“Who’s Next? We Are.” Juan Carlos Ortiz on DDB Latina’s Warrior Spirit

Juan Carlos Ortiz is on a roll. Generally, DDB Latina has been buoyed along by new business wins and award show success, but specifically he’s on a roll of enthusiasm. As I speak to him, he’s bubbling with pride and excitement over the Better with Pepsi campaign from Alma, DDB Latina’s Miami agency that swept the internet earlier that week (“Gorgeous! Beautiful!”). He’s characteristically bullish and energised as he enthuses about the progress DDB Latina has made in the past year and a half of the pandemic – later he’ll talk proudly of his team as ‘warriors’ – it’s been tough, it continues to be tough, but JCO has never been someone to back down for a challenge.

Just weeks earlier, Africa, DDB’s agency in Sao Paulo was the third most awarded agency in the world at D&AD. In April, DDB Latina launched its specialised esports and gaming agency For the Win (FTW). In December 2020, it was named the Most Creative Network at El Ojo, for the third year on the trot. It’s not been easy, but if anything, the pandemic has helped galvanise momentum.

“A crisis is always a beautiful moment to do things. Sometimes you feel scared when the crisis comes – it’s normal. But at the same time, if you take advantage of the crisis it’s incredible,” says Juan Carlos.

But if there’s an unstoppable forward momentum at DDB Latina – the cultural network that brings together Latin America, Spain and the USA’s multicultural agencies – then it’s paved the way for DDB’s global push. In May, the network launched ‘Unexpected Works’, a positioning exercise summing up DDB’s combination of creativity and effectiveness, an external campaign and an internal ‘plan to win’. Spearheaded by CEO Marty O’Halloran, it’s been a collaborative effort involving all of the regional and local leaders. And in Juan Carlos’ mind, DDB Latina is proof positive that the unexpected really… well… works.

Back in 2009, Juan Carlos conceived of an agency network region grouped by culture not geography, pulling together South and Central America with Miami and Hispanic North America… and in 2011 Spain joined in, creating a group that spanned three continents. It certainly was unexpected, at the time, and it has served the agency well, particularly so during the pandemic.

Running a network that spans continents has certainly had its challenges. The beginning of the pandemic put everyone in a shared global moment, pulling them together. But as things have unfolded, the centre of the crisis has shifted from Europe, to the USA to Brazil. Each country in Latin America is facing difficulties – though quite different difficulties that require specific action. However, as Spain and the US stabilise, the offices are able to step in and support their colleagues in more challenging situations. And those in markets where advertising spend and activity is sluggish, the talent can help out the markets that are scrambling to open up. It’s reinforced, for Juan Carlos, the importance of flexibility and connection.

“I think that we, in Latina, started to prove the concept of ‘Unexpected Works’ before ‘Unexpected Works’, because just when we put together a new model, Latina, the model was very fresh. It’s a model that is not based in geographies, it’s based in culture. We put Europe, USA and Latin America all together and it’s been a key to our success, so you could say that ‘unexpected’ worked for us,” says Juan Carlos. “There’s a big difference between saying and doing. I love doing. We love doing, so unexpected for us is something that you have to demonstrate. That was the start of unexpected for us.”

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