Michael Köckritz is the founder and publisher of the car and culture magazine ramp and of rampstyle, a lifestyle magazine for men. Lavished with awards and honours for his work, he`s basically the Steve Jobs for style-defining magazines and print storytelling. With his publishing company ramp.space, Michael has launched books as well as other magazine projects, he consults brands, innovates, and rethinks ideas. We met in his studio in Reutlingen – originally for an article in the local city magazine. In this interview, he talks about naysayers, new ways of working as a collective, and finding new ideas.
Michael, you are hugely successful with something that a lot of people call “dead”: print publications. Is print not dead after all?
When we started 15 years ago, there was the hype to go online and do everything digitally. However, we wanted to convey our love for storytelling and making magazines. We lovingly made a luxurious magazine that feels and looks like a luxury at its best: the luxury of demanding and inspiring entertainment, something that`s good for you. The kind of magazine that is like a work of art. Four times a year, over 250 pages. When we started people were bewildered and wondered what I was doing. But it did work out and today there`s a trend in the world of luxury to use the effect and attraction of print.
Print is a statement. It`s different from the rather random digital world. You live with that magazine, you have it with you. It`s a gift for you, it`s yours, part of your life, and you have a connection with the magazine and its content. You keep coming back to it, flicking through its pages. And: it`s curated. That means the stories and the storyline are all following an idea and the character of the magazine. All is well combined. Even those who a few years back considered print as outdated are recognizing its potential. Actually, the brand director of BMW is publishing his customer magazine in print.
You are famous for the ramp magazine that has been winning major awards and honours of the industry. But there`s way more happening here, isn`t it?
We`ve got a media house with our own media brands, all representing attitude and style. There`s a studio and a think-and-do space where we develop showcases for brands – a laboratory for content-based, strategic brand communication. And ever so often we do little lighthouse projects that are especially close to our heart. For example, our recent book “Coolness”.
A recent development is the photo agency ramp.pictures. What`s the idea behind it?
It`s not really an agency but more like a collective. A community of photographers and filmmakers who evolve and develop together and implement inspiration from all areas – sports, arts, … And we offer their service to brands and agencies because oftentimes they ask for our photography and the modern look of our visuals that are very narrative and presumed to be style-defining. That`s why more and more brands and agencies approach us and would like us to either train their photographers or bring in our own photographers. The idea of a collective is at the core of ramp.pictures. It is kind of a derivative of the photographic cooperative Magnum: Not just an agency that provides photographers but a vivid and evolving collective where everyone can be inspired and grow from a multidisciplinary broad view.
Very creative – and a promising idea! How do you come up with new ideas?
You need to be open and curious. There are three ways in which new things come about: There`s the engineer who keeps on developing something to perfection. Then there`s the disruptor who rejects something to replace it with something new. And then there`s the handyman who anticipates happenstance and who sensibly combines and recombines what`s there. However, in order to do exactly that you need to be knowledgeable, read a lot, watch a lot of movies, and be curious about a variety of things. I do that by default lucky enough, not because I need to be creative but because I`m genuinely interested. Creativity is then more like a by-product. When working for clients we follow a system. For a start, we keep the core of the brand in mind. Then we apply first-principle thinking: We identify the parameters that define the goal. By deconstructing the goal in this way you can solve complex tasks nicely.
I can imagine that there are always some people who find your ideas ‘impossible’…
15 years ago, people said: Michael, the magazine that you plan to do, it`s a great and creative idea, but after four issues you will run out of ideas. And what happened? The fourth issue was the biggest one ever with 370 pages. There are so many stories – you just need to find and tell them in a creative way. Today we are in our 15th year and meanwhile, we have developed derived products like the magazine rampstyle. Ten years ago, there was GQ and Esquire. Everyone shared the opinion that the world doesn`t need rampstyle. Except for us: We missed something, and we saw a gap for something that means something to us and to others. So, we published rampstyle, a magazine for men: men who don`t need to be told how things work, men who don’t follow stereotypes, but who have curiosity and wide interest. Men who enjoy good topics, ambitious stories, and visuals. Today, we are said to be style-defining. It`s always worth it to rethink and to think further. You just need to be careful not to become self-absorbed. But you always need to question whether it is really of substance, whether it really makes sense, and who will enjoy it.
Do you sometimes reach limits that even you think unbreachable?
Of course, that happens now and then. You talk about something, think about a challenge, and wonder how to work it. And then the thought comes up: ‘Is that even possible? Is it doable?’ And then experience, guts and high spirits go hand in hand. Sometimes I know from experience, that it won`t work. Nevertheless, it stays on your mind, and you wonder where there is the small gap. The gap where it would make sense to somebody. What would it have to look like? Or is there something entirely different, that would work in this context?
Do you have a vision? What are your plans for the future?
There are loads! My priority is to develop the brand further, the publishing house, and our own media. That defines the core of ramp.space, what we are. The studio will evolve alongside. Here, our clients and partners use our expertise. We work very professionally on a level playing field. Because as a brand we not only stand for expertise, integrated thinking, and creativity, but also for quality in every sense. Then the think-and-do tank, that`s being used to inspire in order to think further in a very hands-on and refreshing manner, and to courageously implement new things. We mostly work with companies in the premium and luxury sectors. However, we happily take the clinic and the jeweler around the corner equally seriously. After all, we see our jobs as great brainteasers. There`s the task, the challenge, there are the parameters – and here we go!