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PR in Switzerland: Communications campaigns with actual mountains to climb, with Burson-Marsteller’s David Hart

18th February 2013


Upping sticks and moving your life abroad can be a challenging experience. New cultures, new languages and a new pace of life can often take a while to adapt to. For the past two years, I have experienced in-house and now agency communications roles in Zurich. Both have challenges that will be familiar to UK communications professionals, but they also bring a unique set of opportunities.

Reputation, reputation, reputation
 

The beauty of the PR business is that our principles are internationally recognised. Reputation drives business, business drives reputation, and targeted, strategic communications campaigns are the key to both. This makes working abroad in communications much simpler than many other professions. When it comes to reputation, communications professionals need to be smart when working with the unique challenges and opportunities facing Swiss based companies. “Made in Switzerland” is a highly regarded accolade of quality and the most successful companies have embraced this in their communications strategies to counter other more negative perceptions about business models and tax structures when working in other markets.

A stable market looking to the global marketplace
 

First impressions of the Swiss market are usually of a world of bankers and financiers. This is a major part of the Swiss economy and it is battling, along with the global financial sector, to rebuild its reputation after the challenges of the past few years. But Switzerland is also home to diverse, world leading companies in the pharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy sectors, and of course luxury goods, spread through Zurich, Bern, Basel and Geneva. Lesser known Zug, just up the road from Zurich, is the epitome of a region that has brought commerce and talent to the shores of its lake by implementing business friendly policies. Over 30,000 companies are registered here alone, 17,000 of which are listed on the stock exchange.

Having largely weathered the economic storm, Swiss businesses are well placed, both in terms of reputation and geography, to continue to reach beyond Switzerland’s borders to the global marketplace. This means that communications professionals have plentiful opportunities to work with the companies that will continue to dominate their respective fields in the years ahead.

Multi-lingual domestic market
 

The domestic market is Switzerland should not be overlooked. The ease of travel between the major cities makes same day business meetings from Zurich to Bern, Basel, Zug or Geneva the norm. But it also highlights the biggest change to media relations from London to Switzerland, the need to reach out in multiple languages on a daily basis to domestic media. Having to decide whether to send out a story in German, French or some cases Italian or English to the media adds a whole new dimension to a national PR campaign and requires a delicate understanding of the language sensitivities. Like working in the UK, this is not a new phenomenon when working on international campaigns, but Swiss based companies are already aligned to the need for it, which tends to make the process run more smoothly.

When it all gets too much, head for the hills
 

By far the biggest attraction to living and working in Switzerland is that you are never far away from the mountains. Cycling, walking or skiing in the evenings or at weekends allows you to relieve some of the stress of the PR world. However, despite having actual mountains to climb, Switzerland also has effective mobile phone reception, so, like in the UK, you can never escape the office entirely!

David Hart is director and practice leader, corporate and financial communications, Burson-Marsteller, Switzerland



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