campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 10 November 2006 12:00AM
"You don't happen to have somewhere I can park my car for the ski season, do you?," a senior adland executive asked when I introduced myself as the chief executive of Young & Rubicam Brands in Geneva.
This is a typical response. Geneva equals skiing to all but a few in the ad world. But those few are slowly gaining in number. And I am one of them. So what was it that drew me away from the threat of terrorism that is so much a part of London life?
Well, Chamonix is not the only bustling centre of activity within 60 minutes of Geneva. Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Ralph Lauren, Entertainment Arts, Nestle, Philip Morris and other multinationals have their global or regional headquarters in this most international of cities.
Whether it was the 220 nationalities that inhabit Geneva or the Swiss tax system that drew them here is immaterial. Given the proportion of the world's communication spend that they represent - they're good shoulders to be rubbing.
They are here along with 20 international institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, Uefa and the International Olympic Committee, and almost 300 non-governmental organisations: many of which are taking decisions that affect the human race, not just advertising.
"But it's so boring there!" another "deep" skier said. I suspect that in the search for green road signs to his heaven, he had missed the fact that the Canton of Geneva is legally obliged to spend a massive 20 per cent of raised taxes on supporting the arts. There are endless music festivals, art exhibitions and theatrical productions, all devoured by a city keen to feed its creative habit.
And while the skiers of adland may be slow to understand the opportunity (Saatchi & Saatchi being the only network apart from Y&R to be marshalling global resources to meet this demand), clients certainly aren't. They know that should they want an agency that can not only speak multiple languages, but also has an outlook that goes beyond the frosted glass of The Ivy, then Geneva is the city to come to.
One of the other reasons they come to Geneva is its sheer convenience. From here you can get to most other major cities in Europe within an hour or two, transport works with the usual Swiss precision, and queues at check-in - while not exactly non-existent - are a lot less frustrating than at other airports. As a business hub, the city simply cannot be beaten.
Whether or not it will ever eclipse Amsterdam as an international centre of creative excellence, only time will tell. Meanwhile, the last three pitches we undertook (and won) were against London agencies.
So, yes - bring your car. And why not your clients, too. It is only a matter of time.
- Marcus Brown is the chief executive of Young & Rubicam Brands Geneva
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk