Conversion and expansion: This is how Publicis Zurich is moving into the future

New CEO, new positioning, new client: Following the change of CEO at Publicis Groupe last year, major changes are now also on the horizon at Publicis Zurich. Matthias Koller is the advertising agency's new CEO.

Publicis ZürichHardly a stone was left unturned at Stadelhoferstrasse 25 last year: At the end of 2020, Alexander Haldemann took over the CEO position of Publicis Groupe in Switzerland. The Publicis Groupe in Zurich includes the agencies Publicis Zurich, Saatchi and Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Notch, Meta Design, Publicis Media, Publicis Sapient, and the production house Prodigious. The Publicis Groupe in Switzerland is completed by the agencies Publicis Lausanne and the event agency Publicis Live from Geneva.

Now the next act took place: the reorganization of Publicis Zurich. The management of Publicis Zurich was completed, and the agency was also able to hire numerous new employees.

New CEO...

As of November 1, 2021, Matthias Koller, previously Managing Director of Publicis Zurich, has taken over as CEO of the agency. The 42-year-old looks back on a long career at Publicis. Koller joined the company back in 2010 and has played a major role in shaping the agency over the past eleven years.

Koller will complete his EMBA in "Digital Transformation" at the University of Applied Sciences Graubünden in January 2022. His biggest challenge, then, will be to drive forward this transformation that has already begun. "Of course, there are still ways in which we can become better, faster and more flexible. How we can work even closer and more agile with our customers," Koller said. "Collaborative creation of creative experiences along the entire user journey will therefore be a focus of our agency in the coming years. From content creation to information and data processing to automated delivery, but of course still for big ideas for big brands, we want to be the first port of call."

Peter van der Touw, Member of the Group Executive Board, is convinced that Koller will continue to drive the agency's transformation as CEO: "Matthias has built a track record that is impressive in his many years at Publicis Zurich. Accordingly, we are convinced that with him as the agency's new CEO, we will be able to master the coming changes and challenges. On his promotion, we wish him and his team all the best and much success on their further journey under the Publicis flag and offer our sincere congratulations."

Matthias Koller, new CEO of Publicis Zurich.

... new positioning ...

At the same time as the new CEO position was filled, the agency was also repositioned. "For a long time, Publicis Zurich was primarily one thing to the outside world: the largest advertising agency in Switzerland. What we stand for and what our vision is, on the other hand, was barely perceptible," Koller continues. "With the repositioning, we are now fundamentally changing that." From now on, he says, Publicis should stand above all for creativity that lends a hand. "For creativity that actively tackles the challenges of our customers and helps to generate growth. And, of course, for a concentrated load of expertise." Thanks to the global initiative "The Power of One," the network and the many specialists within the agency, among other things, the agency is ideally equipped. "That's exactly what our customers demand from us today," Koller says. "Diverse and specialized expertise that is seamlessly interlinked to create the greatest possible efficiency. Smoothly and, in the best case, without the client noticing that they are working with more than one agency."

The repositioning of the agency is based on concrete insights gained in interviews with CMOs and marketing managers of Swiss and international companies.

... and new also with Victorinox in the portfolio

The consistent focus on seamlessly bringing together a wide range of specialists is already manifesting itself in the acquisition of a new client. After an intensive agency evaluation, Publicis was able to secure the contract for the strategic further development of the coveted Swiss brand Victorinox.

Already during the evaluation, the collaboration between Publicis Zurich and Victorinox had been close and collaborative and had run smoothly. The next step will be to further sharpen the strategic foundation for the upcoming campaigns, and the first work will be seen in the middle of next year.


"First and foremost, you have to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses"

Matthias Koller, the new CEO of Publicis Zurich, talks to Johannes Hapig of m&k about what was originally "Switzerland's largest advertising agency," but which has now embarked on the path of transformation.


Johannes Hapig: Matthias Koller, Publicis Zurich is undergoing a major transformation. What are the biggest challenges in the process? 

Matthias Koller: In order to transform oneself, one must first of all be aware of one's own strengths and weaknesses. Of course, you can assess what you're good at and what you're not so good at. But we advertisers in particular are pretty good at convincing ourselves that we do something really great. A sound analysis and, above all, feedback from existing and potential customers and partners are therefore essential. Even if it's not always easy to accept it.


What follows after that?

The task then is to find a consensus on the new positioning within the management body. And because there is probably never one hundred percent consensus, the search is on for an alignment that can command a majority. Only when everything has been neatly defined on paper, every word is right and you think, "Wow, that's pretty cool," does the most important part come, namely defining concrete measures that bring this alignment to life. The involvement of the employees is a decisive factor here. It takes people who believe in it and want to change something. Fortunately, there are more than a few of them at Publicis Zurich.


How have you personally experienced these "times of change" so far? 

Very intense. And also incredibly collaborative and motivating. I have a lot of pleasure with the committed and excellently coordinated management team that we have put together. Especially because some of the members only joined this year. Even more important for me, however, was the fact that the employees at all levels showed such great commitment and a great deal of understanding when we had to put things off, for example when something could not yet be clearly defined. But it was worth it - and I sense a positive spirit of optimism in the agency.


Publicis Zurich should no longer be perceived merely as "the country's largest advertising agency," but should stand for "creativity that lends a hand. What does that mean in day-to-day customer contact? 

We want to work even more KPI-based, understand our customers' specific goals and business challenges, and help solve them. Creativity is not an end in itself, but should be used to solve real problems. And it should do one thing above all: generate growth.


What changes have you initiated as the new CEO?

You put it exactly right. I initiated these topics, but I was able to implement them together with a great team. The first thing I wanted to do was define common values in the agency and improve the corporate culture. To do this, I conducted an anonymous employee survey and cultural analysis, defined values with an interdisciplinary team across all hierarchical levels, and developed concrete measures, some of which have already been implemented and are being put into practice today.


The inclusion of all employees is therefore a weighty issue.

It is very important to me that we place great emphasis on teamwork, both internally and with our customers. No matter how agile and to what degree of co-working. Another major point was, of course, the new value proposition and orientation I mentioned earlier, which requires us to invest in certain areas and adapt our service offering.


You have grown together spatially with the MetaDesign agency, which has moved from Seefeld to the city center. And your workspaces are changing in other ways, too. What significance does agency space still have for creative work today? 

An important one. It is essential that every employee and every agency has a home port. The different agencies not only have different clients and different core competencies, but also different cultures, rituals and quirks. These are central to the feeling of togetherness, collegial exchange and motivation within each agency. But it is equally important that all Publicis Zurich employees feel part of a larger team.


When will the new co-working spaces come into play?

When we work together on projects and clients with sister agencies such as Publicis Media or Meta Design. We want to further promote and expand this type of collaboration: We don't want our clients* to even notice that they are working with different agencies, but rather to receive the best expertise at the right moment for their needs without friction. For cross-agency cooperation and collaboration, the co-working spaces will be worth their weight in gold and we are very much looking forward to the moment when they can finally take full speed.


What is the next step?

First we'll get the end-of-year run over with and then we'll celebrate Christmas. In the new year, we will focus primarily on implementing the changes with clarity and consistency. Because even the very big changes are no more than a collection of very many small ones.

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