Adland's hottest imports

Rodrigo Sobral
Rodrigo Sobral

London's ad agencies now reflect the international nature of today's brands, and the capital's track record of creative excellence and cosmopolitan culture are still proving a magnet for ambitious globetrotting talent.

Creatives from around the world flock to the UK and agencies lap them up, reaping the benefits of fresh perspectives.

On occasion, it has felt like it has descended into fashion as agencies sought creatives from certain countries as though they were giant handbags or those shoes with the red soles.

There was a time when being Scandinavian guaranteed you at least a second interview at any creative agency in London – and South Americans have enjoyed their time in the sun in the UK too (metaphorically speaking).

But while the UK industry is good at meeting creative talent from around the world with open arms, filling senior creative positions with talent from abroad has proved a trickier proposition.

That’s not to say it is a rare thing for UK agencies to look overseas for the talent to run creative departments. There are examples going back as far as the 80s, when FCB Australia’s chief creative officer, Mike Strauss, moved to London in 1987 to run the agency’s UK operations. But Strauss didn’t last long. Indeed, only a few have made a big impact on agencies, such as Dave Droga and Tony Granger at Saatchi & Saatchi, and Craig Davis at J Walter Thompson.

But whether it’s technology’s habit of making the world seem smaller or another factor, the past five or six years have witnessed an influx of creatives moving to UK agencies to take senior jobs, as well as junior creative teams from abroad rising through the ranks of UK shops.

Here, Campaign speaks to some of adland’s hottest imports.

Rodrigo Sobral

Vice-president, executive creative director

R/GA London

Having been mugged at gunpoint three times in six months in Brazil, Sobral (main picture) says it was an easy decision to move to "the land of the Queen" when he was offered the role of creative director at Unit9 in 2005. The city’s diverse culture and the fact that he was keen to work on global projects also drew him to London.

Sobral says that the most important change he has seen across the city over the past ten years is that there is no longer a line between creative and digital agencies. "You only have to look at the new generation we are hiring," he says. "They think a good idea can be done through any medium – it doesn’t have to be above the line or below the line."

On the creative side, Sobral says that he misses Brazil’s youthfulness. He points to London’s 5,000-year history with typography, which leaves little room to "break the rules". Brazil’s 200-year history with typography, by contrast, gives greater scope to move beyond the boundaries.

Sobral worked on Nike ‘write the future’

Another difference that Sobral notes is that budget constraints in Brazil mean people are more creative, whereas in London the small-budget ads are of a lower quality.

"A small budget should be seen as an opportunity," he says.

On a more positive note, Sobral also points to the work culture and believes agencies in London are more efficient than their Brazil and US counterparts. "In London, if you are working until 9pm too often, then there is really something wrong," he says. "You’re not being efficient enough or you’re working on a pitch. We manage our time better here."

Paco Conde, Beto Fernandez and Joakim Borgström

Group creative directors

Bartle Bogle Hegarty

The British understand intuitively that "going for a quick drink after work" on a Friday night means rolling home blind drunk at midnight clutching an overpriced takeaway.

It’s something that the new group creative directors at Bartle Bogle Hegarty London learnt the hard way.

"English people don’t eat, they just drink," Borgström says incredulously. "We’ve been suffering from the pub culture."

Within BBH, Conde, Fernandez and Borgström are known as "Peanut Butter Jelly". The trio started working together in January, when Fernandez and Conde moved to London from Brazil.

Fernandez previously worked in São Paulo as the executive creative director at David, while Conde was at its sister agency Ogilvy as the director-general  in Rio de Janeiro. The two worked together on Dove’s "real beauty sketches" but it was not until they moved to London that they became creative partners. "It was like we were dating, now we are married," Fernandez jokes.

Then Borgström made the duo a threesome. He joined BBH from Goodby Silverstein & Partners in the US at the end of last year. Borgström had previously worked with Conde in Madrid.

It’s certainly a very international partnership – Conde and Fernandez speak Portuguese to each other, Spanish with Borgström and English with everyone else.

Conde and Fernandez worked on Dove’s ‘real beauty sketches’

The opportunity to work at BBH was the biggest incentive for the trio to move to London. But the specific lure of the city was its advertising heritage – to be where "everything really started".

"We bring lots of Latin passion, positivity, energy and enthusiasm. We are hungry. We have empty stomachs and we are trying to eat it all up," Borgström says.

The main differences they have found have been cultural. "English people are very polite – I’m not sure I’m always being told what they mean or think – whereas Dutch people are very direct, they tell you right to the face," Borgström adds.

Fernandez says he works fewer hours here, but they are more intense and better-organised. He is also enjoying not having a car for the first time: "I used to be trapped in a car. It took me 40 minutes to an hour-and-a-half to get to work because of the traffic. Here, it takes 29 minutes on the train. It always takes 29 minutes. I’m already reading the fifth book since I arrived."

Then there is the more secure environment for Fernandez’s 14 year-old son. He was never allowed to travel outside on his own for the fear of kidnap whereas, in London, he can travel alone on the Tube. "In Brazil, you always lived with a shadow of risk."

Of course, the partnership still has to contend with the fierce rivalry between Brazilians and Argentinians (Borgström is half-Argentinian and half-Swedish).

When asked how they handle this, Fernandez quips of Borgström: "I only half-hate him."

