Partner talk.

The perfect match.

The two standing ovation owners Michael Dancsecs and Etienne Ruppen in conversation.

Michael (MD): What made you decide to join standing ovation?

Etienne (ER): I joined standing ovation in 2014 with the intention of putting my entrepreneurial talent to greater use. We hit it off straight away, and standing ovation has an extraordinary team. It quickly clicked between us. The two of us complement each other: You’re the visionary, the one who sees the possibilities and opportunities, always on the lookout for a challenge. My role is to lead the team, plan resources and keep making the impossible possible. That’s the perfect match for me.

ER: What does our partnership mean to you?

MD: In our case, two are much more than one plus one. For me a business partnership doesn’t just mean sharing responsibility, it is also a guarantee of continuity and creativity for our clients. The success of standing ovation is based on partnership. That’s how it has been for the last twelve years, and this is how it will be in future too. I need a sparring partner, someone who will ask critical questions. In this new constellation we can combine our strengths even more effectively.

MD: What has defined you and your career?

ER: I grew up in the hotel business, and this instilled a sense of service in me. My parents run a hotel and restaurant in Saas-Grund. I saw what it means to be there for the guest, for the client, and to provide them with a unique experience. For me, hospitality has always figured large. I’m often asked by friends and colleagues who run a hotel or restaurant how I would rate the experience at their establishments. My partner is Vice General Manager at the Art Deco Hotel Montana in Lucerne… Service and hospitality are part of my life.

ER: What lessons have you taken away from over ten years in the business of live communication?

MD: That we have progressed from event organisers to brand experts. Just as the role and significance of brands have developed, live experience has become a key marketing instrument. We still design and stage live events, but we are increasingly doing so in the context of brand experience and brand management. A fascinating development that opens up perspectives for us which were inconceivable ten years ago.

MD: How much of the canton of Valais have you still got in you?

ER: You can definitely hear from my accent that I’m from Valais. There’s no denying that I’m a “Grüezi” (see phrase book)… I grew up in Valais and I always describe myself as a native of Valais to people in the rest of German-speaking Switzerland. Interacting with people, being proactive, socialising and enjoying life are all in my nature. And I need that. What’s more, for me there’s no “Röschtigraben”, no boundary between German- and French-speaking Switzerland. I feel very much at home in Zurich, but at the same time I appreciate my regular trips back to the mountains to reconnect with the locals, their traits and the amazing natural scenery.

ER: What is more demanding – your job or being a father?

MD: They both require energy, but they both give me a great deal of joy: Just like my twins have the privilege of discovering the world anew each day, that’s how I like to tackle projects: seeking new ideas, winning over clients to them, and successfully delivering on concepts. Making this openness part of my job is important to me, even if it can be demanding.

MD: What do you get up to when we’re not sitting opposite each other in the office?

ER: I text you to ask you where you are… (laughs). I had the chance to convert an alpine hut in Valais – or “Maiensäss” as they call it there. That’s where my partner and I retreat to whenever the opportunity arises. It’s where I replenish my strength, a place for clear thoughts, for rewarding conversations and well thought-out decisions. Zurich’s Seebach district and the larch forests above Saas-Grund are worlds apart. And yet for me they belong together: the phygital world of live communication and the lure of the towering Valais mountains.

Mini Valais phrase book.

  • Grüezi = Inhabitant of German-speaking Switzerland outside the canton of Valais
  • Horu = Matterhorn (mountain)
  • Mattini = Inhabitants of Zermatt
  • Plättli = Platter with cheese, sausage and meat specialities
  • Saasi = Inhabitants of the Saastal (Saas Valley)

Industry awards set benchmarks, foster a discussion about quality and motivate people. Winning our first FAMAB AWARD on 23 November was a great experience for us: we can count ourselves as an international player! Yes, awards make sense and are fun. And there are good reasons for that.

Industry prizes allow us to do two things: measure ourselves against competitors and showcase ourselves. We can compare ourselves to competitors in the market and showcase our services for our customers and their projects. This is why we participate in national and now also international competitions. Because these competitions show us where we stand. And they prove to our customers how well we perform. At the same time, an exchange with industry experts and colleagues is important: we gather inspiration and cultivate an ideas network.

National comparison: being among the best.

The XAVER Award is like a national league for us. It aims to be a “seal of quality” for “outstanding live projects”, such as the Expo-Event. Live Communication Association Switzerland. For us, competing for the XAVER Award is a must, as it shows our qualities and our market value to others in the industry and to a broad audience. Winning a XAVER Award can be noted on our track record vis-à-vis our customers. But, despite our pride at having won numerous XAVERs: our work focuses on our customers – and not on our ambitions.

