"In times of uncertainty, a brand's attitude becomes even more important"

2020 marked the end of a challenging year. However, Swiss agencies also took advantage of opportunities, created new traditions and learned important lessons. In the first part, Equipe, Heimat Zürich, Hinderling Volkart Part of Dept, Jung von Matt Limmat, Ruf Lanz, Serviceplan Suisse and Wirz report on their findings.

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The corona virus has been keeping the entire world on tenterhooks for more than a year now. It will soon be twelve months since the first Corona infections became known in Switzerland. As with all other industries, the virus has not left the advertising and communications industry unscathed: However, in addition to all the challenges posed by home offices, cancelled advertising budgets and closed shops, there were also many opportunities and lessons that Swiss agencies were able to draw from the crisis. Werbewoche.ch asked around in the industry. How was 2020 for the agencies? And with what resolutions did they start 2021?

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Markus Hammer, Equipe

"2020 was a challenging and busy year for Equipe. Overall, however, we are very satisfied with how we have managed it internally and together with our customers. Nevertheless, the overall situation naturally continues to weigh on us. Because without wanting to sound negative: I believe that at the moment we are only feeling the beginning of what will be a lasting change. 

The biggest challenge is the massive change in customer behavior. The entire lockdown situation has not only massively changed buying behavior, but also the demand on brands and their performance and services. 
Until recently, many companies were hesitant when it came to digitizing their products, services and processes, or facing the challenges of a rapidly digitizing world. This is now taking its toll and will cause major problems for many clients and agencies alike. After all, the majority of agencies are first and foremost a reflection of their clients, both in terms of their digital capabilities and their expectations of them.

Nevertheless, there are currently an incredible number of opportunities to further develop customers in a targeted manner and to successfully shape tasks together. Topics such as marketing transformation, 1-2-1 marketing, but also the entire aspect of developing communication and campaigns from a consistent mobile-first approach or considering social media as a very serious channel within the sales funnel have finally arrived at most clients.

Two years ago, for example, people were still debating about some kind of purpose statements, but now, in a very short time, a new and more serious discussion culture has spread among many brands about what brands have to achieve in the future and what their real raison d'être is. I think this is good for our industry in one place or another.

The Corona situation has not only massively accelerated digitization, but is also bringing about many other changes, some of them radical. Entire industries and previously viable business models will disappear or be replaced by new, digital products and services. I think we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg of cumulative change here at the moment. The most important thing will be to critically question and purposefully challenge what has been and still partly works. Because today's status quo is merely the breeding ground for what's coming tomorrow. 

I think that this year will be similar in many ways to the last. Because the crisis is in no way over. We don't yet know how things will change in detail and how they will ultimately fall into place in the big picture. But we at Equipe are very confident that as an agency and team with digital DNA, we will also successfully master this challenge together with our clients."

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Nico Ammann, Home Zurich

"For Heimat Zürich, 2020 was a successful year despite all its adversities. Corona is turning the world upside down. In 2021, we want to use this to make ourselves even more relevant. For clients who rely on creative solutions for change, progress and success."

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Michael Volkart, Hinderling Volkart Part of Dept.

"The year 2020 had it all for us - it started with a double bang. In January, we announced that we were joining agency group Dept. Then, virtually simultaneously, came the lockdown and the start of the new home office era. On the one hand, there were the opportunities that arose in the new Dept environment, and on the other hand, the daily challenge of keeping a team together during the pandemic, motivating them and ensuring that they could also communicate from the home office. We were therefore not yet able to do sufficient justice to our claim of giving our employees the experience of really feeling part of a global agency. First, we had to focus on the stability of the team and on internal issues here in Switzerland.

The tension between all the demands was enormous and challenged us greatly in the meantime. It was all the more valuable to be in a group with Dept that at all times recognized the complexity and sensitivity of the issues and events, trusted us completely and allowed us to act in an entrepreneurial manner.

Fortunately, the uncertainty caused by Corona remained within bounds economically - not least thanks to our balanced client and project mix. We also felt a great urge from customers for innovation and digitalization, which opened up new inquiries and projects for us. In the Dept context, Corona was responded to and communicated with quickly, unbureaucratically and comprehensively, which gave us security.

Thus, 2020 was a year in which we had a stabilizing effect above all and were able to put ourselves in a secure and good starting position for 2021. We will use the freshly started year to open another chapter. We are looking forward to the opportunity to use the combination of creativity, technology and data for our further development and that of our customers in an international context with Dept. We are full of drive to start new, broader projects, link disciplines and put our strengths into a larger context. This is how we learn and open up new fields on all levels."

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Roman Hirsbrunner, Jung von Matt Limmat

"2020 was a challenge. And it was on an individual and collective level. But it was also a challenge that we as an agency mastered together. 

