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No cause for panic in the model state

14.04.2011, W&V: Elections in Baden-Württemberg turn the political world <br>upside down.

it was a political earthquake the likes of which this traditional part of Germany has never experienced before. Before the backdrop of the atomic disaster in Japan and the months of demonstrations and discussions surrounding the mammoth Stuttgart 21 project, Baden- Württemberg voted its longstanding 'black-yellow' CDU/FDP government out of office. After 58 years of rule, the CDU is now on the opposition bench. The union and the FDP had hoped they would cling on to power until the last minute, which is not surprising as according to the statistics, virtually no other state in Germany boasts such a strong economy as the one in Swabia Yet a strong economy alone wasn’t enough. The state is now going to be governed with a state Premier from the Green party. Is it a shock for many companies? Are firms in the advertising industry slamming on the brakes in uncertainty? “Most of our customers voted CDU or FDP and they don’t know what is going to happen now,” admits Stefan Springer from Stuttgart Agency schwarzspringer. In his opinion it will be several months before it is clear what kind of priorities the new government will offer up when it comes to economic policy. Until then the Agency Director is expecting that at least some contracts will be put on hold. It’s the same story with EnBW. The energy supply firm pulled the emergency cord before the elections and put a whole range of communication projects on ice, a huge disappointment to schwarzspringer as well as the professionals at Kolle Rebbe in Hamburg, which operates as a classic agency. The future of EnBW, in which the former state government had a 4.7 billion Euros holding, is currently unclear. Gerhard Mutter is also mulling over the election results. His Stuttgart Agency ‘Die Crew’, with a staff of 50, has been responsible for the information campaign surrounding the multi-billion redevelopment of Stuttgart Central Railway Station for several months. In addition to the Deutsche Bahn and the German Federal Government, the state of Baden-Württemberg is also one of the project contractors. “Some things are continuing, others have been put on hold,” explains the Agency Director tersely. Two days after the elections, Director of the Deutsche Bahn, Mr Gruber, explained that it was important “not to pre-empt anything – whether in terms of the construction work or the awarding of contracts” until the constituting of the new government was complete. According to Mutter it will only be possible to know what will happen with the Stuttgart 21 project until that has been done. The Advertiser hopes to know more by the end of April. Has the world of communications really entered an ice stage in the state that was once the model for Germany? According to as good as all of the Agency Managers asked this question by W&V, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. The aforementioned examples therefore appear to be exceptional. “Some people are waiting to see what happens, while others are observing the new situation with a certain degree of sympathy,” explains Jörg Dambacher, Director of the agency RTS RiegerTeam which specialises in B-to-B communications. “Nobody is panicking,” says the Advertiser, who hails from Viernheim, talking of his contractors. At the end of the day, Winfried Kretschmann, the designated new state Premier, is far from being a radical eco-leftie, and the Green-Red coalition is in a position of being able to push through a particularly substantial economic policy. “Many people are relaxed about things and waiting to see how the coalition agreement between the Green and SPD parties will turn out,” adds Daniel Adolph, Director at Jung von Matt/Neckar. Despite all of the unsolved questions in energy and education policy as well as Stuttgart 21, there is a considerable “sense of calm” in Baden-Württemberg, confirms Agency consultant Thomas Meichle. And the agencies themselves are similarly confident. Those who don’t depend on the political parties or governmental institutions for their business don’t fear any disadvantages due to the political changeover. “The order books at our customers’ businesses, many of which are world leaders in their field, are well filled,” explains Dambacher, justifying his optimism. “Perhaps too well”, he says with a smile, as when business is booming, some customers decide to pull their advertising. Florian Schmittgall, who among other customers works with the TMBW (Tourism Marketing Baden- Württemberg) at his agency Leonhardt & Kern, is yet to have seen any evidence of belt-tightening. The TMBW manages and markets the big annual event in the state, the ‘Automobilsommer’ (W&V 49/10). A few months before the election, previous state Premier Gerd Mappus had approved additional financial support totalling one million Euros, money that is naturally still available now the election is over. The Automobilsommer officially starts in May and has associations and companies as its partners, including Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. Leonhardt & Kern is doing good business with the TMBW, producing advertising media in addition to other work, and is seeking sponsors for the project. Even Holger Schmid finds it hard to draw any negatives from the political upheaval – even though the CDU is one of his agency’s (DGM) customers. The Agency Director explains how they had done most of their work for the party before the elections. But the elections are now over– and life goes on as before. And life looks pretty good at most agencies right now. If you believe Schmittgall, in the first quarter of 2011, many were still completing orders dating from the final quarter of last year. At the same time, advertising presentations have increased and customers have become more ‘confident’. Not grounds for viewing the approaching months with a sense of scepticism. Moreover, the new government will be sure to make some changes and push ahead with its ‘craze for regulations’ (Meichle), some of which will have to be sold to the local citizens – which means more work for professionals. It is in this context that Advertisers are expecting communicative showdown if the radical changes to schools policy are to be completed. The new policy is aiming to make some radical changes to the system of school classes and school types, and is a topic that proved highly charged and an election decider in Hamburg in 2010. Perhaps the controversial Stuttgart 21 project will also bring some big business towards the agencies – at least for some of them. If a local referendum indeed takes place, the rival camps will be drumming up support for their causes in every which way – and that will include some big advertising budgets.