Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ad Hats

I don't know why, but when I started working in advertising I decided that at every agency where I worked I'd get a hat. But after nearly 5 years, for all their other perks, Y&R Chicago has failed to make hats for its employees. So I'm giving up the hobby and throwing all but my favorite Hadrian's Wall hat into the Goodwill bag. So if you see a homeless guy trudging around underneath the L tracks, and he's wearing a GSD&M or Ogilvy hat, don't worry. It's probably mine and not a sign of the fate of everyone in advertising. (Unless it's my old Arian, Lowe and Travis hat. Then it's probably one of my old co-workers.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Awards in Storage

Two of the hardest packing decisions I've had to make:
  1. Do I take all my One Show annuals?
  2. Do I take my award show trophies?
One Show annuals are great inspiration. But they're extraordinarily heavy, and I'm on a fixed shipping budget. Same dilemma with the trophies. I mean, the Chicago Creative Award is literally a brick. Do I really need to take masonry with me to Switzerland? This is the only time I've felt the paper certificate you get as a One Show merit outweighs an actual gold, silver or bronze trophy.

Here's my compromise: Leaving the awards. Leaving most of the annuals. Taking only the annuals I'm in. Then I'll win more awards in Switzerland.

Why I Chose Switzerland

Since I announced I was leaving for Switzerland, two of the most frequent questions have been:
  1. How did you do it?
  2. Why'd you choose Switzerland?
The answer to the second question is "I didn't choose Switzerland," which helps explain the answer to the first, "I told my boss and the HR department that I'd like global experience."

I've had several people tell me they'd like to transfer to London. Or Paris. Or Hong Kong. Which is cool. But my advice - if you're seriously considering going global - is to not be too particular about where you go.

The guy who helped orchestrate my transfer is LH Whelchel, the Chief Talent Officer at Y&R's New York headquarters. He's told me several times that when it comes to opportunities abroad "A lot of people put their hands up, but not a lot of people get called."

I think this is in part because employees say, "I want to go to work in London. Anything open?" That's way too narrow a net. There has to be an opening in London. You have to fit it. And you have to fit it better than anyone London can get for less money than it's going to cost them to ship you over there.

So if you're serious about going abroad, my neophyte recommendations are:
  1. Let the people who can affect that decision know.
  2. Don't pigeonhole yourself. Even by the language. I never would have guessed there was an English-speaking office in Switzerland.
  3. Maybe try reading this book...If you're a woman.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's a 2-year contract, but...

When I visited the Geneva office in January I was invited to a tapas bar (Les 5 Portes) for the retirement party of their CFO. I spoke to a number of expats that night – Brits, Canadians, and Americans – most of whom had children. There were two things I heard consistently throughout the night:
  1. “Geneva is an ideal place to raise a family.”

  2. “I was only going to come for a couple years, but I’ve been here for [answers ranged from 10 to 26 years].”
Kind of scary. But I guess there are worse things than finding a place you'd like to live in for the rest of your life.

Monday, June 23, 2008


This morning, my soon-to-be creative director, Bob Heron, called me at the office to discuss a few logistics of the move.

In the middle of the conversation, he interrupted himself to tell me that he just learned the French word for a train's sleeper car is sabot. And that during railroad strikes, those who would go out and dismantle the railroads so the trains couldn't run came to be known as saboteurs.

He apologized for the etymological non sequitur. But it just made me realized how much I'm going to enjoy working for Bob.

Small Big Agency Experience

At about 80 employees, Y&R Chicago is the largest agency I’ve ever worked for. For most of my co-workers (who've spent time at DDB and Burnett), it’s the smallest. Here’s my agency experience by estimated employee size:

FJCandN (now Richter7): 35
Arian Lowe & Travis (presumably extinct): 40
Hadrian’s Wall (now Zig): 7
Y&R Chicago: 80

Y&R Geneva is roughly 40 people. So at least when I move to a new continent in a foreign city where I don't speak the language I'll be in my comfort zone.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Unlimited Entries To Switzerland

We got our Swiss visas today. Graphically, they're gorgeous. Very colorful. Those Europeans sure know how to make bureaucracy appealing. (I'd post a copy, but I'm not sure how many al-Qaeda members have this blog on their Google Reader.)

So now my family and I have unlimited entries to Switzerland. Just like Ben Linus...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

False Start Dates

Originally, we'd talked about a January 1st start date. January 1st, 2008. Back when Hillary was a shoo-in.

Then we talked about March 1st. Which became June 1st. Which became July 1st. As of this writing, my official start date is July 7th.