Of course, in spring 2021, we too asked ourselves how working in a changed world will work. Accordingly, we have invested a great deal to ensure that we initiate the necessary changes both with and for our customers and with and for our employees. And this in form and content: working remotely and digitally with each other has become part of everyday life - the keyword is "work from anywhere" - and on the basis of content, we were able and allowed to look strategically into the future with many of our clients.
  
What we learned in 2020: It always pays to work iteratively, to build prototypes that you constantly change and improve. Especially in times of great uncertainty, you have to take advantage of this fact. Nothing must, everything can. We have also lived this in our collaboration with our customers: working quickly, agilely and with little hierarchy on ideas and implementing them in the shortest possible time. And 2020 also showed us how important and challenging it is to live a culture even in the times you don't spend together. Transforming culture into the digital space requires a lot of commitment and the willingness to no longer take anything for granted.
 
For us, 2021 is all about excellence and momentum. A work, a project, an idea only becomes excellent when it is thought, implemented and perceived at the right time. We continue to constantly work on our setup and culture to guarantee the breeding ground for inspiration and excellent ideas. Our creative ecosystem is growing and with it many new opportunities. For our employees as well as for our clients."

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Markus Ruf, Ruf Lanz

"On January 2, 2020, I was sitting on the terrace of the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore with my sweetheart in a holiday mood and heard for the first time about a novel virus from China. Back then, the only necessary protection plan was to generously mist with mosquito spray. Today the world is a different place. As far as Ruf Lanz is concerned, entire presentations suddenly became wastepaper, and many things had to be redone. Our motto: create instead of lament.

Just three examples: For the VBZ we used the colors of the canceled Zurich Pride with the tram lines nevertheless brought on the road - for a tolerant, colourful Zurich. For Hiltl we have the Protective measures pointedly linked to the animal-friendly attitude of the veggie pioneer. And for the foundation Tier im Recht we used the Time to pause for a moment of reflection on wildlife tourism.

We are convinced that in times of uncertainty, the attitude of a brand becomes even more important. People want to know what it stands for and what contribution it makes to society. Staging this contribution in a surprising and smart way remains our goal in 2021."

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Raul Serrat, Serviceplan Suisse

"The situation in 2020 was unexpected and radical for all of us. At first we thought that the lockdown and with it the home office would nip creativity in the bud. But we discovered that this was not the case. The sudden working from home worked amazingly well. Creativity always creates and finds new solutions and ways to keep things moving. The well-rehearsed teams have continued to work creatively online. Crisis situations often bring to light whether people really work together constructively, and we are very proud of our colleagues in this respect.

But it has certainly been a strange year and we all miss the personal contact with each other. Keeping the agency culture somewhat alive was and is probably one of the biggest challenges for us as managers during this time. Exchanges between people create space for new ideas; in the agency, this happens all by itself; in the home office, you have to explicitly make time for it. Our awareness of how important workplace atmosphere is for creative people has become even greater, we will continue to nurture this carefully. Moreover, I also firmly believe that this situation brings a few insights that we will maintain and cultivate in the future. And from the second half of 2021, there will be a lot of catching up to do: we're all really looking forward to coffee breaks, aperitifs and parties together."

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Petra Dreyfus, Wirz

"2020 was probably one of the most extraordinary years we have experienced as an agency. Despite all the adversities, we are grateful and proud that we were able to have a successful business year. This was made possible in particular by the trust and flexibility of our existing clients and great new business, and of course our employees, who proved in 2020 that true teamwork works even in extreme situations.

Especially in the spring of 2020, our world was turned upside down: campaigns and projects that had been worked on for months had to be cancelled or completely rethought, sometimes shortly before launch, so that they corresponded to the current situation in terms of tonality and visual appearance. In addition to these demanding tasks, we as an agency had to get used to the fact that planning as we had known it until then was no longer possible. Internally, too, we had to do without many cherished rituals this year.

However, like many other Swiss companies, we have proven to ourselves that many things that were previously dismissed as "unrealistic" or "don't work" do work. We have learned a lot about digitalization in the workplace and appreciate this modernization. Internal rituals and events that we were unable to hold as usual gave way to other, innovative forms of team building and entertainment: for example, we held an internal online card tournament.
 
We also proved to ourselves that we are more flexible than we might have thought. We've been reaffirmed that we have incredibly innovative and adaptable employees who fight through the pandemic workday with discipline and creativity. However, as a creative agency, we realize that home offices have limitations and are no substitute for face-to-face and creative interaction. We humans simply need real community.

In 2021, our most important concern will continue to be investing in even more highly qualified, motivated and enthusiastic employees. With Kathrin Jesse, who will be joining us from DDB Berlin in April, we will, for example, be able to reposition the head of our strategy department with an absolute dream team. We also have many plans for our valued clients. We'll only reveal this much: there are already some highlights in the quiver."

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