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.

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.

What people can learn from an underrated Zurich hockey team

The allegedly impossible happened a week ago: Tuesday evening, April 17th, 2012. Steve McCarthy, defender of the ZSC Lions took the decisive shot for a goal that would make his team the Swiss hockey champion two seconds before the end of the regular game time and the logical announcement of a subsequent overtime. He scored. The game was over. The Lions from Zurich were declared champions in Europe’s largest hockey arena, home of their competitors SC Bern. Why is the happening worth mentioning? Because it is one of the most fascinating and impressive stories in the history of Swiss hockey. And because it offers a simple recipe of life.
Looking back at the regular season, the Lions had been struggling hard for long periods. Not only didn’t they find any effective ways to compete against formally stronger teams, but they also indulged themselves in too many mistakes against real underdogs. Throughout the year, they collected 77 points out of 50 games, which put them at risk of not even qualifying for the playoffs, the crucial knock-out stage where several teams play for the actual championship title. Nobody would have been surprised if the Lions dropped out at that point, but they managed to qualify just barely. The playoffs began. And this is when the underdog from Zurich started to shock their opponents one by one.

After eliminating the reigning champion (Davos) in the first round and the winner of the regular season (Zug) in the second round, they had to face Bern in the finals. Experts were in agreement that the Bears from the capital city had the league’s best roster at their disposal, which became evident once the two teams started to play against each other. The first team with four victories would win the championship. Bern led with 3-1. At that point of the series, nobody would have even put one penny on the Lions. Too many factors suggested an easy win by their mighty and forceful opponent. But everything came out differently. Zurich managed to turn the tables and decide the series with a strong morale, an iron will, continuous persistence, and three consecutive victories. Such a rise, from an abortive season to the most unexpected champion in decades, wasn’t even expected by some of the most optimistic and enthusiastic Lions supporters.

Here is what Bob Hartley, the winning trainer, had to say after the already mentioned final game: “That’s the image of our season. We win it in the last two seconds. What a crazy team, but that’s who we were. They battled hard all year and they believed that we could do it. And I challenged them that we would shock the Swiss hockey world, and we did. I’m very proud of my boys. The ones who believed were in our organization and that’s where it matters. Hopefully we showed people a great lesson of life: do never quit, do always persevere. And you know what, two point some seconds left, that’s unreal.”

The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. The young team from Zurich understood the performance culture Bob Hartley has been known for in a long time. A friend of mine told me recently that some of the best things are found from tempered persistence and level-headed practicality. The Lions demonstrated this thought in an impressive way. I have never been an enthusiast for idealistic quotes and overdoses of optimism, but this example shows that Winston Churchill used to share a good amount of truth with the world:  “The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.” He can’t be too wrong about that.

Bonjour Monsieur le Président

On Wednesday, there was this panel at the American Red Cross, arguing about the question whether the Geneva Conventions could still protect civilians in contemporary warfare. The event was organized by the Consulate General of Switzerland and basically characterized by the two opposing standpoints of Philip Gourevitch (The New Yorker), who thinks that the current law is not sufficient, and Gabor Rona (Human Rights First), who thinks that the debate would not be necessary if the existing rules were better applied. The discussion was interesting, but the really interesting thing happened moments before it started, namely, I got the opportunity to meet Pascal Couchepin, former President of the Swiss Confederation. I considered it an honor, because he is a personality I have actually respected as a politician.
He was member of the Swiss collective head of state (Swiss Federal Council) from 1998 to 2009, and held the presidential office in 2003 and 2008. Journalist Max Frenkel wrote a few years ago that Couchepin could have been one of the best representatives of the Federal Council in a long time, considering his intelligence, inventiveness, and his commitment for disadvantaged groups. However, there was a lot of controversy about his character in the same time. A surplus of self-confidence and a lack of self-discipline is what some people might criticize him for when looking back on his long-lasting term in office. Asking about the date of his resignation became sort of a running gag, because he would just not step down. FYI: It is not the people who elect the members of the Federal Council directly. It works differently. Any yes, Switzerland is a special case in many respects. Anyway, Mr. Couchepin has always had my personal respect for his straightforwardness. He pursued his political ideas persistently and has never made friendly overtures in order to be liked. It is a quality a lot of today’s TV-optimized, mediagenic Western world politicians do not possess anymore.

I wonder what kind of personalities will lead our nations in some 20 years.

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.

Goodbye to the Land of Cockaigne

Some days ago, I stumbled upon an article on a Swiss newspaper website outlining the macroeconomic reasons why Switzerland – the country I am leaving in two days for an unspecified period of time – will be the ultimate paradise for its citizens in 2012: Welcome to the Land of Cockaigne! The main insights: the national currency remains strong, lower import prices are being passed to the consumers, consumption grows, wages increase, inflation becomes negative, interest rates remain low, and the wealth on real estate property increases due to higher prices that, in turn, are driven by ridiculously low interest rates. Moreover, unemployment is expected to remain relatively low, which leads to the result that the Swiss total income stays high. The article came with an illustration of Scrooge McDuck taking a header into gold coins – obviously the allegorical portrayal of a typical Swiss.

Sure, the drawn analogy is oversimplified and brazenly exaggerated. No, the vast majority in Switzerland does not own a Maserati, and horses don’t belong to the category of usual birthday gifts, and yes, there is a poverty line, and all the nasty spin-offs of a regular society do exist indeed. And yet these obvious generalizations have to be adjusted drastically with regards to a global perspective. I have been to many places all around the world and must say – and this is not a major insight anymore – that many Swiss complain at a very high level. The economic circumstances make a very bearable living available, even for weaker social classes. And Mr. and Mrs. McDuck…well, they get themselves those thoroughbreds on a regular basis, just like everywhere else. It is safe to say though that the average citizen’s living standard ranges somewhere between the temporary bottleneck and a freaking amazing decadence.

So people keep asking me – particularly my relatives in Croatia – why I would want to leave such an environment and instead take the risk of staying unemployed for several months, put up with all the administrative drama, and use up my very modest savings for some affordable hovel down in Brooklyn or Queens. First of all, I was lucky enough to have found myself among the 50,000 winners out of 14,768,658 Green Card lottery entrants. However, this is a basic prerequisite, not an actual reason to go. I have outlined the reason in my previous post. In an economic system that is becoming increasingly global, it is getting proportionally important to develop a global mindset. Going out there and trying to manage the usual challenges in a different cultural framework can only be rewarding. Recent graduates do not really have much to lose: a few months of a lifetime and some money, if the worst comes to the worst.

So one question remains: Why New York? Basically because it is New York. Shanghai radiates an equally strong magic in my opinion, but in a clearly different way. With regards to the Big Apple, there was an amazing video published online last year: A Year in New York by Andrew Clancy, which I consider one of the realest city reflections ever. Everybody who has ever been there will understand:

A Year in New York from Andrew Clancy on Vimeo.

The pictures speak for themselves. So why wouldn’t I be determined to say goodbye to the Land of Cockaigne at least for a while? Special regards to all its residents!