Swiss Timing

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Recognizing the marketing world's current small-is-beautiful zeitgeist, tiny Zurich shop Walker is aiming to be the fairest of them all. A mere three employees work at Walker's 87-square-meter office in the heart of Zurich's Old Town, but the shop has created a disproportionate impact with its recent work, including one of last year's biggest outdoor ideas, Amnesty International's "It's Not Happening Here. But It Is Happening Now."

Amnesty International Switzerland
Amnesty International Switzerland
More than 200 unique executions in Swiss cities including Zurich, Bern and Geneva superimpose human rights violations over photos of the environment where the poster is placed, forcing viewers to confront once-remote atrocities on their own street corners. Extensive media coverage accelerated the impact of the campaign, which was created, appropriately, within the tiniest of time frames—Walker, along with some pro bono help, finished the project in under a month. "This new way of using a poster did require a flexible and fast coordination with media and production partners," says Pius Walker, Walker founder, creative director and chief strategist. "It's something a small group of people normally does more efficiently."

Amnesty International Switzerland
Amnesty International Switzerland
It's an apt breakout project to help crystallize the three-year-old agency's ethos. "What about if you stay small?" Walker ruminates. "What if you grow your network of independent creatives and strategic planners, and not the size of your agency? This idea benefits from the fact that more and more of the best people in the business are offering their services on a project basis. With big clients today reviewing projects rather than whole accounts, we believe that the whole market is moving toward us." The network Walker speaks of now numbers around 20 collaborators across Europe connected more by philosophical bonds than physical proximity. "What we offer collaborators is a straightforward brief and straightforward payment," Walker says. "In addition, people are left to work wherever they like and work best. What we request in return is outstanding work." A similar methodology is employed in client relationships, stewarded largely by Hans Beer, who became a partner at the agency in 2005, after stints at Lindt & Sprungli and During AG. Walker himself spent his formative years as an art director at agencies including Hamburg's Jung von Matt, Berlin's Scholz & Friends and Leagas Delaney in London before starting Walker on his own in 2003.

The Walker principals, painted by Olaf Hayek
The Walker principals, painted by Olaf Hayek
"Every client demands a slightly different kind of work relationship," Walker says. "Because of our size, we can offer more flexibility here as well. Ironically, this leads to solid and long-term work relationships with most of our clients." Clients like Amnesty can't mind when they get free media coverage on multiple continents, as the "It's Not Happening Here" campaign did. Walker believes his network of collaborators enables ideas with a wider reach. "The way we work is actually quite similar to the fundamentals of the web," he says. "If the creative input is global, the output is as well." Walker defines successful work like the Amnesty project as unexpected, good ideas resonating with the culture. "I believe that advertising should make more out of the fact that it can actually surprise people. Every ad we do is a chance to do that. You can't surprise anyone with an ad people already have seen a variation of. Agency routine is not what you want—a successful campaign is a demand to move on and do something different next time. We're launching a new campaign for Amnesty soon, and it will be totally different."

Add the agency's cheeky work for Fleurop-Interflora—including a series of spots explaining how on Mother's Day it's time to forgive mom for her overzealous and sometimes misdirected parenting—as well as a recent spot directed by The English Patient's Anthony Minghella (see p. 16), and it's clear 2006 was a massive year for little Walker. Regardless, there are no plans for expansion, lest the unofficial itsy-bitsy mantle disappear. "Our goal is to stay the world's smallest advertising agency," Walker says. "This might sound ambitious, but so far the agency has gained more and more business every year without growing bigger." Walker also does work for Passugger, a Swiss mineral water, Powerflame fire tools, Toilet Duck Duckies kid's wipes and Swiss personal trainer organization GetInShape.ch.

In addition to taking a Gold and six Silvers in December's Eurobest Awards (for one of the Fleurop Mother's Day TV spots and the Amnesty work, respectively), Walker was named Newcomer Agency of the Year across German-speaking Europe by German publisher Econ. A panel of clients and journalists added the agency to a list that has included Jung von Matt (a 1992 winner) and Spillman/Felser/Leo Burnett, Zurich (2003). As British actor Bill Bingham says in an audio manifesto delivered to prospective Walker clients on an iPod Shuffle, "When you want big ideas, you don't go to a big company, you go to a small company. So you get a big idea with a small bill, not a small idea with a big bill." It's an attitude, it seems, that marketers are increasingly agreeing with.

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