Friday, August 29, 2008

The Company Party

Last week I found myself surrounded by grown men and women who needed to have the rules of softball explained to them. Such was the office summer party in Europe. 

"Yes, but how do you know who's on your team?"
"So after I hit the ball, I just pick one of the bases and run to it?"
"I only have one glove for catching. Don't I need two? No? Okay."

To be fair, if we'd decided to have a game a cricket at an office party in the States, we'd be just as clueless. But as an American, it was a little like receiving instructions on how to use a spoon.

Having missed my last four Y&R summer parties in Chicago, I was happy to attend this one in Geneva. But when I realized they'd hired coaches to teach us how to play softball and ultimate frisbee, it occurred to me these weren't going to be the typical team-building exercises.

We were bussed to an athletic field where we were introduced to our coaches who started us out on a run around the field and a series of stretches. The last time I did this in earnest, no one outside Arkansas had heard of Bill Clinton. I guess loosening up prevents injuries, but I felt like I was doing Japanese corporate calethenics.

Our Danish fast-pitch coach gave us a brief history of softball before sending one team to the outfield. Because I'm American I was asked to bat first. Funny the pressure that's created when you're suddenly the ambassador for your country. Pop fly. Caught barehanded by my creative director. A Brit. Embarrassing? Yeah, a little. But nothing compared to seeing the adult men who followed me hold the bats like 7-year-old girls.

While I was playing shortstop, one of the graphic designers bunted (unintentionally) and I had to run past the pitcher's mound to retrieve the ball. Just as I'm feeling smug in my American athletecism, another coworker steps up to bat and the Danish coach says to me, "You might want to move closer. Remember to learn from your mistakes! You're getting the hang of it!" Maybe if I had worn my Chicago Bears t-shirt...

After a single inning of softball, it was on to 45 minutes of ultimate frisbee. I've lost weight in Switzerland, and I'd equated that with being in shape. Sadly, running to catch a plastic disc set me straight. I had visions of friends back in America saying, "Did you hear Greg had a heart attack?" "No! What happened?" "Well, he was playing frisbee..."

After these heart-rate-boosting events everyone smelled like used gym towels, so it was time to socialize. After a few drinks we did a race where we had to carry an egg on a spoon which we held in our mouths. Decidedly ridiculous, but it was at least predictable corporate summer party fare.

The next game was Full-Contact Name That Tune (not the official name, just an accurate description). A large Swiss cowbell was placed on a table. The first person to recognize both the title and the artist the DJ played had to run, grab the bell, ring it and give their answer. My biggest collision came on Eric Clapton's "Cocaine," when I thought for an instant that my jaw had been dislocated by the Swiss intern who grabbed the bell screaming, "Cocaine by Cream! Cocaine by Cream!" Points for knowing Clapton's former band, but, dude. Come on.

My team won, because I was the designated Quasimodo bell-ringer, and they were playing mostly American songs with an occasional British Invasion tune. The few songs I whiffed on were tracks like "Touch Me" by Samantha Fox. No shame in that.

By then our sweat had dried and it was time to eat. We had catered barbecue which was authentic right up until they served fruit and thinly-sliced goat cheese for dessert. Not sure that's something that was imported from Austin.

I spent the rest of the dinner talking to our French interactive guy, Frank, who kept telling me how disappointed his countrymen are with Sarkozy. "The French used to be poor. Now, they're poor and sad." I've decided that no matter what country you're from, you probably don't like who's in charge of it.

We ended with a rousing game of Pictionary, which incorporated the frequent appearance of NC-17 clues. (I was relieved when the clue I was assigned to draw was "black.") We boarded our chartered bus just before 11:15 pm. And, this being Switzerland, that's exactly when it left.

Despite my caked-on perspiration, I had a great time. I like my office, and I like my coworkers very much. Even the ones who hold their bats like pansies.

Chocolate Overdose

We recently visited Nestle's Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. I loved these old-timey posters they had on display. These were made before art directors became ad directors.

It wasn’t exactly a Willy Wonka experience. No chocolate rivers. No kids turning into blueberries. There were pictures of fruits and chocolate on the wallpaper, but I didn’t try licking them.

Still, the tour concluded with unlimited free samples of Cailler chocolate, which made me wish I’d brought my stretchy pants. Just a room full of people, not quite ready to leave, heading back to the counters to try something new.

But here’s the Seth Godin-style analysis: The unlimited (almost unsupervised) free chocolate room is the last part of the tour. Right before you enter the gift shop with racks and racks of Cailler chocolate at discount prices. But even with the markdown, I was thinking, “Why would I want to buy any of this stuff? I just ate 42 of these for free and now I want to throw up.”

At Disneyland, gift shops are strategically placed at the exits of the more popular rides. Get off the boat at Pirates of the Carribean, and within a few steps you’ve got pistols, eye patches, and skull mugs with plastic ruby eyes. You don't mind paying $18 for a plastic sword, because you're still jazzed on pirates. But after you ride Pirates, you’re not nauseous with a buccaneer overdose.