Augusto Sola

Creative director

101 London

Sola is already well-versed in different markets, having worked in Argentina, the US and the UK at agencies including Mother and Fallon London.

Since 2011, he has been a creative director at 101 London but based in Buenos Aires.

This month, he moves back to London to take joint leadership of the creative department alongside Mark Elwood. Of the move, he says: "It’s going to be nice to be working alongside them instead of on the other end of a bad conference-call line or via Skype."

Sola originally moved to London in 2005 because of the opportunity to work with Gustavo Sousa at Mother. Beyond working in a "great agency", another thing that tempted him was living in a city with a
vibrant cultural scene.

Working alongside great directors, writers, art directors and designers from all around the world was also a factor. "London is a talent magnet for any creative industry," Sola says. The UK’s love for the craft and brilliant execution is ahead of other markets, he believes.

Somers Town, co-written by Sola

But there is a downside. "Sometimes there is too much thinking. It turns into over-thinking and the first instinct is forgotten," Sola explains.

He adds: "I also think, here in the UK, there is way more research than in Argentina, and when it is not done correctly, it is not helpful."

What Latin American creatives can bring is irreverence and an ability to overcome adversity: "Latin American countries get hit by crisis very often and each one of them impacts advertising. So we need to be able to innovate constantly. We need to be able to solve problems without all the resources that might exist elsewhere."

This lack of resource can also be beneficial for creatives who get more hands-on experience. "I also believe that, at least in Argentina, as a creative you produce more work than you do in the UK. Maybe because agencies are understaffed, you work on more briefs and produce more work. So that gives you more ‘flying time’ and experience than others and more opportunities to learn and to progress," he says.

Till Diestel

Creative director

Adam & Eve/DDB

German advertising is like the Bundesliga, according to Diestel, who moved to Adam & Eve/DDB from Munich’s Serviceplan in the second half of 2014. But the UK market is the Champions League.

"In Germany, we do look up to the work that is being produced in the UK and US," Diestel says. "The craft and the storytelling is just so embedded in your culture and, therefore, in the advertising industry as well. I wanted to be part of that and learn.

"Also, being able to do work on a more global scale. German advertising is often very restricted to the German market apart from some car brands.

"Agencies in the UK are much more part of the pop culture than in Germany. That really makes a difference to the talent you attract, not only in terms of creatives but for strategists and account people.

In addition, having a head of design or head of art is not common practice in German agencies, but so helpful.

Saturn ‘Tech-Nick’, produced while Diestel was at Serviceplan

"In Germany, creatives really have to do everything. If you start off as a junior, you have to search for images, think about the next award-winning campaign, do the layouts and so on. But here it seems more organised and everyone has a very specific role, which is really great. German agencies could learn from it a lot."

Not everything in London is better than Hamburg, though. Diestel says he misses "a good health system" and "the quietness in the city".

But he pays the UK industry what might be the ultimate compliment from a German: "Coming from a country that is known for structure and efficiency, I was struck by how structured everything is [in London] and how well-organised it is.

"But the ‘being on time’ for meetings bit – this is handled very differently here."

Thiago de Moraes

Head of creative innovation

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

After 16 years in the UK, De Moraes says the things he misses most about Brazil are "the food and the outrageously HR-unfriendly practical jokes we used to play on each other over there.

"The look on people’s faces in my first UK agency when I felt bold enough to suggest we try something similar to what we used to do in Brazil was enough to teach me not to go there ever again."

Alas. But neither of these shortcomings has tempted De Moraes to turn his back on the UK ad industry.

"I always wanted to live in Europe, and London seemed to be the most interesting city to live in at the time. It still does," he says.

"It has had so many diverse influences over such a long period of time that it feels as though it can deal with being a cosmopolitan place very well without losing its identity. Culturally, it always felt to me like the place where I’d find the most interesting things happening on a regular basis, and be able to do some interesting things myself, hopefully."

De Moraes' ‘made of more’ work for Guinness

Like Fernandez at BBH, De Moraes says one of the biggest differences among agencies in Brazil and London is the work/life balance.

"I think, in general, that people in ad agencies here treat it more like a normal job, whereas in Brazil the work seems to take over a larger chunk of your life – that’s not just in advertising, though, but in any area of business," he says.

"But one great thing about Brazilian creatives is that we enjoy making a lot of stuff ourselves – be it writing, shooting, drawing, editing, coding etc," he adds. "When I first moved here, I felt there was a big concept/craft divide and you had to choose where you stood. I never did and I am still very happy trying to straddle both camps."

De Moraes says that he has been in the UK for so long now that working in any other country "would take some serious adjustment". Although there are some things you never get used to: "In all this time, I still haven’t learnt how to drink six pints and give the impression of being vaguely conscious. Not sure I’ll ever learn that one."

Ana and Hermeti Balarin

Joint executive creative directors


Moving from Brazil to work at Mother on a placement 12 years ago was easy, according to the Bala­rins, the husband-and-wife team now leading the agency’s creative department.

"A pleasant surprise when we started was that, at Mother, being such an international agency with half of the staff being foreign, we never felt out of place or like the odd ones out," they say.

Mother’s ‘Rufus the hawk’ ad for Stella Artois

The pair explain that they moved to London because "on top of being the most cosmopolitan city in the world, London is also its advertising capital. So it was an easy choice, really."

What about things they miss? "It’s a well-worn cliché, but the sunny weather is what we miss the most," they add.

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