We recently caught up with Frederico Roberto, Executive Creative Director at Interweave Agency, a position he recently took in April of this year after two years with OLIVER at Unilever’s U-Studio.
Originally from Portugal, Roberto has been based in London for the past seven years and over the course of his two years at OLIVER, he helped to build a global network of 23 U-Studios around the world.
Over the course of our conversation, he discusses the benefits of working within an in-house agency, and his reasons for joining Interweave four months ago.
You spent two years at OLIVER inside Unilever’s U-Studio. What did you enjoy most about the in-house agency model?
The relationships with the brand directors and setting up the culture of an agency inside a client. I joined OLIVER after 17 years of ‘traditional’ and digital agencies. I was already a Creative Lead for the past 6 or 7 years and I felt the need to work more collaboratively with key stakeholders, understand their businesses beyond comms, beyond marketing. Understand all of their processes, from distribution to retail, to spot creative opportunities.
Working on-site, side-by-side with the 300+ UNILEVER brands was mind-blowing. A fast-paced environment, super agile, super eager to do good work with minimum fuss, and all-in access to the decision-makers 24/7. For a creative, that’s heaven.
In 3 years (2 with me there) we opened 23 U-Studios around the world and built a global team of almost 500 people. We quickly became UNILEVER’s biggest digital agency.
And there’s no signs of that stopping. OLIVER truly innovated with its on-site model and I’m very happy that I was part of that. Our industry frowns upon on-site agencies, as if creativity is limited to or by four walls. That’s ridiculous. When you live and breathe creativity, you find your moments and your culture of delivering truly impactful work.
Unilever is one of the companies that is leading the way on diversity. How can agencies do better?
They have to start putting their money where their mouth is and hire differently. And then I hear, “Well, we hire by talent, not race, nationality or gender”. Bollocks. If you’re confident that you have a good creative culture and you’re a good creative lead, you train that talent. Because that person of color, that woman, that foreigner will come with life experience. That’s what you’re hiring. It’s that simple. Give people the opportunity to do things differently. Start with the hiring process.
Do you ever struggle with advertising’s role in selling people things they may not need? Is there a meaningful campaign you’re especially proud of making?
No. No struggle. Not really. Truly great work taps into a need. That need can be more or less primary, for sure, but it’s always a need. I really don’t understand how people can work in advertising and criticize what they do or the wider capitalist society they live in. It’s not perfect, for sure, but it’s what sets most of the western world.
This said, I do love a particular campaign me and my team created at VML for Colgate, where we helped reach out to millions of women around Europe to position their whitening toothpaste as part of their beauty routine. We celebrated all types of beauty and the potential of a makeup-free face in the morning, to do whatever their mood is that day. It was great, ground-breaking for the category, and truly meaningful.
You joined Interweave four months ago in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. How is it going, and why did you join?
It’s going great. Interweave’s expansion plans were in the making for more than a year, and obviously no one could foresee the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a Greek agency, based in Athens, Interweave knows all about resiliency and thriving in an environment that’s adverse. That’s why it wanted to set up shop in London from the get-go. It made total sense in a post-Brexit context to help the UK regain its importance, its role, globally, by looking inwards into its own industries, its own expertise, and what makes it great.
“Agencies are not caring enough about their role and responsibility in reaching out to millions of people out there. They have an active voice and sometimes they’re actively choosing not to use it. Crazy!”
Now, in a post-COVID-19 era, it makes even more sense. Interweave’s core value is that ‘We truly care’ about the stuff we’re involved with. That was the whole reason why Aigli Balamatsi, our founder and CEO, started the agency in the first place 7 years ago, at the height of the devastating financial crisis that dragged Greece downwards.
By focusing on what Greece had to offer, Interweave became a key societal agent to help the country make a strong comeback in less than 5 years. The same has happened now. Interweave was the Greek government agency that helped with all the COVID-19 awareness campaigns, helping the country become the first to effectively lockdown and successfully come out on top of this situation. And it’s not over yet. So, there are lots of opportunities out there, both in the UK and in Greece, to do work that’s truly culturally impactful.
You like to break rules. What rules have you been breaking lately?