The delay has been mostly due to paperwork, red tape, and lawyers (albeit, very helpful Swiss ones that do not conform to their American counterparts' stereotypes). I'm grateful that a lot of people have been holding my hand through this process. But I had no idea we'd be holding hands for this long. My palms are starting to get sweaty.

In the end, the early July date works out perfectly for us in terms of leasing our house and me wrapping up projects at the Chicago office. But it is a terrible tragedy that it forces us to miss both the biggest event in Geneva and the biggest event in Chicago.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ah! Gerard Depardieu!

Even though the Geneva office operates in English, I've been trying to brush up on my French. I took two years in high school, but there were a lot of cheerleaders in my classes, so vocabulary wasn't really the focus of my attention.

I've listened to an 8-disc Michel Thomas course from the public library twice. And I play a lot of My French Coach on my Nintendo DS. I feel like I'm making progress. But that may be delusional. When I saw this clip from Flight of the Conchords, I thought, "Yep. That's me. Foux de fafa."

Friday, June 13, 2008

This One's For the Ladies...

After I'd accepted the job in Geneva, my ECD, Ken Erke, recommended I check out the book Getting Ahead by Going Abroad. He had met one of its authors during a presentation to Kraft. "Great premise," I thought. "Very appropriate." So I jumped online and ordered a copy. It wasn't until it arrived that noticed the subhead:

"A Woman's Guide to Fast-track Career Success."

With a conspicuous lack of estrogen, I emailed the authors who assured me that 80% of the book still applied to me as a man. So I cracked it open. (In a very masculine way.)

I ended up skimming the first few chapters that asked "Is going abroad right for you?" (a little late there, sisters), and "How to land a job overseas" (Done). By the time I got to the areas that actually applied to me, the text was so peppered with advice on dealing with dating abroad and sexual harassment in foreign cultures that I couldn't go on without feeling like I should be in a pants suit.

So I left the book with some of the women at Y&R Chicago. (Oddly, the two who asked to borrow it first were both citizens of other countries, already ahead and abroad.)

It seems like a very good book. I've been told it's very inspiring. If I get sexually harassed in Switzerland, I'll just have to order another copy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Giving My Four-Month's Notice

Sometime last year, Y&R Geneva’s CEO, Marcus Brown, told Y&R headquarters that he wanted a copywriter who spoke English. Mine is the name they sent him, and we began talking in September, 2007.

When I had my first phone call scheduled with the creative director, Bob Heron, I had every question I could think to ask listed on a legal pad. I'd spent days researching expat packages online. I had moving expenses averaged, cost of living calculated, and even wanted to ask his opinion on a couple international schools for my kids. I had a career and a family to look after and I was going to let him know I was a negotiating powerhouse.

This was the gist of our actual conversation:

Bob: So you'd like to work in Geneva?

Greg: Yeah.

Bob: Well, what I think you and your wife should do is sit down and really discuss what moving to a new country would be like.

Greg: Um...Okay.

Bob: Just to make sure it's right for you.

Greg: Okay.

Bob: And when you've done that, let's have another chat.

Greg: Okay.

I think they wanted to be sure I wasn't some kid who saw this as a vacation - someone who would pack up as soon as the culture shock shook. I explained that my wife and I had both lived in Europe before and knew that the electric outlets were different. That may have sped things up a week or two.

After a series of very deliberate phone calls, the office flew me out for an interview in January, 2008. And they flew my wife and I back out a month later, when they made an official offer. So when I begin in early July, almost a year will have passed since the opportunity first presented itself.

I'd never given four-month's notice before.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Why Move to Switzerland?

Here’s how it began:

My wife was watching a Food Network program on Singaporean cuisine. The food looked so good she asked if I’d ever want to work in Singapore. “Sure,” I said. “It’s a great city for advertising.” Plus I spent a week there once. The food really was great.

A few weeks later we started talking about China. With all that growth and opportunity, why not?

So I mentioned to my boss, Mark Figliulo, that if Y&R had any opportunities to transfer overseas - particularly to Singapore or China - I’d be very interested. He passed my name along to headquarters and a month later HR called and asked if I spoke Chinese. "No." So that didn't work out. Early on, there was also an opportunity in Singapore. But they were looking for an art director. Lucky art director.

About a year later, HR called and asked if I'd be interested in Switzerland. A country we'd never considered. One I'd visited only briefly. And one that had an agency in need of a copywriter.

So I've taken a job at Y&R Geneva, and in the next few weeks, my wife, children and I are moving to Switzerland. Because they have really good food in Singapore.