“The smartphone has become the remote control of our everyday life”

By Melanie Schmid

In the following interview the Chief Communication Officer of the Vogel Communications Group, Gunther Schunk, tells us why media can be as exquisite as good wine and why it is important to spot good topics and to provide expertise.

Dialects and blues are your passion. How do you transfer this into your daily work?

Gunther Schunk: This passion is no coincidence, but rather an attitude. Dialect is a way to speak that is closest to human beings and comes directly from human beings. Blues is very similar to dialects. It is a very authentic and credible form of applied communication. That's why I am very interested in blues and dialects in my everyday work. Authentic, approachable and credible - this is the only way to shape communication and media.

You have been driving mobile communication and digitization for years. How has the Corona crisis affected your work? How will you use the progress of digital technologies in the future?

Schunk: It is amazing how the mobile phone has basically become the remote control of our everyday life. Due to the fact that I work at a central contact point, I've been in the office every day for the last five weeks. Otherwise my use of mobile devices would probably be even higher. Mobile communication is a part of our life and I basically do almost everything with my smartphone. Mobile communication has quantitatively increased, and a few new tools, like Zoom for example, have been added to change the quality.

"I think it is important to use digital tools, because as media representatives we need to follow technological trends. We need to try new things out and understand how they work on order to give a competent and professional response."

How do you deal with the fact that many of your events cannot be carried out on the spot this year? Is there a plan B?

Schunk: We haven't held a single live event for eight weeks and we have canceled all live events until the summer break. At the moment, we're worried about whether we'll be able to hold the events that we postponed to October/November. That is not easy at all.

But we have a plan B. We have digitized some events and we have built a platform called the Industrial Generation Network. This web platform is an alternative to a regular fair. People can meet, exchange ideas, listen to lectures or go to a stand and look at the products. Companies can present themselves and their profiles and showcase products on the virtual exhibition. The first Industrial Days took place on this platform at the end of April. This was an attempt to organize a small congress online during the exact same week of the Hanover Fair.

We had to cancel the Marconomy live events of the Lead Management Summit 2020 that is targeted towards marketing professionals. As an alternative we invented the first sweatpants congress in which you could participate from home and benefit from digital presentation or matching opportunities.

In an interview with turi, you said that Socrates was your role model as a media professional because he was the first to be a really good interview partner. What else is key to being a successful media professional?

Schunk: I have worked in the specialist media industry for 20 years. A media professional has to know what he is talking about. He has to offer topic-related expertise, the ability to judge and a high understanding of quality. The content that I prepare for the specialist media has to be targeted to the right person via the right channel, in the right format and at the right moment. Consumers don't have time to read everything in order to find out what they need. They want information that is understandable and that they can consume quickly.

"A media professional has to know what he is talking about. He has to offer topic-related expertise, the ability to judge and a high understanding of quality."

If you see things in that way, you are a good media professional. Besides, you need a certain sensitivity to spot good topics. At the end it is all about human beings! I have to understand the people I talk to and know their problems and pleasures to be empathetic.  That‘s also what dialect and blues is all about.

Another quote from you: "Face-to-face communication is still the most direct, personal and the most successful way of communication. Right now, we're living in a time where this is hardly possible. What makes this way of communication so special and how can you replace it?

Schunk: I am a big fan of fact-to-face communication if you use it in the right way. In the professional area this is very important to get inspiration and to develop a common understanding with others. It is all about synchronizing, elaborating, understanding and memorizing ideas. Our brain is not only a center of information but also a center of experience. Great conversations or events remain as an experience in our brain and give us much more interesting ideas and knowledge.

Our today‘s digital communication – even with a camera – can‘t fully replace a live face-to-face discussion. Yesterday, for example, I talked to the to the deputy head of the fire academy here in Würzburg. They have built a gigantic hall in order to practice how to extinguish different fires. Everything else they study via webinars or via documents and textbooks. That's what it is all about. There are things and situations that I have to experience in person and there are contents that I can convey well and effectively in a webinar.

The need for communication has changed in recent years. The print media has been replaced by digital and mobile tools. Where will this journey lead?

