by Mark Tungate, Epica
How connecting with people and embracing the fun of creativity makes agencies fly.
It’s tempting to call Chacho Puebla “The Dynamizer”. The friendly, ebullient chief creative officer of LOLA MullenLowe has a talent for parachuting into agencies and rebooting them – apparently with the ease that some people redecorate and “flip” houses.
On the morning I meet him, Chacho has just begun this process at the agency’s Paris office. He cuts a refreshingly extrovert figure in the context of the sedate 19th century building, tucked away in a leafy square where a fountain splashes gently in the summer heat.
“Normally I like cities that are a bit gritty, a bit chaotic,” he says. “When I first came to Paris I was worried that it was too glamorous. But in the end I found the corners that suited me.”
This time around he’ll stay for a month, heading a team of ten hand-picked freelancers tasked with energizing the agency and introducing new ways of working.
“This is a big office of 250 people, and it’s an agency that has a lot of potential. We want to fast-track it to an international level, so we’re trying this new experiment with ten freelancers from different fields: UX, editorial, illustration, design and so on. And they will work at the heart of the agency for one month.”
The idea is to demonstrate to clients how radically the agency could change. “We’re taking all the brands and all the briefs and rethinking everything, plugging this outside talent into existing teams.”
And how has the agency reacted? “They say it’s like a tornado of energy. Because we’re not here to fix things – we’re here to improve them. We’re not telling them that they’re wrong, we’re suggesting new approaches.”
THE ANTIDOTE TO STRESS
Chacho (his given name is actually Horacio) hails from Mendoza, Argentina, where he worked until he was 27 years old. He says he originally thought of becoming a designer, until he realised that it wasn’t the act of design that interested him. “What I really loved was having ideas.”
He was lucky enough to live in a country that was experiencing a golden age of advertising. “The level of advertising in Argentina is always good, but especially when I was a kid. It was a time of great writing, great film-making, like the equivalent of the creative revolution in the States under Bernbach.”
While studying social communications, he got a summer job as a courier at an advertising agency – and threw himself into it. “I was picking up pneumatics, making coffee, seeing how the creatives worked. I even wrote some classified ads. I was the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. I loved it. That’s what triggered the machine.”
When he decided to leave his home town, he headed to Santiago de Chile, where he eventually worked for Leo Burnett. His career went into overdrive when he moved to the network’s Portugal office. In a few short years he had boosted the agency’s creative reputation, done the same for Spain, and been made creative director of Western Europe.
And there he could have stayed, at the top of his game, until a tempting challenge came along. “I was invited by Lowe Worldwide to join LOLA in Madrid as a partner. The agency had been set up to work for international clients, but it wasn’t really happening. We needed to take it to another level.”
Which is exactly what happened. Three years later, LOLA was the most-awarded Spanish agency at Cannes. So what’s Chacho’s secret sauce for turning agencies around?
He laughs. “You know, my wife asked me this the other night. For me, I think it’s all about people. I love working with people. And when I connect with them, good things start to happen. Everyone’s happy, there’s a good vibe, the work gets better and we start winning clients.”
Plus, he adores his job. “You know, when you’re working at this level, the amount of effort you have to put into it is unnatural. You’re always working, always thinking, your mind is racing. Lots of people burn out. And I think the only antidote is to have fun. If you’re enjoying what you do, it cancels the toxins that make you feel stressed.”
One of LOLA’s more unusual wins of late was PG Tips, the classic British tea brand, which it won in a pitch against UK agencies. “I think they saw that our Latin approach, our more emotional approach, drives business.”
TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED
Emotional, but not impulsive. Chacho says four organizing principles underpin the agency. “The first one is Open – we like to work with other people, we’re not a closed circuit. The second is Craft – which for us also means staying on budget and not missing deadlines. The third is Solver – we will find a way of solving your problem, we will never give up. And the last one is Hungry – which I think really sums us up. We want great clients, we want to do great work, we want to be famous. But without being egotistical.”
Effective work requires systems, although Chacho also warns: “Never forget the unexpected.”
Data can help with precise targeting, he says, but you shouldn’t always heed its recommendations. “I’m not saying you can just do anything, but I’m not saying you should religiously follow the numbers either. The gap between the data and the unexpected is where the magic happens.”
Now the dynamizer is weaving his magic in Paris, it will be interesting to see if the spell works. Based on his track record, there’s plenty of room for optimism.