We’re trying to do something truly unique with Interweave London. When the invitation was addressed to me to head the creative vision for the UK, my first question was, “Who needs another agency in London?” But the fact is we have something that nobody else has: at our heart, we want to do good.
We believe that brands and companies can be amazing forces of change in our societies and impact people’s lives positively with their products and services. So, we want to bring more of those “agents of change” together. Like the Avengers. We’re Nick Fury and we assemble the best teams, from any sector, and we try to effectively drive change and transform business through creativity. That to me is breaking the rules of the classic agency/holding company model.
You recently wrote on Medium about the need to “care more”. In what ways do agencies need to care more?
There’s a lot of talk about brands with purpose. And I believe in them. But I’m more purist than that and I like to just call it “do the right thing”. That’s it. Most of the time all companies need to do is disregard their board members’ paychecks. Or at least that’s part of it, I know this is very romantic. Bernbach said: “It’s not a principle until it costs you money”. Care means doing the right thing by team members, partners, and clients. Showing loyalty. In the long run, it will pay off. It always does.
The worst-case scenario is that you have paid, literally, to learn that team member A or Client B were not worth having in the fold. And that’s ok. But agencies are not caring enough about their role and responsibility in reaching out to millions of people out there. They have an active voice and sometimes they’re actively choosing not to use it. Crazy!
What makes you angry? What brings you joy? What sets your soul on fire?
It’s very hard for me to get mad or angry. I guess, lack of ambition or drive kind of disappoints me a bit. Sometimes I see it in some team members, for various reasons, professional and personal, and as a team leader, I have to be able to adapt and manage all those energies properly, in the most human of ways. And sometimes you don’t have to manage at all. You just have to unleash creativity. That’s what I love. To just go wild creatively and explore what’s out there, invent what’s not there. I use to say that my creative KPI is when I hear an idea and the hair from the back of my neck goes up. That’s when I know we’re on to something.
You founded a networking group called International Creatives in London. How does the London advertising scene compare to Portugal: Is it more cut-throat? More challenging?
I’ve been in the UK for 7 years now, and in the beginning it was a bit of a clash, obviously. Things took their time in London, a lot of money is involved, a lot of big projects, big responsibilities. I was coming from a small market, where everything is for ‘next week’, budgets are smaller and in which ideas had to really work hard to cut through.
London also pigeonholes quite a lot the talent. If you do TV, you only do TV. If you do social, you only do social. If you have beer sector experience, you’re only sought out to do beer projects. It’s extremely restrictive and to be frank, silly. But, slowly but surely, I’ve adapted and always tried to bring a bit of mischief to this paradigm.
The International Creatives London was born out of this need to help newcomers to adapt faster and smoothly to a new culture, both the day-to-day and agency life. So we’d often exchange tips and tricks on how to present work, engage Creative Directors, etc. But also, to celebrate London. And how such an amazing, multicultural city thrives with its diverse, buzzing vibe. That’s how creativity flourishes. Through differences.
Is it true you’re interested in space exploration? Are you working on any intergalactic projects now?
Ha! I wish. But no. Not at the moment. I’ve presented a couple of times a keynote on Space Brands, on which marketing powerhouses will lead the space exploration industry. The usual suspects like Apple, NIKE, and others will surely be out there (literally), but I’m sure we’ll have some surprises. I just love the fact that space became a thing again. During Carnival and Halloween, you can see kids dressing up as astronauts again like in the late ’60s. It’s really powerful culturally, and it’s probably the only thing in the world that unites us as people.
Why did you agree to judge the AD STARS 2020 Awards, and what are you most looking forward to?
Over the past few years, I’ve been traveling a lot to the East. And there’s a culture of making stuff happen that’s refreshing and you don’t see it all that often in the western world. It’s tech with a purpose, tech as a lifestyle, it’s money and visionaries to back big projects up and it’s a melting pot of SO many cultures. It’s the second time I’m judging the Korean AD STARS, and for me as a creative, it’s very inspiring – and different! – to be in contact with work and styles that I normally wouldn’t. And that’s what you need to chase.
Frederico Roberto is will also be on the Final Jury at AD STARS 2020. The winners will be announced on August 22 via adstars.org.