I'm not sure what a better arrangement would be. How could they entice us without making those of us with little willpower sick? I don’t think you could limit the free samples. That’s part of the draw. (Certainly the reason we drove there.)

I did buy a few bars for friends. Maybe that's all Cailler was hoping for.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Company Man

Today, I’ve been with the Y&R network for five years. If you would have told me when I was in portfolio school that I would spend so many years with such a behemoth name I might have cried. (Fortunately, Y&R Chicago is very different from it's corporate anchor.)

So happy anniversary to me. Maybe I should get a corporate portrait.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Creativity Awards List

Creativity released their annual Awards List. In the Agency Network category, Y&R was at the bottom of the pile with 415, 1600 awards less than BBDO. Not sure exactly how many the Chicago office contributed to that. Pretty sure the Geneva office didn’t.

Y&R’s new worldwide creative director, Tony Granger was #5 on the list of most awarded Creative Directors. (His old network, Saatchi & Saatchi was #2, while Saatchi & Saatchi, New York was #5 in the Agency category.)

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of difference Tony makes on the network. But I’m more interested to see what kind of impact we can make with Geneva.

Forty-Eight Down, Two To Go

Special thanks to my old partner, Mollie Wilkie, for stepping up and sending me the New Mexico and Arizona quarters. I'd never considered the trans-Atlantic implications on my collecting hobbies. (My other past-time? Collecting micro-brewed root beer bottles. Nope, that doesn't work in Europe, either.)

Just Alaska and Hawaii to go. This gives me about four more months to come up with a new obsession.

Rappin' at CERN

CERN, the Geneva-based European Center for Nuclear Research, is about to fire up their particle accelerator.

There have been some concerns that CERN's efforts to create mini-black holes will swallow us up like Maximillian and Dr. Reinhardt. Going as far as to file a lawsuit.

But, in effort to dispel our fears, the employees at CERN have released this music video which explains their particle accelerator to the masses, yo.

This isn't a joke. This is a bona fide CERN production. I hope they do a better job with the mini-black holes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I'm On Fire!

Our PR department just informed me that Werbewoche has written about my arrival. Their email says this is "the Swiss German most important trade magazine." Thing is, it's all in German.

I have a translator widget on my dashboard, so I plugged in the write-up, and this is what it spit out:

Young & Rubicam of fire Geneva receives reinforcement from Chicago.

The 35-jaehrige Greg Christensen is new as Copywriter with Young & Rubicam of fire Geneva on board. It pushes from Y&R Chicago to the Geneva agency and looks on approximately ten years experience in the advertising industry back. Christensen will operate in its new position for the B2B- and B2C-Mandate, among other things for Pharmaton, Baboo and the World Economic forum.

(For the record, I think Young & Rubicam Brands should change its name to Young & Rubicam of Fire.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Streak Is Broken

In the five years I was at Y&R Chicago, the agency won one pitch and lost a crushingly large number of others. Some were because the competition had better ideas (DDB’s work for the Chicago Tribune was just better), and some were for reasons that taunt both reason and sanity (National City Bank said we had the best strategy and the best work, but we were a little too young, and a little too hip).

In the month I’ve been away, Y&R Chicago has won two pitches: Double Tree Hotels and Giant Eagle.

So is it me? Or did I just leave Chicago a little too early?


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Good Win for a Good Cause

I’ve got a history of doing work for noble causes: the National Parks Conservation Association, the Illinois Department of Public Health, even encouraging women to get mammograms.

So even though I had nothing to do with this win, I’m excited to be a part of the agency that did.

Y&R Brands Geneva has won the brand consultancy work for the United Nations agency ISDR (International Strategy for Disaster Reduction). The ISDR aims at building disaster resilient communities by promoting increased awareness of the importance of disaster reduction as an integral component of sustainable development.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Eva Longoria is Moonlighting

Who loves Lusso? Eva Longoria loves Lusso.

These portraits of Eva selling Lusso-cicles are everywhere in Geneva. And you can totally tell it's her because she's signed her name to each ad.

It's too bad Lusso isn't sold in the United States, because I'm sure she'd want to be the spokeswoman for these delicious treats on her home soil. I bet Eva has a Lusso bar a day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Client List

I’ve worked on some cool clients in the month I’ve been at Y&R Geneva. I’ll post work once it’s produced, but here are the companies I’ve worked on so far:

This is Geneva's Jet Blue. Every review I've read says the service is way above par. They have about 5 planes. Hopefully, I'll take one soon. Maybe to Florence. Or Sofia.

The world's 2nd largest vitamin producer. But with zero US presence, I'd never heard of them before.

World Economic Forum
These are the people who are running the world. But I'd only vaguely heard of this. Now that I'm doing work for them, I'm ashamed I didn't know more.

Not the cable network. Not the explosive. This is Europe's UPS. They're huge over here. Yet again, I'd never heard of them.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Caller are you there?

I subscribe to Tom Monahan’s Before and After blog. Really good stuff. He doesn’t post frequently, but when he does, they’re worth reading. (Tom used to author the Advertising column of Communication Arts before bequeathing it to Ernie Schenck, so each post reads a lot like one of his old columns.)