European comparison: expanding horizons.

By participating in the FAMAB AWARD we participated in an international jury this year for the first time. “Playing in the Champions League” was the concept. The FAMAB AWARD is an interdisciplinary event organised by the German communication association FAMAB Kommunikationsverband e.V. (formerly Verband Direkte Wirtschaftskommunikation e.V.). This is where international benchmarks are determined. A Swiss agency is up against agencies and project budgets which are both usually considerably larger. A Swiss agency that succeeds, knows: we are first-rate in terms of creativity and performance. We were therefore delighted to win the bronze FAMAB AWARD for the “ABB Gotthard” project.

Read more about the FAMAB award ceremony.

International customers: a global perspective.

In addition to expanding our horizons, dealing with international competition is also an obligation in respect of our globally active clients. Customers such as the European Space Agency, ABB, Barry Callebaut, Microsoft or the Mindfire Foundation task us with projects of international dimensions. We operate in a globalised world of communication, even though we position ourselves first and foremost as a national service provider. So, after winning our first international AWARD we have gained a taste for more. And the winner is… standing ovation and its clients!

© Bilder FAMAB Award: Peter Jammernegg, Ben Grna

No country in the world stages more open air festivals than Switzerland. The live format is all the rage – and it is constantly reinventing itself, both commercially and culturally. What are the trends?

Switzerland is the world’s greatest nation of open air festivals. It might not have invented the live festival, but it has embraced it with such fervour that the market now comprises around five million festival-goers. At one end of the spectrum are the big hitters such as Paléo and Frauenfeld with up to 230,000 and 170,000 visitors respectively, and at the other the indie and community festivals that are delighted to sell 2,000 tickets. In between the two extremes is an entire festival landscape that couldn’t be more diverse.

People see a festival as a time-out.

Jasper Barendregt, Festival Director FKP Scorpio

The business models at play are as varied as the programmes and positioning. The precise revenue mix of ticket sales, catering, merchandising and sponsorship depends heavily on the size of, and sponsorship for, the festival. PLCs have different revenue models to associations and ambitious newcomers take a different approach to seasoned veterans that are operating with budgets ranging from CHF 27 million (Paléo) to CHF 8 million (OpenAir St. Gallen).

The live boom is consolidating.

Live festivals are a reaction to the digitalisation of music consumption. Streaming is good, live is better. The numbers seem to corroborate this: 877 live music events took place in Switzerland in 2005; ten years later, that figure had risen to around 1,640, according to the Swiss Music Promoters Association (SMPA press release, 5/2015). However, the pace slowed somewhat in 2015. The SMPA alluded to an increasingly cramped market, with falling attendances at live events. Thomas Kastl, who at that time was the boss of Good News, had already warned that: “The Swiss festival market is oversaturated.”

 

More than line-ups and headbanging.

If the live market is saturated, it certainly isn’t fatigued. Many live festivals have been evolving over a long period: from a music event to a multi-faceted experience format. “People see a festival as a time-out,” believes Jasper Barendregt, Festival Director at FKP Scorpio, the German producer of the Greenfield Festival in Interlaken. “It’s ultra fashionable to go to a festival.”

The line-up has long ceased to be the sole audience draw. “Music is the key component of a festival, but it is no longer the only one,” says Barendregt. The future is all about the mix, i.e. unique live shows combined with novel themed areas. Ambience, mood, food options and a tie-in with lifestyle themes are therefore becoming increasingly important.

Active in 40 countries and dealing with 550 million spectators a year.

Booking giants are storming the market.

Summer 2017 brought not just hot days, but hot news for Openair Frauenfeld: as of now, US group Live Nation, one of the world’s biggest producers of live events, is the owner of the tradition-steeped, 11-million-strong festival. Anyone who, like Live Nation, operates in 40 countries and deals with 550 million spectators a year has virtually limitless booking power. Live Nation works with such huge names as Madonna, Jay-Z and U2 – on an exclusive basis. Openair Frauenfeld by no means marks the culmination of Live Nation’s ambitions in Switzerland. “We are looking to make more investments in Switzerland,” says André Lieberberg, Managing Director of Live Nation Germany.

The complete festival package is key.

For medium-sized festivals with between 10,000 and 15,000 day visitors, painstaking marketing and well thought-out bookings are more critical than ever. Singer-songwriter event Unplugged Zermatt is a prime example of how a clear profile and programming that is concordant with this are key to a festival’s success. The rough patch experienced by the Zurich Openair demonstrated how difficult this is: buying stars is no guarantee of a profit. On the contrary: “Your own signature is vital, in fact it is becoming more and more important,” believes Christoph Huber, Festival Director of the OpenAir St. Gallen. Dany Hassenstein, member of the Executive Committee of the Paléo Festival Nyon backs up this view in the NZZ newspaper (12.6.2015): “The reality is, the whole package is key.” It’s about “bringing magic to the festival.”

