Gone Till November…

Wyclef Jean – Gone Till November – Acoustic from barrelhousesf on Vimeo.

Everybody knows that all the good things come to an end at some point – and so does my time here in New York. By the end of October, I will be moving back across the pond to my hometown Zurich. With me: experiences gained during eight of the most intense and beneficial months of my life. Kicking it off as a spontaneous adventure in the wake of a surprising Green Card Lottery win, I have achieved more than I could have ever expected within the craziness of this city. The challenges I had to face, the opportunities I got offered, and all the new friendships I could establish are invaluable.

For the past two months, I have been working for a company that will forever make me feel obliged: Morpheus Media, a world-class digital marketing agency in the heart of New York. They taught me more than I thought was possible about the professional field I have always been interested in the most. Letting this opportunity go feels like a big loss from a personal perspective. If it was only for the job, I would have stayed without batting an eyelash. However, after mastering all the main hurdles related to making a living in the Big Apple, things became easy, and everything that let the city appear magical in the beginning started to become part of the daily routine little by little. New York City is still mind-blowing and can never be compared to any other city around the globe. I will always consider it a home in a way. However, I was aware from the very beginning that sooner or later the moment will come when I make the tough but obvious decision to return to the familiar surroundings. The influencing factors are certainly not only related to my elaborations from earlier this year, such as quality of life, but have also to do with being around old friends and family back home.

In this thorough trade-off between growing within the most exciting industry in the world (digital marketing in NYC is freaking dazzling!) and spending the future in an environment that feels more real, it was important for me to know that everybody I have recently dealt with understands and respects my decision. Integrity is the key to success and happiness. If anybody who is about to undertake a similar step asked me to put in my two cents, I would come up with a reminder to always act sincerely and respectfully in dealing with everybody around. With regard to my professional growth I consider it less important to have learnt so many technical details about Web Analytics and SEO. What matters more is that the people valued my contribution. Having so many co-workers coming out to the bar to “send me off in style” was amazing. These relationships are more valuable than any bullet point in the resume.

Before I got here, I had no idea whether I would stay for a couple of weeks or even over a year. It was a leap in the dark and nothing was defined. The resulting time period will stretch over 8 months in the end. It feels ideal, and in hindsight I couldn’t have outlined this experience any better. After one more month of enjoying the city in its entirety, it will be extremely tough to leave. In November I will find myself back where everything feels like home again – with a major difference to last year: I will have a deeper connection with the Big Apple and its people than ever before.

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Swiss University to NY’s AdLand: a Personal Recap of the Transition

This article was originally published at thisisdiversity.com

Becoming a part of New York’s ad game is certainly not an occurrence that could have ever been considered viable or even desirable from a personal perspective. Not only because of the US-specific administrative and procedural issues that every potential immigrant has to face in this country, but especially due to some usual assumptions and stereotypes regarding the New York advertising industry itself — quirky young professionals, obnoxious supervisors, and allegedly inspiring colorful expressions in the office environment. Another set of preconceptions, albeit significantly less daunting, stemmed from such TV shows as Mad Men, depicting the ‘old school’ realities when marketing executives focused on boozy lunches, classy dinners, attractive secretaries, and unlimited expense accounts.

I was born and raised in Switzerland, the very opposite of New York with regards to the pace of life and everyday dynamics. Working and living in the Big Apple was, at most, an exciting topic to fantasize about. As almost always in life, things turned out differently than expected. I hit the jackpot in the Green Card Lottery and found myself, just a few months later, in the Business Development department of an established multicultural marketing agency in Lower Manhattan. I got here as a recent graduate with some work experience that I acquired within the marketing department of a large, international consulting firm in Zurich. The company is known for its work-hard-play-hard culture. The successful accomplishment of their challenging internship gave me a certain feeling that nothing in my future career can surprise me anymore.

The actual naiveté of this attitude became obvious on my first day of work in New York City. Before I stepped in the office, I remembered the first week at my previous company back in Switzerland. It was characterized by individual meetings with the company’s directors who gave me detailed presentations about their scope of responsibilities and main challenges. During the first couple of days, I did not provide any operative work, but learned about the company’s rules & regulations, marketing guidelines, and organizational charts. My start in the American business was slightly different. This shall be understood as a non-judgmental understatement.

Reality hit me in the face immediately. The introduction consisted of a non-disclosure signature, a 10-minute walk-through, a 5-minute setup of my cubicle (that thing I had only known from Hollywood blockbusters before), and a five-second photo-session for my access card. My first thought included the impression of how efficiently advertising executives must be doing their job here. Subsequently, I was briefed on my scope of work and given the signal for getting started with my assignments. The phase of “becoming acquainted with the company” came to a surprisingly abrupt ending.

In the first three working days, I assessed the new situation with one positive and one negative attribute: fast-paced and impersonal. A few friends of mine who are familiar with both the European and the U.S. business environment confirmed that this might be an accurate observation. At that moment, I dropped every doubt that New York is exactly what I had described before I got here: one of the world’s most profitable marketing and media hubs, influencing business practices and management structures all around the globe. The knowledge and experience of the people I have worked with and their determination and rationality when it comes to making decisions is more than impressive. Even today, I consider this type of drive the ultimate cultural difference from what I had been exposed before.

On an interpersonal level, I made two general observations. Personal biographies do not play any significant role among colleagues. It is not about who you are and where you come from, but what you are capable of and what you are interested in. On the other hand, small talk, something that Swiss people have always been extremely bad at, is much more omnipresent. Personally, I have always admired people with the gift of being able to respond to every single topic somebody comes up with, regardless of the sense of such a discussion. These differences may base on the availability of corresponding fields of application. An example: if a meeting is set for 2pm, attendees in Switzerland would appear between 1:59 and 2:01 and the official part would begin immediately. There is no small-talk-window. In the U.S., this window is given naturally, because the team would assemble in a more random way, say between 1:55 and 2:05. And yet, interestingly enough, they would usually conduct more effective meetings nevertheless. The direct and straightforward communication style is a major strength of the American business culture. Many leaders and executives from all over the world will have to apply it more extensively in order to improve their overall efficiency.

As explained in the beginning of this article, I came to “the city that never sleeps” with mixed feelings, justified and unjustified fears, positive and negative expectations. Global Advertising Strategies is my first employer in this new world, and it provided me with an insight that I will take along with me no matter what direction my professional career might take in the future: nothing depends on expectations. It is all about the people one connects with and the quality of relationships one is lucky enough to establish. It does not matter how different two work cultures are if the involved individuals share a common understanding of the goals that are being pursued within the organization. Once an effort is made to understand the people, it becomes incomparably easier to overcome cultural differences. Chance brought it about that this philosophy is also one of the pillars of Global’s business model and a distinctive part of their expertise. Alongside such an expert, it is no wonder that I perceived my transition to the craziness of NYC’s ad game as much smoother than originally expected.

Censorship, Surveillance, Threats: The Dark Side of the Blogosphere

So I set up this website less than a month ago. Every time I got a few ideas and some time left at the end of the week, I would write something down. Or I would not. And then some people would read my very valuable contributions. And some others would not. It is an extremely simple process and every smartypants with internet access can become active easily. In the United States, people have been blogging in a long time already, and it seems that blogs have been quite institutionalized in the minds of American information seekers. Digital marketing expert Jeff Bullas picked up this subject and cited a stat from Technorati’s State of The Blogosphere 2010 Report which reveals 40% of internet users trusting blogs as a source of information and news. Seems like a rather high ratio to me, but it will also depend on what sort of “information and news” was taken into account. I doubt that blogs have already made it to a serious alternative to mainstream media in Western democracies and I suppose that it will require a whole lot of change on the established media markets to get even close to 40% of real trust in relation to blog sources. Nevertheless, the community is growing very fast, especially within specific interest groups, such as tech nerds or expectant mothers. Nobody can blame them for their enthusiasm.

In this post, I want to raise awareness for a different sphere with regards to blogging and social media. Since December 2010, we all have been following the so-called Arab Spring live on television. A string of protests and riots has led to overthrows of governments in countries such as Tunesia, Egypt, Lybia, and Yemen. And considering the recent happenings in Syria, there can be no talk of an early end of violence. People have become aware of their freedom of expression and have legitimately developed a sense for democratic participation. The sources of the revolts have been corruption, an unfair distribution of wealth, and a highly dissatisfied youth, but the main catalysts have been blogs and social media. Everybody knows it, especially the former and current autocrats in power. This means that the internet may have become a very useful tool for political communication, a place where people get introduced to each other’s ideas, but it has just as well become increasingly dangerous for the same people to use it. Today’s situation is that threats are growing massively in terms of censorship and surveillance. Syrian authorities have recently blocked WhatsApp and are continuously tracking people’s communication histories on the remaining communication platforms. Activists are being arrested. Hardly surprising that surveillance is shutting many people up.

