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Agency Profile: Havas Worldwide Zurich

Posted on July 9, 2013 and read 3,251 times

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brettihaismall Agency Profile: Havas Worldwide ZurichBrett McKenzie
Content Producer
Art Directors Club


Zurich is often perceived as being a world-class city, one that is perennially ranked as having one of the highest quality-of-life scores in the world. Its status as an elite banking center has made it one of the wealthiest cities in Europe — not too shabby for a place with less than 400,000 people.

And Switzerland itself has excelled with its relatively small numbers. The country itself is smaller than New York State, with a population smaller than New York City, but it has many of the things you’d expect to find in the Big Apple… only smaller.

The same can be said about the country’s flourishing advertising scene. A “big” Swiss agency would easily fit on a single floor of a Madison Avenue multinational, and most shops in Zurich top out at a few dozen employees — even fewer in Switzerland’s “second city” of Geneva. And yet even without a jam-packed payroll, Swiss agencies continually produce work that would shine in markets all over the world.

Which brings us to Havas Worldwide Switzerland. This two-office agency is one of the country’s largest, with a “whopping” 60 employees. But just like the nation itself, it regularly outpaces much larger shops in other countries.



I’m sitting down with Axel Eckstein, Executive Creative Director of Havas Worldwide Zurich. The vibe is quite relaxed, and is a reflection of the neighborhood; while most cities have their ad agencies right smack dab in the busiest sections of town, Zurich ad shops seem to be found in just about any part of the city. In the case of Havas, it’s along the tree-lined Gutstrasse, a street in the quiet Sihlfeld district on the west side of Zurich.

“For many years, the philosophy of Havas Switzerland — under the old Euro RSCG name — had been ‘Creating Results’,” says Axel, when asked the first thing that came to mind when describing Havas Zurich. “It was a pretty self explanatory belief, but it has since evolved to ‘Creating Future’, in order to reflect our passion for moving forward into new media and new touchpoints for consumers.”

That said, a two-word motto alone isn’t necessarily going to move creatives to beat down your door to work there. “I find that creatives, especially young ones, are very informed here in Switzerland,” says Axel. “Agencies are fairly transparent, and there are many events here where young people can meet with agencies and find out what they’re like. For us, there are a few things we focus on when speaking to people. One, we make an effort to ensure we don’t have an ‘agency style’. Some shops are so good with a certain look or vibe that it can be seen through all of their clients. We definitely don’t want all of our work to feel the same.”

“We also want creatives who know that advertising is a business, and thus it has to be efficient,” continues Axel.  “If you’re the type who wants to be a rock star and focus on winning awards, that’s great but not enough. Of course we strive to do work that does well at award shows, but not at the expense of precision, of speed, of business results. That means we want creatives who understand how their creativity could help to drive business.”

Havas Zurich has about 40 employees, with another 20 in their office in Geneva. In both locations, creatives make up a bit less than half of those numbers. Amongst them are copywriters and art directors, but none of them are tied down to one another. “Switzerland has never really followed that team structure that you find in the US, the UK, or even nearby Germany,” says Axel. “I think has more to do with the size of the market. Because we are small, we have to be very nimble. Flexibility is King here, and by not having assigned teams, we can move things around very quickly.” Axel jokes that this requires more management, just to keep track on who’s working on what with whom, and notes that the lack of teams in Switzerland makes hiring freelancers a gamble. “In other countries, if you need extra people, you can hire a team who already works well together. Here, you bring in individuals and hope that they gel with the person they are paired with.”

For the people on the Havas Zurich regular payroll, the day starts at 9:00 AM for most people, with others opting to come in a little earlier. Even at their relatively small size, there are very few all-agency meetings. “We find that whenever you bring the whole agency together to talk business, you end up talking about things that take away from the time you need to spend on your own assignments,” says Axel. Instead the creatives and their respective accounts people and strategists are given the autonomy to meet up when it’s most convenient, with the ‘suits’ serving as project managers, keeping the creatives in line, on time and on budget.

This process tends to keep the agency going home at decent hours. “Occasionally we work late, but when we do, it’s an all-hands-on-deck atmosphere,” says Axel. “We don’t expect people to be just present, we expect great ideas. And if you are talented and well-organised you’ll find them the smart way, not the hard way.” Axel also mentions that the quality of life in Zurich makes people want to maintain a good work-life balance. “Life seems to be so pleasant that nobody wants to shake that up by devoting all of your energy towards more work.”

One of the challenges faced by advertising agencies in Switzerland is the nation’s diverse collection of languages. How does a shop like Havas tackle such an issue? “The dominant language here in Zurich is German, and so most of our work begins in that language,” says Axel. “We can then translate it into French or Italian or English.” (according to Axel, you almost never see Swiss ads written in Romansh, Switzerland’s fourth official language, spoken by less than 1% of the populace.) But simply translating an ad from one tongue to another doesn’t always do the job. “People who live in the French parts of Switzerland can often tell when an ad was originally created for a German audience,” explains Axel. “French ads tend to be more lighthearted and playful than German ones, and Italian ones tend to have more expressive, emotional voices than their German counterparts, and both seem to use more cartoons and animation over German ads.” While there’s no “cure-all” for this situation, Havas Zurich has had the most success by focusing on visual solutions that can bridge all language and culture barriers.

Once a year, the creative departments of both the Zurich and Geneva offices come together for an offsite meeting aptly named Creative Day, a full day of reflection on the past and planning for the future, ending with dinner and drinks for all. Each year there is a theme to the day; past themes have included “We Must Be Crazy” and “Goodbye Double Page Spread”. It’s also interesting to note that Creative Day happens in English, a neutral language for German heavy Zurichers and the francophone Genevois.

Of course once a year is too long to wait for inspiration, and so Havas Zurich has other activities to keep the creative juices flowing. The first Thursday of every month has been dubbed “Thursday Club”, where people share cool items of interest with their peers, from amazing new technologies they’ve heard about to upcoming exhibits and other cultural events taking place around town. And while the agency doesn’t like to have lots of agency wide meetings, they do call one every other month or so to announce new hires, amazing new client wins and awards, and other big news. Finally, to fill in the gaps between these meetings, Havas Zurich likes to take the staff out for fun, with everything from mountain hikes to go-karting.

So what does the future hold for Havas Zurich? “This industry is challenged by technological and cultural changes at such a rapid pace that it’s so hard to say,” says Axel. “I believe that there will be more co-working. We see this already at the interface towards the consumer who is co-constructing brand experiences. And this could happen with agencies and their clients, too. More togheter, less against. More at-the-same-time, less one-thing-after-the-other. Because of this, even in an era of tight timelines and tighter budgets, I have faith that what we have going on here will continue to thrive.”

Many thanks to Axel for inviting us into Havas Zurich! A big thank-you to Getty Images for making this trip to Zurich possible.




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