consultant wants to “keep all options.” A lot of people in Zurich that had worked together with him, would like to work in agency with him again. But: “I prefer not to define what Wrage/Antwort will turn into. I like to leave that open, and I find it much more exciting to start now with something that I believe in, and then look how people react to it. I compare this to prototyping, something that is normally done in product design. It’s one of the principles that I started this company with: a business model that is constantly adapting while the company is developing, going through phases and steps of change.”