POV: Interview with Alex Schönburg, Creative Director
My name is Alex Schönburg, and I’m the creative director at Agency 4e7, which is located in Vienna, Austria. I have also been a partner there since 2003. I’ve worked in advertising for more than 25 years and in seven different countries. I started at Grey New York in the late ‘80s and was then sent with to Peru, Mexico and Canada. In 1993, I started my own agency in São Paulo, which was then sold to TBWA. When I returned to Europe, I started Cayenne in Germany and Austria, which eventually became a part of Dentsu and was later renamed Dentsu Europe.
Tell us more about Agency 4E7 and the type of work you do. What differentiates it from other agencies in the interactive, digital and print space? What is your agency’s approach to your work?
We are not an agency specialized in one particular field or another, such as interactive, above the line or design. We are an agency that has evolved with the market and marketing needs. From the very beginning, we were a very open and flexible bunch, so that evolutionary culture was, and is, our main feature.
Tell us a little bit about Notorious. What was the process for you to launch this? How does it help meet your business objectives?
As everything in a evolutionary process, it started with a seed. We were one of the first agencies to have a blog in Austria, and soon afterwards we transformed our website into a blog. From there it was just a natural and logical step to explore other fields. Because we had worked with the São Paulo Fashion Week for four years and had relationships with other fashion and lifestyle brands, a fashion blog was close at hand.
As the blog became more popular, we decided to transform it into a online magazine. Soon afterwards, we started using Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and so on to help promote it. Notorious is now the largest online fashion magazine in Austria, and among the largest in the German-speaking region.
Like most of our own products, Notorious started as an experiment, but now we have a communications platform with many magazines and blogs that are a part of this. These sites have become a very powerful new business tool — quite profitable as well.
With Notorious and other Agency 4E7-initiated efforts (i.e. Paint The City), you all devote considerable resources to non-client work. How do you think this benefits your organization, your staff and your clients? How did you organize these initiatives in a profitable way?
Yes, there has been a substantial amount of time and effort put into Paint The City. But, it gives the our staff the opportunity to develop their personal projects, a point that is very important to the creative class, which makes up most of our staff. Hence, motivated staff equals good work, which equals happy clients.
As I mentioned, these non-client projects started to be profitable, mainly as any big blog or online magazine does, selling advertising as well as tailor-made content formats.
What have been some of your favorite campaigns or projects you’ve worked on? Why?
We are very proud of almost every campaign we have done, but I would have to mention the Augarten case as one of our favorites. The main reason being that it was the first successful crowd sourcing project in Austria, and because it used all social media platforms in a very clever way, quite some time before anyone was using it for that purpose.
With what types of organizations do you personally, along with your agency, collaborate to ensure that you provide your clients with the most effective strategies and campaigns (i.e. research firms, translation consultants, freelancers)? How have these collaborative relationships benefitted your work in the past?
We are actually open to any company or freelancer whom are innovative and open minded. We do move towards expertise and input in areas that aren’t related to our field of marketing and advertising. For instance, hiring an actuarial calculations company to help us better understand the success elements in a telecom retail campaign.
As a creatively-minded individual, how do you think “creative advertising” will evolve over the next two to three years? How do you think agency roles will change as a result?
Uh, that’s a hard one. Never before have there be so many speculations about the subject: social media is the new Internet bubble, TV and print will die, everything is going to be mobile, tablets are just hype, tablets are the future, privacy is dead, Facebook IPO is a scam, etc. I, personally, am not a pessimist, and as I said at the very beginning, we are evolutionary, so I see all of this just as a part of this process. Some stuff will go under, others will prevail, but whatever the outcome may be, one thing is for sure — we are in the midst of one of the most exciting technological and social evolution stages ever. As for our business, or as you put it — creative advertising — I see that our role will be more of a curator, putting consumer-generated content into context. I also believe that the companies who do not recognize the value and strength of social capital and insist in producing only its own creative for its clients, may find themselves in some trouble pretty soon. Furthermore, one has to be very aware of the fact that Google, as well as Facebook, is always improving and changing its products and algorithms, so based on that, it is only a matter of time before these companies start offering creative curatorship as well.
How does your agency try to incorporate Austrian culture into creative strategies and tactics (i.e., design, aesthetic, cultural norms)?
As we are turning more and more into a global village, the local touch is losing its strength. Of course you need to respect some idiosyncrasies, but what people think is funny here is the same that makes people laugh in Taiwan. Hence 9gag.
In your opinion, what strategies have brands from abroad employed to win favor with Austrian consumers? Any that failed miserably?
As a matter of fact, most large companies do use creative from Germany in the Austrian Market. But some, mainly the ones already using social media, have been relevant with local tonality. A good example are the webisodes we produced for Schöller ice cream featuring Tackshittaz, a very popular Austrian Hip Hop band.
Describe the culture for advertising industry professionals in Austria and Germany.
Sehr genau und durchdacht (you’ll have to google that. LOL)
What types of campaigns resonate most with the Austrian consumer? Humor? Luxury? Regional or local?
Humor is culturally very present and liked in Austria.
What are your plans for the future of Agency 4E7?
Keep on evolving until we turn into Optimus Prime.
One reason that you love what you do: It is always new.
Mentor: George Lois
Must read book: “Summa Theologica” by St. Thomas Aquinas
Music that gets you in your zone: Everything that is good right now (We are a commercial bunch —very mainstream)
Find out more about Agency 4e7 by visiting them on Facebook or YouTube. Check out their agency-powered sites like Notorious magazine, Mothership Pro, Social Media Club of Austria and the Pop de Luxe blog.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr user alangrlane.