But where do the tools to monitor people come from? They are certainly not made in Syria. The truth is that U.S. and European companies have a big influence on the supply-side of such tools. A physical catalogue with related examples might be heavier than the bible. Just a few days ago, a Wall Street Journal article (Spy-Gear Business to Be Sold) revealed how a French company that considers itself a leader in the conception and integration of high-tech systems sold their sophisticated IT products to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2007, who intercepted “emails, online chats and Facebook messages of targets”, such as “Libyan dissidents, journalists, human-rights campaigners and everyday enemies of the state”. The company’s communication policy is vague, and it can be suspected that considerable parts of the total revenue have come from repressive Arab and African governments. Gaddafi was overturned regardless, and today, six months after the information about the deal became public, the French managers do every effort to get rid of the critical business unit. Many tech companies from all around the globe are still highly active in similar trades with today’s dubious political authorities. On the other end, the according governments have not taken any substantial actions to stop this sort of trade. My liberal mind generally reacts against any type of governmental restrictions for the private sector, but it reacts even more against authoritarian governments hindering people from expressing their opinion and gathering knowledge.

At the end of his post, Bullas raises the question on how blogs are about to evolve in the foreseeable future. Fair enough, he is not talking about this dark side of the blogosphere, but it still made me think on a related note. In view of various national and transnational events and dynamics of the past few years, it is very unlikely that the blog will lose its importance as a key communication channel in states with very specific political and social frameworks. Considering such circumstances and taking the online and mobile growth on emerging markets into account, it must be assumed that blogging, as a global trend, is in the early stages of development. What changes though is the enormous range of promotion options, driven by the groundbreaking innovations on the social media markets. In the comment section of my last week’s post about Social TV, I prompted the issue of oversharing, which I still consider a severe problem regarding individual entertainment experiences on the web. This is where the line between emerging and developed markets becomes very clear, because the internet takes up different functions based on respective priorities of the people. Therefore, yes, oversharing can be a problem on our Western entertainment markets, but no, it certainly is not a problem in regions where authoritarian governments suppress every critical review by individual citizens.

The key thing is to raise awareness that censorship exists and to start establishing some sort of global responsibility. There are a lot of associations (Reporters Without Borders, Global Voices, Tor Project, Tactical Technology Collective etc.) trying to make a change. What remains important though is that everybody becomes aware of the issue. It is not crucial that few associations do a lot, but that everybody contributes just a little. Might sound weird, but I am convinced that we are living in a universal internet sphere: a setting that would make us citizens of the internet in a way. The least we can do in this role is care about it and try to understand how new media work.

The Multi-Screen Experience

First of all, here I am, and yes, New York welcomed me with open arms indeed. After spending the first night on a friend’s couch (thank you!), I got introduced to the beautiful neighborhood of Sunnyside and moved into an own apartment which I share with a very decent roommate. Did not somebody from Jersey City tell me “live anywhere but Queens”? It will take me some time to understand the dogmas when it comes to NYC boroughs. That is a separate issue.

Earlier this week, I attended an insightful event at the NYIT Auditorium on Broadway, organized by the Center for Communication: Social TV and the Multi-Screen Experience. Sabrina Caluori (VP, Social Media & Performance Marketing, HBO), Scott Rosenberg (Co-Founder and CEO, Umami), Galye Weiswasser (VP, Social Media, Discovery Communications), and Natan Edelsburg (VP, Sawhorse Media) discussed the trend of social media turning the traditional one-way model of watching television into an interactive experience. Everybody with an interest in media should consider taking a look at the latest trends and innovations, such as HBO Connect, Bravo TV’s Tweet Tracker or Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco To Go. Once again I had to realize how large the innovation and adaptation gaps between the American and European entertainment production and marketing sectors still are.

