Michael Conrad and Walter Lürzer had already worked together in Frankfurt for Young & Rubicam and Heumann Ogilvy & Mather when they left to set up their first shop in Mr. Conrad's family apartment in 1972. Mr. Conrad was 30 and Mr. Lürzer, 28.
At the time, Paris-based hot shop TBWA was looking for partners in Germany. Messrs. Conrad and Lürzer shelved their plans and instead opened the Frankfurt office of TBWA. In 1974, Mr. Lürzer resigned, and Mr. Conrad soon joined him to have another shot at running their own agency.
They picked up a half-dozen accounts within their first four months. By timing the release of new-business notices to the trade press, and by running a series of four self-promotion ads as pages in a business weekly, the new agency, called Lürzer, Conrad, created an immediate buzz within the industry.
Cointreau on the rocks
In working on an early campaign for client Cointreau liqueur, Messrs. Conrad and Lürzer discovered that most Germans knew the product but were not drinking it because it was too sweet. In 1978, Mr. Conrad convinced company owner Max Cointreau that Cointreau tasted great on ice, which reduced the sweetness. The young agency then created a campaign based on the liqueur's twin lives as a pure or an on-the-rocks beverage. Cointreau's sales decline in Germany stopped, and the idea of serving a product on ice for a more contemporary taste became standard for liquor marketers worldwide.
In the late 1970s, some of the agency's clients, including Bosch, Braun and Margaret Astor cosmetics, became increasingly focused on pan-European advertising. Messrs. Conrad and Lürzer concluded that Leo Burnett Deutschland offered the best stable of fast-moving package-goods clients to complement their agency's roster of banks, appliances and cosmetics.
In 1980, the agency merged with Burnett and was renamed Lürzer, Conrad & Leo Burnett.
The agency got off to a rough start as a Burnett shop. A downturn in the German economy and a client loss resulting from the merger was responsible for a 13% drop in billings in 1981. Then in 1982, agency Chairman Dieter Karp died in an accident. And although the agency would continue to bear his name for four years, Mr. Lürzer embarked on a solo career, eventually opening the Lowe, Lürzer office in Frankfurt.
That tumultuous period was critical to the future of both the Frankfurt agency and, eventually, Burnett offices worldwide. First, Reiner Erfert, who founded the Lintas agency's Frankfurt office, was hired to replace Mr. Karp as chairman. Also in this period, Lürzer, Conrad & Leo Burnett was charged with introducing a new economy car, the Fiat Panda; its iconoclastic ad campaign swept up major awards in 1982 and 1983.
Dubbing the Panda "die tolle Kiste" (the "mad box") and running witty headlines—including one that ran above a picture of a man speaking to his psychiatrist: "I'm in favor of pollution control. Against animal testing. For hand-knitted sweaters . . . and whole-wheat bread. Against pre-fab housing. But for the Fiat Panda. Am I schizophrenic?"—the agency created a sensation around the Panda that made it the hottest-selling import in its class. Panda market share jumped from 5.9% in 1981 to 7.6% in 1982, helping make Fiat the largest exporter of cars to Germany.
The Panda campaign continued into the 21st century as one of the longest running in German ad history. In 1996, Messrs. Conrad and Lürzer were made honorary members of Germany's Art Directors Club, in part for their work for Fiat.
Mr. Conrad's departure
In 1986, Mr. Conrad remained a partner but left the Frankfurt agency to join Burnett's Chicago office as president of Leo Burnett International. The move was controversial, but the agency prospered under the new name of Michael Conrad & Leo Burnett.
In the 1990s, the agency lost some of the gloss of its initial years but produced solid, brand-building advertising for blue-chip clients that included Philip Morris Cos., Kellogg Co. and Procter & Gamble Co.
In the mid-1990s, MC&LB created the launch campaign for Focus, a newsweekly that quickly rivaled the entrenched Der Spiegel in both circulation and ad revenue. In what is generally regarded as the most successful magazine introduction in Germany, the agency promoted the weekly's pared-down editorial content and splashy graphics as the preferred read for Germany's "info elite" (Mr. Conrad's term) through the tagline, "Facts, facts, facts."
As Mr. Conrad rose up the ranks in Chicago—in 1993 to the post of group VP and deputy CEO—Mr. Erfert organized the expansion of Leo Burnett into Eastern Europe from Frankfurt. Mr. Erfert was appointed vice chairman of Burnett for Europe, the Near East and Africa in 1992. In 1995, he was appointed to the board of Burnett in Chicago.
After recruiting Heimar Schroter as CEO of MC&LB in 1997, Mr. Erfert officially withdrew from the Frankfurt agency in 1998. In 1997, Mr. Conrad was named vice chairman-chief creative officer for Burnett, becoming the first German to hold the top creative job at a major international agency network.
In 2001, MC&LB had gross income of $48.6 million, down 1.5% from the previous year, and billings of $327.1 million.
In Nov. 2002, Michael Conrad announced his retirement as vice chairman-chief creative officer of Leo Burnett Worldwide. Miguel Angel Furones on Jan. 1, 2003, took the creative helm for the global agency, rising from deputy chief creative officer.