AND PULLING WEEDS IN THE HERB GARDEN, A CONVERSATION WITH DR. ECKHARD SOHNS
The second in our series of interviews devoted to Swiss companies and individuals of particular note features our longstanding customer, the marketing & brands expert Dr. Eckhard Sohns. The clarity of his experience and insights can in good conscience be described as a balm for the soul in these difficult times, reminding us that good things in the main are also very simple things and that authenticity always prevails. A out-of-the-ordinary interview for out-of-the-ordinary times.
Dr. Sohns, can you please tell us a little about your early days in the marketing & communication sector? What in particular attracted you, and what were your career plans?
That is like the old story about the virgin who found herself with child. I don’t think anyone can really say how it came about, least of all I myself. Where was the tipping point? It was never my intention to be where I am now, and I don’t feel as though I have actually arrived somewhere. All I knew at the age of 30, having spent three years writing a document which for the rest of my days then allowed me to add another two letters in front of the name in my passport and which in the end might have been profitably read by maybe 20 people, was that perhaps it was time to do something else than hide away in a solitary corner surrounded by books.
It was this realization that broadened my future horizons at a stroke. The rest is just coincidences and anecdotes.
Which particular challenges have you had to contend with in recent months? Have you come to any personal conclusion or nugget of knowledge that you would like to share with us?
The small challenges in my own small world are the same as those in the world at large. Such is the egregious nature of the present situation – in itself a realization that is as banal as it is remarkable.
We are no longer all sitting on the sofa starring in our own little film, indeed not, and we all share a genuine problem now. That changes everything. And maybe this is finally the point at which we can come together to address things that are vital.
Despite, perhaps even because of, the problem-deniers and Bolsonaros of this Earth. That would be a happy ending to a dramatic and in every respect exhausting time.
As a marketing expert you have for many years authored and supported the marketing activities of a variety of companies. For some time now, you have been Co-Director and Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Switzerland’s Pagani Pens SA, a company which owns the Prodir and Premec brands and with which you share a long history. What must a brand or a company have about it in order to inspire you?
Brands are like people, some are authentic and courageous, many are boring, some are bursting with energy, others appear exhausted after just a few months, they look aged or simply malnourished. In cases like that even calling in a cosmetic surgeon won’t help.
On the other hand, strong brands are like good friends, they have something to say that interests me, ideally, they are more intelligent, more witty, more courageous and more surprising than I am, which is why I like to travel their way.
They are loyal and dependable and do not disappoint me to the extent that I would shun them. Brands like that are few in number. Through years of hard work, they have earned themselves a positive balance of trust. Of course, they might squander it, but it will last them for a while. Because if they were no longer there, I would miss them.
So, brands are part of my world, even if sometimes when I think about it and slip back into my book-lined corner, I feel a little annoyed that I – that we all – have come this far.
Translating customer magazines has always played an important role here at Baker & Company. With Pending, Prodir’s first customer magazine, you won the Best of Corporate Publishing Award no fewer than three times in Group B2B / Media, Culture, Entertainment, as well as the Econ Award for Corporate Communication, and you are now responsible for Prodir’s successor magazine, entitled Open. Which particular aspects require consideration when planning strategies for such high-caliber customer magazines, and at what point do you introduce the elements that appeal to readers on an emotional level?
Such magazines are a joy to create. And it shows. We aim to find, research and record good stories and tell them well. In doing so, we proceed on the basis that our thinking matches that of our target group, which it obviously does. Fortunately. We don’t need to report live from the cafeteria and cut to the CEO. We don’t need to organize photo shoots in South Africa with lions and models in bikinis. Instead, we can concentrate on telling stories about things that are important to us, about minor discoveries and major issues. Herein lies the banal acceptance that readers are adept at noticing whether those who create the magazine are actually interested in what they write and print.
Authenticity is always our starting point. And where do we hope to end? On a bedside table. We want people to take the magazine with them when they go home from the office and read a page or two in bed before they go to sleep.
That is what our strategic planning is aimed at: we want to land on someone’s bedside table. We are ready to do what it takes to achieve just that: Even if that means riding across Mongolia to talk to a shaman about the wolves outside pacing around the yurt.
Can you please tell us a little about the development of the new fully biodegradable QS40?
Prodir writing instruments are used by organizations worldwide as a means of communication. They are credible ambassadors for the brands whose logos they carry. They achieve this through their timeless, sophisticated design, their high-quality refills, the palpable Swiss attention to every detail. They embody what the brand stands for. That is our value proposition.
Whereby the issue of sustainability is becoming ever more important. Well, you can print the word “sustainability!” all over the product – or you can live up to what it means. We prefer to do the latter.
For example, with the new QS40 True Biotic you refer to. This the world’s first writing instrument with a casing made entirely out of polyhydroxyalkanoates. PHAs are produced naturally by microorganisms, without use of land, without putting groundwater at risk and without fertilizers.
It is a plastic-free material that can be worked like plastic, but degrades biologically in the sea, in fresh water or in the ground, rapidly and without residue. This is the way to achieve credibility and encourage innovation.
Dr. Sohns, what drives you personally and intellectually, and where do you turn for relaxation?
What drives me remains strictly between me and my psychotherapist’s oath of patient confidentiality. For relaxation I rely on the principle of serendipity.
Seek not, and you will find. I consciously avoid any specific effort to relax. In return, I generally find something I don’t need and would never have looked for, only to discover that it is precisely the right thing at that moment.
What I can say is that at present, pulling weeds in my herb garden is top of the list, scoring a high ROI in my relaxation cost-benefit analysis. Not least because there aren’t that many alternatives.