Nominated for "Advertiser of the Year": Roman Geiser, Farner Consulting

Nominated for "Advertiser of the Year" 2019 is Roman Geiser, CEO and majority shareholder of the Farner Consulting agency.


Roman Geiser was surprised but delighted when Werbewoche gave him the news that he had been nominated for "Advertiser of the Year" 2019. Surprised, because the 51-year-old sees himself not as an advertiser but as a communicator and originally comes from a different "corner", political campaigning. Pleased, because the top-class jury of experts not only honored the achievements of a respected professional colleague, but also took into account the changes in the world of advertising and communication. 

The industry and the market are changing, old patterns are being broken down, tasks are becoming more complex - and Farner Consulting is at the forefront. In the LSA ranking of the agencies with the highest revenues, the company ranks second behind Publicis. A side note: Publicis was also founded by Rudolf Farner, who spun off the advertising department from the PR office in 1972.

Roman Geiser took over Farner in 2012 as the new majority shareholder - only the fourth in the agency's history - from his predecessor Christian König. At the PR agency Burson-Marsteller, he previously headed the Swiss business and was ultimately responsible for over 20 international markets as COO EMEA in the WPP Group. Constant travel and the need to be closer to the consulting business again, closer to the team and the clients, drove him back to Switzerland.

Since joining Farner, the trained business economist has been driving development as CEO with a clear vision. From a PR agency specializing in corporate and public affairs, Geiser has built what he is proud to call "the most complete agency in Switzerland. Under the Farner umbrella, he has brought together a wide variety of disciplines in seven Swiss locations, all of which are in demand in modern communications, and has them work together as one. Interdisciplinary teams are assembled from 13 highly specialized units, each of which also serves its own clients and markets, depending on the complexity of the task. Under Geiser, the in-house advertising studio has become a marketable creation that, under the direction of ex-Wirz-ECD Philipp Skrabal, now operates on a par with the competition. "I am an advertiser in that I believe in this discipline - but only in context, only in the orchestra of all communication," says Geiser.

His vision of completeness is working. When he took over, the company's turnover was CHF 11 million; today it is CHF 30 million. Most of the growth has been organic, with the addition of YJOO, an agency specializing in brands, and a team specializing in change and internal communications.

Geiser also locates the reasons for the model's success in the agency's DNA. "Our formula is interesting because we come from content," he says. "Seven units today only deal with specific industries in terms of content. They know what the client is talking about, understand the industry's value chain, know its language. If you bring these content people together with creative and digital after that, you're pretty well set." 

Another reason is that in the increasingly complex world of communication, trust is becoming the most important commodity, Geiser adds. "Trust only comes about through close relationships. The stakeholder view of a former PR agency is more relationship-oriented than that of a former classic advertising agency that primarily served mass markets."

Campaigns Farner Consulting 2018ProVelo - Left turn

"In the fictitious casting show "Velotalent of Switzerland", a jury of three (Viktor Giacobbo, Fabienne Hadorn, Walter Schlegel) judges the riding style of cyclists. The social films draw attention to two simple cycling rules in an entertaining way and generate over a million views and numerous media reports in a very short time."

SBB - Employer Branding

"SBB's employer campaign focuses on employees and their performance. And it does so across all touchpoints: from the website to job advertisements and social ads. These are flanked by innovative measures such as the pop-up Job Café and the social TV format "Merci Tivi". The campaign is having an impact: The new employer brand enjoys high popularity and is perceived as modern, dynamic and refreshing."

Julius Baer - Formula E / #window2thefuture


"The title sponsorship of Formula E in Zurich serves as the occasion for a broad 360° campaign in close collaboration with founding partner Julius Baer and ETH Zurich, incl. CGI visualizations of the "Zurich of the Future", a content hub with documentaries ( as well as an advertising campaign and a data-based performance campaign."

"We are not a PR, marketing, advertising or "I-don't-know-what" agency."


Werbewoche: What was your first thought when you heard about the nomination for Advertiser of the Year? 

Roman Geiser: Surprised. The jury is brave, because I am a communicator and not a priori an advertiser. But also honored and delighted, because the nomination has a signal effect: It would be the first time that the industry has honored a communicator and non-advertiser as "Advertiser of the Year". The industry thus shows that it has broken with the old silos between the disciplines - that it is capable of change and agile. 


In general: What does advertising mean to you? 

"Advertising" for me are approaches that pursue communication top-down, in push mode, and through uniform channels. I'm much more likely to look for approaches that strategically combine content expertise, creativity and digital marketing at eye level. In that sense, advertising is a silo for me that I definitely want to avoid. But symbolically, advertising for me also stands for strong, creative ideas that move and can be staged emotionally. That's why it's an integral part of effective communication. 


Looking back on 2018: What was your personal highlight of the advertising year? 

Ferner's award as "Consulting Firm of the Year in Germany, Austria and Switzerland" by the Holmes Report in May 2018. This award is a great recognition of the achievements of the entire team. Then our joining the LSA, which underlines the transformation of the entire industry. Finally, the campaigns for Julius Baer, SBB and Made Visible have left a beautiful signature of the agency.


In which area did your agency improve last year compared to the previous year? 

We are growing at an above-average rate in creation, digital marketing and brand communication. Our consistently integrated, content-based approach is triggering a very positive response from clients. In parallel, the Farner disciplines of corporate communications, public affairs and change are developing steadily, and our regional support with seven offices throughout Switzerland also strongly differentiates us. In November 2018, we also opened our own innovation lab, Farner Lab, where we work with clients on pilot projects to develop better brand experiences at the intersection of marketing, design and technology.


What do you think your agency is particularly strong at? 

We are not a PR, marketing, advertising or "I-don't-know-what" agency, but a communications agency that has broken with all silos and lives integration anew and completely under one roof. Farner tries to unite the "holy triad of communication" in large but also small projects: creation, digital and content. Through seven locations, we work in all economic regions of Switzerland and are closer to the relevant topics thanks to digital analytics and specialized industry teams. Finally, the agency is owner-managed and independent, and the management is itself active in consulting. And I am only the fourth majority owner in around 70 years of agency history. That's how we create continuity and stability.


Where do you see the biggest current challenges in the advertising and communications industry? 

The VUKA world is the greatest challenge and opportunity at the same time. We live in a fast, unpredictable and complex world. In an environment full of contradictions and in a flood of information. Good communication is more in demand here than ever before - but also increasingly demanding. Today, this can only be done successfully together and across disciplines. Navigating this complexity requires an attitude that keeps the context in view. It's a challenge - but one that keeps me enthusiastically involved in the industry.


What makes you confident that it will continue to be fun to work in your industry in the future? 

The variety! I have been a communications consultant for over 20 years and I have never been bored. There's no such thing as a standard X, and there's always something new to learn. Farner gets to work on relevant issues that affect business, politics and society in Switzerland. We help manage corporate crises, shape political issues, help brands achieve breakthroughs, change organizations, set themes, inspire products or support startups. I read the newspapers on Sunday and discover between 10 and 20 topics in which the agency is actively involved.


How do you think the advertising and communications industry is perceived "from the outside"? Is its reputation good enough?

Trust in the media is strained - especially in paid communication. I don't need to say much about the topic of "fake news. So it's not surprising if people view the communications industry with skepticism. But we believe that this is precisely why it is our job to build the necessary bridges in this environment, to build relationships and create a sense of closeness. Communication should connect people and thus create trust. Trust is becoming an increasingly important resource in an increasingly complex world. Working on this essence may fill the industry with pride and confidence.


Is there anything that bothers you about your industry? 

We are too defensive and negative about the role and importance of the industry. We whine. Yet we have every reason to be proud and confident. The need for communication is increasing in an increasingly complex, unpredictable world, and that is why we are making a significant contribution. Communication has become a strategic pillar of sustainable corporate development and has left the status of a "staff unit".


Who has influenced you the most professionally? 

Firstly, Dieter Jäggi, who opened the door to communications consulting for me back then. After a few years at the umbrella organization of the Swiss economy - economiesuisse - I was allowed to learn the consulting trade at his agency. Then Harold Burson, the founder of the global PR agency Burson-Marsteller. He understood communication not only as a craft, but always as an attitude. And of course Christian König, my predecessor at Farner, who gave me the chance to join Farner and replace him as majority owner. After all, I've had a few superiors in the course of my career, and I've always learned something for myself from both the good and the not-so-good ones.


What has been the most difficult decision of your career so far?

That was probably the decision to leave the made nest of the WPP Group career and to take on the entrepreneurial challenge of taking over Farner. In my last position before Farner, I was able to manage international and global projects and lead a group region with over 20 markets as COO. Leaving this international agency world and coming "back to Switzerland" was not an easy decision. But I have never regretted it.


And which one the best? 

Often, the most difficult decisions are also the best ones. I haven't regretted my entrepreneurial journey for a second and am grateful for my seven years at Farner. I feel privileged to have a task that I can pursue with passion. Day after day.


Where would you work if not in the communications industry?

Ultimately, my love of language led me into communication, and so I could imagine many jobs that rely on the power of words. Journalist, politician, author, think-tanker. But only as a freelancer, because entrepreneurship and the corresponding creative possibilities fascinate me just as much as the content.


What are your strengths?

I am curious and enjoy topics with intellectual pretensions. I am energetic, like to turn thoughts into reality, and over the years I have been able to develop a good eye for relevant strategic patterns. And probably the most important thing: I like people and enjoy listening to them.


And where do you prefer to let others in the team take the lead? 

When analyzing the past, because my own gaze is always directed forward. That can be harmful. Others are also better than me at "finishing," because the big lines are often too fast for me. And I'm not particularly adaptable, because freedom drives me.


What three words would you use to describe yourself? 

I like to leave that to others, it's usually more accurate than the ego view.


How would you describe your leadership style? 

For all my performance orientation and drive, attitudes and values are important to me. I want to shape an organization that lives from a strong purpose and in which employees can get involved and make a valuable contribution. I see myself as a shaper of this framework.


You are given a day off tomorrow: how do you organize it? 

I usually spend my weekends in Arosa and feel at home there. I would spend a gift day there.


Which superpower would you choose if you had the choice? 

Stretch space and time.


Why would you be a good "Advertiser of the Year"? 

Because this is THE chance to rename the "Advertiser of the Year" to the "Communicator of the Year" and give advertising an extra dimension.


The election procedure: The online election will take place next week (week 13). All subscribers to the MK Werbewoche Expodata newsletter are eligible to vote. The vote of the readership contributes 50 percent to the decision. The other 50 percent is contributed by the expert jury - each member may cast one vote for one of the three nominees. The winner will be announced on April 17 at the Best of Swiss Web Award Night in the Samsung Hall Zurich. 

Interview with Roman Geiser

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