U.S. broadcasters are exploring completely new ways to get noticed by offering viewers opportunities to get more engaged with their favorite programming. Today’s wide use of smartphones and tablets enables content distributors to pursue a multi-screen strategy (TV being the first screen). A show’s fanbase is the foundation of the whole concept. Many Americans are very enthusiastic about their favorite shows and very willing to share their thoughts on what they watch. Of course, television has always had a social component, but the times when friends sat together in a living room in order to watch a TV show are pretty much passé for Generation Facebook. Today it is all about virtual buttons (share, comment, tweet etc.). And broadcasters are picking up the trend. The number of screens per person increases, stars begin to interact with fans, and online communication continues to grow. The approach certainly has a huge potential on the global entertainment markets, but I am not sure if I would ever be ready to get engaged with it from a personal user perspective. When I watch a show or a movie, I do not want to get distracted by Twitter feeds or some new ingenious second-screen platforms. This is the point when social media starts to downgrade the experience per se. But people use it and it works, thus it makes sense.

Anyway, after the panel and after some beers in a Midtown sports bar, the term in the title really hit me. Living in New York is more than just an experience of living in a big city. It is sort of a multi-screen experience all through. When I take the inbound 7-Train and close my eyes, I would find myself in a completely different sphere just a few minutes later. New York City is split up into five boroughs and into more than 50 different neighborhoods, while every neighborhood has a different feel and knows its own conventions. Any yet, it would seem that everything is well-matched and synchronized, just like the various platforms and technologies that are being utilized in the concept of Social TV. And everything makes sense at the end of the day. In the very first season of Mad Men, Bertram Cooper expressed this thought in the most sophisticated way I can imagine: “New York is a marvelous machine, filled with a mash of levers and gears and springs, like a fine watch, wound tight, always ticking.” Considering my citizenship, it would be weird if I didn’t like this allegory.

When an imminent leap in the dark initiates blogging

With regards to blogging, there has never been the slightest ambition, desire, or enthusiasm on my side. I still consider it ridiculous at times. It is just a personal perception indeed, but the obnoxious category of people which I like to call self-absorbed blowhards seems to be growing disproportionally in the world of weblogs. Why would I want to become part of it? Of course, I am not referring to the thousands of highly insightful blogs kept by marketing managers, filmmakers, photographers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and other professionals with some relevant knowledge in the according fields. Many bloggers share very valuable information and try to claim attention in a less pushy way. However, the truth is that blogs should not be understood as online newspapers, magazines, or similar, let’s say, web 1.0 models on professional and centralistic content creation. I studied the recent media market dynamics extensively, but I have to admit that it took me a while to sincerely accept blogs to be there for exactly the reason that anyone can start writing them. The individual motives may be diverse. I decided to give it a shot despite the latent, but still existent skepticism. My personal motive is an imminent leap in the dark.

A few months ago, I successfully completed my Master’s program in Media & Communications and Business Administration in Zurich (annotation for my international fellows with moderate geographical knowledge: yes that is Switzerland, not Sweden). As luck would have it, I won the U.S. Green Card Lottery (officially: Diversity Visa program) just after my graduation. This opens doors, at least many bureaucratic ones. The United States of America might not be the the single and only leader in the global economic system anymore. However, U.S. American business practices and management structures still have a huge influence on companies all around the planet. In order to grow personally and professionally within one of the world’s most profitable and creative marketing and media hubs, I decided to venture this radical step and move to New York City. I talked to people in that field telling me it was a tough market to get in, especially for someone coming from abroad. And especially in a time when thousands of local professionals have lost their jobs. There is no doubt about that. Nevertheless, negative estimates of a certain situation should not necessarily dilute the belief that it is usually more revealing to get an idea of this situation right on site.

Therefore, I worked on a plan that is not really a plan in fact: moving to the megacity, trying to seize opportunities, and being open for any type of progress. I am not a fan of writing personal blogs (and will never become one), yet I have set up this category called the big apple from scratch for three particular reasons: 1. To share information, opinions and experiences with people who are interested in such endeavors and related issues,  2. To establish a stable site that may be leveraged in the future to gather relevant knowledge on marketing, advertising, social media, business, and related topics, and 3. To keep my friends and family posted on my personal situation, especially the ones I won’t have extensive email or phone contact with.

My posts will be kept short and won’t be published on a regular schedule. The blog is about to be relatively footloose in the beginning, as I will be more than busy with – as the award-winning filmmaker Dan Perez recently told me – keeping on keeping it real in NYC. Nevertheless, I will be very glad to respond to any type of advice, suggestion, or question you might come up with!

See you in the city that never sleeps!