Q&A: FCB’s Joanna Monteiro – ‘We Have to be a Creative Agency, not an Agency with a Creative Department’

After joining FCB Brazil in 2012 as Executive Creative Director, Joanna Monteiro went on to win an impressive 17 Lions in 2014, including Mobile Grand Prix for Nivea’s “Protection Ad” for sunblock.

It was a very clever and unconventional magazine ad containing a humidity-resistant strip that turns into a bracelet with a downloadable app to keep children from straying at the beach.

 
 

Following on from the campaign’s success, Monteiro made AdAge’s Creativity 50 list in 2014, and was promoted to the role of Creative Vice President and Chief Creative Officer.

Monteiro started out as a copywriter at Ogilvy, steadily climbing the ranks and learning from some of Brazil’s top creatives. Today, she’s one of Brazil’s most formidable creative talents.

Barbara Messer recently caught with her to talk about her work, the “huge gamble” she took joining FCB, the difference between being a creative, and a creative leader, and more.

 
 

You’ve played an important role in transforming FCB Brazil into a creative powerhouse. How did you turn the agency around?

I believe very much in the power of creative work. To achieve that it is important to have a strong culture for the agency that starts with recruiting talents who share the same belief. Not only within the creative department, but for the whole agency.

I always say that we have to be a creative agency, not an agency with a creative department. From the moment you begin to raise the bar of the creative work, everyone gets more engaged, more talent wants to join and more clients want that kind of work: more challenging, more brave, more experimental and more likely to really make a difference in consumer life, leading the brand or product to another level.

When you joined FCB you said it was: “a huge gamble” because it was an agency that wanted to improve its creative reputation. Do you take a lot of risk at work or in life?

As in advertising, in professional life you may bet, but with responsibility. The offer to join FCB came surrounded by people who wanted that change. Without the support of Aurelio Lopes (President at FCB Brasil and Chairman Latin America) I would never have accepted the idea of Pedro Cruz (Strategic Counselor at FCB Brasil) to take over the creative team and take it to another creative level. I take risks sometimes because I believe in guts and hard work.

Many of your most awarded ideas have not been ‘advertising’ ideas in the traditional sense – you have created everything from bracelets for Nivea to a ‘Speaking Exchange’ for CNA, which connects English students in Brazil with Americans living in retirement homes. When did you begin to move beyond “advertising” towards bigger ideas – was there a turning point?

I have always enjoyed popular communication, good conversation, great storytelling, and forging an emotional connection with the consumer. The rest is format – which has been changing a lot, and I like that. Technology opens up new possibilities for these connections and experiences every day. The idea, the insight, the truth that will touch the consumer continues being persecuted because it is going to change everything.

Being a creative is different to being a creative leader. How did you learn the art of creative leadership – have you had any mentors along the way?

You cannot be a leader without having strong beliefs, but at the same time you must be open to listening to your team. One of the incredible things that I was able to implement here at FCB was a more horizontal and more democratic model inside the creative department, almost without exclusive teams for clients.

I had several incredible masters. The luck of having gone through DPZ with Zaragoza and Rui Lindemberg, then with Washington Olivetto, master of creative advertising in Brazil and then many years with Nizan Guanaes, who is a strategist with a lot of focus on results.

I think it’s win, win, win. The creatives win because they have opportunities to work with different clients, with different scopes and different challenges. The clients win because they can work with teams they could not pay full time, talents that do not suit the client, which ends up generating a warmer and less challenging job. The agency wins by having fresher work and a less competitive and much more collective environment. I try to think about assignments as projects, so doing collectively becomes much easier and more productive.

I had several incredible masters. The luck of having gone through DPZ with Zaragoza and Rui Lindemberg, then with Washington Olivetto, master of creative advertising in Brazil and then many years with Nizan Guanaes, who is a strategist with a lot of focus on results.

From all, I tried to get the best guidance as a creative, after all they are geniuses, and as a manager I put everything I thought right and took out what was already old or harmful to me. Female bosses I never had, but I always learned from my partners. By the way, the coolest time to assemble is to be able to choose who you are going to learn from: from the trainees to the creative directors.

Describe a typical day – what time do you start, how late do you work, and how do you switch off?

I have an 11-year-old daughter who goes to the school in the morning, so my day starts early and I can do some kind of Gym before coming to work. I arrive at the office at 9:30 am. From there, everything is work until 8 pm. Then I switch the key and turn my mother mode on until my daughter is asleep. I do not miss doctors’ appointments or important activities from her school. I believe that no one should miss out. Today men and women want to be closer to the family, to have life outside the agency. We have regular hours here. Everyone wins.

How does Sao Paulo inspire you?

São Paulo gave me everything professionally. I made my career here. I have always loved the hurry and efficiency of Sao Paulo. I lived for a year here at age 11, when my mother came to do a doctorate at USP and I have friends until today. São Paulo is serious. I like that. Ha, ha.

You’re joining Ad Stars as an Executive Judge in August. What are your impressions of the festival, and your expectations?

Like D&AD in London and the Creative Club in São Paulo, AD STARS is a non-profit organization. It has values that I admire. Think of platforms, ideas that support and contribute to mankind. Not to mention that I really want to get to know South Korea. It’s an opportunity to meet amazing people from all over the world who also celebrate great ideas that make the world a better place.

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