Reform concepts such as the »New Steering Model« (NSM) became prominent in the German administrative discourse of the 1990s. This article examines the examples of the Speyer Quality Contest and the Carl Bertelsmann Price. These intermunicipal performance contests awarded municipalities for the appropriation of NSM principles, thus popularizing the approach in administrative theory and practice. Simulated competition served as a tool for the relevant stakeholders to negotiate notions of quality and innovation. Actors such as the Joint Office for Administrative Simplification, the University for Administrative Sciences Speyer, and the Bertelsmann Foundation pushed frameworks that conceptualized the municipality as a non-commercial professional service firm. Cities, in turn, hoped to find ways to deliver public services with waning funds. While neither the NSM nor practices of simulated competition dominated the public administrative discourse beyond the early 2000s, they speak to a temporary belief in managerial practices in the public sphere.