Live music, art, lectures, film, nature & enjoyment.

Boutique festivals are shaking things up.

Whilst the traditional open air festivals and time-honoured indie festivals are increasingly incorporated within international, multi-festival structures, boutique festivals are having their moment: small, sometimes intimate live events that are shaking up the scene with ideas and a love of experimentation. The boutique trend originated in the USA and has now been warmly embraced in Europe. Boutique festivals are redefining the festival format: as a 360° experience and a synthesis of the arts. Burning Mountain at Charal (Zernez) in Graubünden is among the pioneers in Switzerland.

Europe’s highest altitude live festival employs around ten visual merchandising teams and devotes a great of energy to the design of the floors and the festival areas. Performance artists, workshops and the Food & Craft market are as much a part of the overall experience as the sound.

Crossover between music and lifestyle.

The boutique festivals derive their innovative impetus from all kinds of lifestyle milieus and communities: whilst the indie pop festivals celebrate rural life and proximity to nature, the electro scene scores with its unique locations. Festivals like Outlook (Fort Punta Christa, Pula, Croatia), Electrisize (Erkelenz, Germany) or A Summer’s Tale (Luhmühlen, Germany) are the European standard-setters.

A Summer’s Tale, for example, offers a motley crossover: “live music, art, lectures, film, nature & enjoyment” are on the programme, along with organic wine tasting. A real jewel among boutique festivals is Château Jolifanto, the predominantly private electro festival for around 600 guests that is held in a 55-room château in Burgundy.

The big Swiss festivals are also muscling in on the boutique trend: the world music-themed Village du Monde on the Paléo site and the creative partnership with art schools give the Western Swiss mega-event a nice, non-profit feel.

 

Upping the ante.

In today’s festival scene, to achieve commercial success, newcomers must redefine the live experience. Take the example of the recently established Rüttelhütte in Air Festival. This event, in Hauptwil, canton of Thurgau, is billed as “Switzerland’s coolest house party”. Its bombastic positioning has proved popular, as has the concept of combining music with “premium entertainment”.

The world’s first indoor camping area.

The Rüttelhütte in Air Festival not only offers “the world’s first indoor camping area” and the “first Swiss black light mini golf course” but also the “Masters of Beer Pong” (hence the minimum admission age of 18). Backed by an association, the Rüttelhütte in Air Festival was first held in 2015, thanks to crowdfunding raised via the Raiffeisen “Local Heroes” platform. The hyped-up action style of this new breed of festival is hard to top! With its top-class line-up of Swiss acts, the festival has also caught the attention of the Migros Culture Percentage, Migros’ main vehicle for exercising its cultural and social commitments.

New cooperation between festivals and sponsors.

Switzerland’s first generation of festival-goers is now retired. The festival as a stage event complete with muddy campsite and queues for the toilets has also had its day. More and more themed areas are sprouting up on festival sites, aimed specifically at individual communities and needs. The more festivals become live experiences, the more diverse the opportunities for live marketing.

Gone are the days of aggressive sponsorship branding and large-scale advertising.

“For many sponsors, festivals are the perfect way to engage with younger consumers in a laid-back way”, says Christof Huber, of Incognito Productions, the organiser of festivals such as OpenAir St. Gallen, Stars in Town (Schaffhausen) and Summer Days (Arbon). Gone are the days of aggressive sponsorship branding and large-scale advertising. “A subtle and practical presence is more effective. Because of this, the advertising is usually developed in consultation with the festival organiser. The result is that it integrates casually into the festival concept.”

The next festival season is already in the planning stages, and the first line-ups will soon be announced. One thing is clear: live festivals are part and parcel of summer and the open air feeling is now very much a lifestyle choice.

Winston and standing ovation on tour.

With “Winston Village”, standing ovation has developed an open air concept for JTI that seamlessly combines the festival experience and brand experience. At the heart of the concept:

• Innovative branding was the watchword: the Winston Tower was integrated into the festival architecture.
• Multiple touchpoints led from getting to know the band to being part of it.
• A unique ambience was created in the Village, with lounges, DJs and activities.
• The Village concept had to work in a wide variety of festival settings.

The “Winston Village” featured at the following festivals: Greenfield Festival (Interlaken), Argovia Fäscht (Birrfeld), Trucker & Country Festival (Interlaken), Openair Lumnezia (Val Lumnezia), Heitere Openair (Zofingen), Openair Gampel

 

©Picture Header: Aranxa Esteve

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