"The powerful in the industry are getting more powerful"

Lajos Vizner and Guillaume Borel, owners of the agency ViznerBorel, explain in an interview with Werbewoche.ch what the current cover of Werbewoche is all about and what consequences the crisis could have for the entire industry.


"ViznerBorel for sale": The current issue of Advertising Week is the first in the title's 47-year history to feature two covers.


Werbewoche.ch: The current Advertising Week shows you both on the cover, with the surprising headline "For sale: ViznerBorel." Do you really want to retire from the advertising industry?  

Lajos Vizner: Confucius said: Choose a profession you love and you will never have to work another day in your life. Therefore, the answer is quite clear: No. We have so much "feu sacré" in us, i.e. heart blood, passion and commitment, that we cannot stop.


If you turn the page once, you will see that the cover is a cleverly placed advertisement. You are not selling your agency, but rather your services - with a passionate text against COVID-19. How did you come up with the idea for this advertisement?

Vizner: Honestly now? We were tempted by Werbewoche when they asked if they could print one of our COVID-19 subjects on "Social Distancing" on the front page. We said to ourselves, if we're going to be on the front page, we want it to really go "Bamm!". ViznerBorel stands for always challenging clients and expecting them to be bolder, more differentiating and disruptive. Only in this way can we make a difference within the target group.


And so you apply this standard to yourself as well? 

Guillaume Borel: We are convinced that in today's world we can achieve more by polarizing than with irrelevant, boring and we-want-to-get-it-right-for-all communication. This requires a lot of persuasion and courage from the customer to implement it consistently. In retrospect, everyone is glad they did it, because people have become intensively involved with the brand and, in the best case, have bought the product. With this campaign, we set a good example. We can't just demand that our customers be loud and we're not loud ourselves. Finally, it just "clicked" and the idea was born. After that it was the perfect interaction between Guillaume and me.


How have you personally experienced the past few months?

Vizner: Difficult. But also very exciting and inspiring. There are two options in crises. Either you bury your head in the sand and feel sorry for yourself. Or you see it as an opportunity. We used the time to develop a new product together with Michael à Porta, co-owner of our online agency Wetalkwithyou: a web-based video chat with integrated online shop. This tool is particularly suitable for products in need of explanation and offers a quasi 1:1 POS consulting situation. The Commerce Chat continues the trend of video conferencing.


And video conferencing is all the rage these days, right?

Vizner: Before COVID-19, very few people knew about Zoom. Today, everyone uses it. However, we already had the idea of Commerce Chat two years ago. Back then, we were already asking ourselves how we could create proximity to the customer from a distance. But no one was willing to share the development costs. Now we have implemented it ourselves. Unfortunately, the sale of Commerce-Chat also shows very clearly how most companies tick. Everyone is in post-COVID mode, is insecure, fearful and stuck in the now. Instead of investing in the future, innovating and thereby gaining an edge over the competition. But here too, a little more courage and not the constant search for problems and reasons not to do something would be desirable. However, we are also aware that you have to sow before you can reap. Therefore, we are convinced that the time of Commerce-Chat will come.


What has changed in your day-to-day agency life?

Borel: The home office has made communication with employees much more difficult. Our industry also thrives on the spontaneous exchange of ideas and thoughts. That has suffered in recent months. As have interpersonal relationships. We always say: "You can't e-mail a handshake."


What impact do you think the pandemic is already having on the Swiss advertising industry as a whole? 

Borel: Our industry was already undergoing major changes before COVID-19 and had flu symptoms. For many agencies, the pandemic probably means the death blow. Short-time compensation is only delaying it. There will probably be a consolidation of the industry in the autumn, when the money from the unemployment fund stops flowing.


And what else might be coming?

Vizner: An even greater concentration and allocation of heavyweight mandates to the large agencies. Recent developments in the industry clearly show this. The powerful are becoming even more powerful and benefit from a certain planning security. Unfortunately, small and medium-sized agencies are often not trusted to be able to handle such mandates. Yet an agency grows with its clients. We have already managed very large overall budgets such as Porsche, Denner, Ikea, Heineken, migrolino and UPC, to name but a few. Small agencies today are exposed to the constant struggle for survival, because in many cases only project-related jobs are awarded. And even these jobs are still pitched or awarded based on a dubious estimate. It's just a difficult and unpredictable situation because you don't know today what tomorrow will bring. It's a real adventure. 


"For Sale: ViznerBorel" is a bold idea to generate attention. When you look at typical advertising these days - do you sometimes find agencies and clients lacking the courage to break new ground?

Borel: The problem is about the same as with the current pandemic. There are too many self-proclaimed experts. Or everyone knows someone else who can also contribute for cheap. It's scary how creation and our work has become less valued. Quantity takes precedence over quality. This I-can-get-this-cheaper mentality doesn't even allow for exceptional communication anymore because these people simply lack creativity, experience and strategically sound know-how. We always tell our customers that they don't have enough money for cheap shoes. That's why we are convinced that quality, relevant, intelligent, differentiating communication and courage will prevail in the end. Because courage means success, nothing else.


Advertising seems like a counter-cyclical investment at the moment. Independent experts say that brands should invest in advertising, especially now. Yet many brand owners are very hesitant. How do you explain that?

Vizner: Good question. We find that many marketers often rely only on theory in their day-to-day business. Yet marketing is a combination of intuition, experience and theory. In times like these, it would be nice if people would at least stick more to scriptural theory and act counter-cyclically. But then it always gets forgotten, just like the rule that you should save money in good times to spend it in bad times.


If someone did come forward to buy the entire agency, what would you do with the newfound free time? 

Borel: As mentioned at the beginning, we love our job. A sale is not necessarily synonymous with an immediate exit. In that case, we would certainly be there until our retirement with the same "feu sacré" to help lead the agency into a glorious future. In line with our philosophy: "Communication that creates a spark ignites a fire".

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