Schunk: I think that the spectrum of communication will become much broader and new formats will come along. At times of Goethe‘s Werther there were letters, books and journals. Telephones and emails did not exist yet. A lot of new channels and formats will come up and continue to develop further. We just have to think of Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or the communication via post-it notes. All this requires a high level of communication competence on both sides in order to choose the appropriate format and to correctly evaluate and understand it. Excellent media professionals manage this well, but many are also getting confused by all that. For example, it doesn‘t make any sense to send a recipe via a Snapchat voice message instead an e-mail that you can print.

The virtualization of communication has already begun. The next step will be to use augmented and virtual reality to stage and transport information, no matter what time it is or where you are. Print will continue to decline, but the high-quality and journalistically strong premium print offer will still remain and have an impact on the right spot.

The new media must know the different markets in order to communicate well. This is especially important when it comes to specialist media that serve a certain target group. How do you penetrate the respective markets in the best possible way and respond to their needs?

Schunk: Specialist media are similar to special interest media. No matter whether I'm editing a mountain bike magazine for hobby cyclists or a magazine for design engineers - I need several media experts with a journalistic background, and one or two experts of the respective industry in the editorial department. I have a lot of colleagues at our company, fro example, who have worked as car mechanics and were interested in journalism. They now write for the specialist media in collaboration with our editorial staff. They know how the industry works and they know the problems of the car garages and dealers.

"If you work with people who understand the market then you can speak the right language and strike the right chord."

This is not only the case in the editorial department, but also at events, trade fairs or product presentations. This is how communication can be really successful and succeed.

You have been committed to Würzburg as a media location for a long time. Vogel Communications Group organizes events like the Mobile Media Day, for example. Moreover, you work as a lecturer at the University of Würzburg. What makes Würzburg so important for you as a media location?

Schunk: We have all types of media here at our location. From very early on we had free radio stations and regional TV stations, as well as all the usual media and the training program. There are three universities with a total of about 40,000 students and a population of about 120,000 people in Würzburg. It is a very young city. And it is the place in Germany with the most people employed in the printing business. In addition to the former printing company Vogel Druckerei, which now belongs to Bertelsmann Arvato, there is also the Main Post Druckerei and Flyeralarm with its affiliated printing plants. There are still 2,500 to 3,000 people working as printers here. That is more than anywhere else in Germany.

A very important argument is the fact that it is a wine region. Wine is perfect for media. Some people even say that the grape harvest is as beautiful as reading a book. Wine stands for tradition and for inspiration. Media need a foothold in the market, in a target group, in society, and they also need to be inspired in order to attract people. If I always tell the same old story, it won't work.

The Corona Pandemic is changing work processes. Entire companies now work from home, coordination tasks and team updates are handled online. How do you work in your company today?

Schunk: We actually mobilized all employees within two weeks. On average, about 10 per cent of the employees stay on the Vogel Campus, the others work from home. In addition to the usual email communication, voting takes place via various tools, like Zoom and Microsoft teams in particular. Fortunately, we introduced these tools at the end of last year. We have used them a lot since.

Will you continue to work this way after Corona?

Schunk: I think that we will more often stay at home when it comes to working things off and go to the office when they have important network meetings. It is not yet possible to define what will actually change. Six months ago we said that we had to organize our internal communication more effectively. With the video conference systems, people are definitely better prepared, discussions are more efficient, meetings take less time and are increasingly well documented. Possible actions are worked through immediately, because you are already sitting in front of the computer anyways.

Due to the Corona crisis, companies develop new ideas and innovative projects. Things that were previously impossible or involved a long process were implemented within a few days. Have you had a similar experience at Vogel Communications Group?

Schunk: I believe that the lockdown has also led to the fact that people start to reflect and redetermine their lives. Moreover, the economic situation makes it more urgent to come up with new ideas. This leads to a much higher implementation speed.

What will have changed if we look a year ahead? We will certainly fall back into old patterns in many ways, because they are deeply human. As if nothing had happened. On the other hand, we have made a lot of new experiences, especially regarding everyday working life. I think that video conferences will more often replace face-to-face meetings. The Corona crisis has definitely boosted digitization.