Last week he posted about a conference call that sounded like an interesting opportunity. A creative organization expert was hosting a 20-minute call about how to increase creativity within agencies. I forwarded it on to my ECD and my CEO, who both thought it was a great idea and asked me to reserve a conference room and send an invite out to the entire agency, which I did.

I guess I was a little overzealous, because it wasn’t until after I'd r.s.v.p.-ed to participate in the call that I realized the States-based call would begin Friday evening at 6:15, Geneva time.

Which is why last Friday, I sat in the reserved conference room by myself.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Dark Side of Switzerland

Send to me by my friend Claire...

A Country With A Cross On the Flag

Sent to me by my friend Peter...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Twist on the Immigrant Debate

I’m amazed at the number of anglophiles in Geneva who have no interest in learning French. I’ve met people who’ve lived here for years and speak about as well as I do.

Granted, it’s easy to get around Geneva in English. But if you’re here for an extended stay, why not try?

I’ve started to wonder if these are the same US expats who back home would argue that Hispanic immigrants to the States should be compelled to learn English.

For the record, I do think immigrants to the United States should learn English. But I think this applies to me in this or any other country as well.

It’s made me realize the subtleties of the argument. Your position comes down to one of two beliefs: 

People living in a foreign country should learn the native tongue.


Everyone should learn English.

I guess beliefs aren’t beliefs until they’re tested against laziness.

Monday, August 11, 2008

We speak Gerfrenglan.

Last week, I bought a mobile phone in French.
When I turned it on, the text was in German.
My wife is fluent in German, but speaks Italian even better.
So she was consulting the Italian manual of the phone I bought in French to switch the German text to English.

Geneva’s awesome.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Soupe de Gland

As one of my art directors and I were working on a project, I threw out the clich├ęd analogy of an acorn becoming an oak tree. Here’s the conversation:

AD: What’s an acorn?

I draw a picture of an acorn.

AD: Oh. Isn’t that what pigs eat?

GRC: I don’t know what you feed pigs over here. In America squirrels eat them.

AD: What’s a squirrel?

I draw a picture of a squirrel.

AD: Oh, okay. Yes, these are fed to pigs, too.

GRC: I’ve had them in soup before.

AD: No! Really?

GRC: I’m pretty sure. [After Googling this, I discovered it’s acorn squash soup that I’ve eaten. Not acorn soup.]

AD: How did you eat it?

GRC: In a soup. What do you call these in French?

AD: Gland [pronounced glawn].

GRC: Oui. Soupe du gland.

AD: Yes, but I wouldn’t say it like that.

GRC: Oh. Gland du soupe?

AD: No. In French…Well, I ought to tell you. The gland is also part of the penis. So I’d be careful how you talk about it.

Awkward silence.

GRC: Oh. Thanks.

So now, I’m terrified of talking about acorns in French. And I don’t think I’ll ever look at an acorn the same way.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

This One's For the Art Directors

I’m sure you’ve seen the white oval stickers people put on the backs of their cars to indicate the country they’re from. F for France. D for Deutschland. Well, the cars in Switzerland feature this sticker…

While it could justifiably stand for “chocolate,” it’s actually an abbreviation of Switzerland’s official name in Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica.

Helvetica! I’m living in a typeface!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Nice typography can only do so much...

Logo for a French company that makes cheese:

I Had George Costanza's Wallet

I just decided to empty my wallet of every card I couldn't possibly use in Switzerland: a Borders rewards card, Banana Republic credit card, Dominick's supermarket card, the list goes on...

My wallet looks like it's gone a year on Fen-Phen. I hardly recognize it. That's one of the nice things about moving to a foreign country: I can take a break from being brand-loyal.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Creative = Middle Management?

I have a Swiss bank account now. I didn’t see any South American dictators or oil conglomerate CEOs in the lobby. But it was still an interesting experience.

First, there are no walk-ins. You have to schedule an appointment. They escort you to a small room with a desk, give you a glass of water and ask you to wait. Then a representative from the bank enters and takes you through a series of questions, making detailed notes on several official-looking pieces of paper. After an hour or so, you’ve got the much-heralded Swiss bank account. (There's no free checking, by the way. You pay a monthly fee to bank in Switzerland. It's about $15 a month unless you have over $10,000 in your account. Then they bump it down to $10 a month. If you have $10,000 in your account, I'm sure saving $5 a month comes as a great relief.)

But here’s what gets me: When I received copies of the forms, I was aghast to see they described my position as “middle management.” I explained to him what I do. That I’m a writer – a SENIOR writer – for an ad agency. That I produce television commercials, print advertising and online content seen all over the world. And that’s what they reduced me to. It feels so...Dilbert.

Shortlisted at Cannes, and I’m still in middle management.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Out Through The Inbox

One unexpected benefit of working in Europe is that I am not continually checking my email. There’s no point. I’m nine hours ahead of the West Coast, and six hours ahead of the East.

The messages I check in the morning have all been sent before my American friends go to bed. And the messages I read right before leaving work have been sent just as they’re all showing up at the office.

It’s a concept I tried to master with limited success in Chicago. But here, it’s just a matter of timing.