Q&A: Luciana Cani – Executive Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi Tokyo

Brazilian creative Luciana Cani moved to Saatchi & Saatchi Tokyo in early 2019, where she is now working with global brands like Expedia. We spoke to her about settling into life in Japan, keeping her creative spark alive, mentoring happy teams, and her latest side projects.

Prior to Saatchi Tokyo, she was senior vice president and executive creative director at LAPIZ in Chicago, and ECD at Leo Burnett Lisbon.

She has appeared three times at the top of the creative rankings of the official Creative Club of Portugal. In life before Lisbon, she was at art director at Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather and Grey in Brazil.


You joined Saatchi & Saatchi Tokyo as ECD in early 2019. Was it a culture shock moving to Tokyo from the USA?

Japan is the third country I’ve lived in as a foreigner. At this point, my experience showed me that the best way to embrace a new culture is to do it with an open heart and mind. I didn’t come here looking for things that would seem familiar to me. I did that in other countries before and I learned it just made my adaptation to a new culture a little bit slower. I moved to Tokyo feeling ready to embrace the differences.

“Agencies are recruiting more diverse professionals. But the key thing is how to retain and help them grow. Retaining talent is crucial to consolidating change.”

My approach to deal with new work cultures is always to respect, learn, and do my best to add some value that I can contribute from past experiences. I really respect the Japanese colleagues I work with. I learn from them every day and hope they are also learning from me, with my different background and experiences before I moved here. It has been smooth so far. I feel good and welcome.

Are you working on any interesting projects right now?

One of the biggest Saatchi clients here is Expedia. We work closely with the global team and it has been very interesting to work with this big brand in a time like this. We have been very busy and I am learning a lot in the process.


What is the creative culture like at Saatchi & Saatchi Tokyo – how does it match your own values as a creative?

Saatchi & Saatchi Tokyo is the international arm of Publicis Groupe in Japan. I’ve always believed that combining people from different cultures and backgrounds is the best way to produce good work. That’s the Saatchi approach here.

You are from Brazil, and have lived in Portugal, the USA, and Japan. How do you think living in such different markets has shaped you as a creative?

I was never one to see my professional life completely disconnected from my personal life.

For me, it has always been a journey of pursuing growth on both sides. And I knew and hoped that this career could be a great way to see the world, meet great people and live amazing experiences. Traveling and getting to know other cultures was always a big dream of mine.

“I’ve always believed that combining people from different cultures and backgrounds is the best way to produce good work.”

When I first moved from my home country to Portugal, I went there with the idea of a starting point, not a final destination. After that, other opportunities came by and I embraced them. And with them, came personal growth and the opportunity to work with brands on a global scale in different continents with great clients and colleagues.

Looking back, thanks to these experiences, I can understand better who I am as a creative.

I know I can adapt, but I also know how I like to work, how I can perform better, and what kind of work culture is the best for me.

There are still fewer female ECDs in advertising than men; and now the industry is grappling with the Black Lives Matter movement, too. How can agencies do better at diversity?

Agencies are recruiting more diverse professionals. But the key thing is how to retain and help them grow. Retaining talent is crucial to consolidating change. Hiring is not enough. It’s the first step only. For example, what kind of environment are we championing to make these professionals an integral part of the agency?

I loved your article about being ‘monogamous’ with your chosen industry. At what moments in your life have you struggled with a career in advertising? How are you keeping the “spark alive” in your advertising career right now?

In these 23 years, I’ve had many ups and downs. But I made peace with these low moments. I think it’s normal and more common than people like to admit. Sometimes things don’t go well, our best idea is not approved, we don’t win a pitch we worked on for months, the leadership of our agency changes and it doesn’t match our beliefs – there are so many things that can go wrong or sideways.

My way to keep the spark alive has been to sometimes concentrate and focus on side projects. These parallel projects allow me to unleash my creativity with no constraints. And it can be anything. In Lisbon, I published a children’s book.

Here in Tokyo, I’ve created an Instagram account highlighting my experiences as a foreigner in Japan. And now, during the quarantine, I have just started another children’s book based on a real story.

So if I am ever bored or frustrated, I turn my energy to these projects and then suddenly I feel happy and accomplished again. After a while, these side projects help me recharge so I can give everything to work again.

You believe that ‘happy people produce better work’. Agencies are becoming more aware of their responsibility to look after the mental health of creatives: what is your approach as a creative leader?

I respect and believe that a competitive environment can bring results, sometimes very quick. But this is not my approach. The best work I produced was when I was happy working in a very collaborative environment.

I learned with a former boss I had that if you put the focus on the particular strength of every individual, he/she will perform happier and better. And you will probably retain that talent for a longer period. It happened with me and it was a turning point in my career. Since then, I have this approach as my leadership model.

“I don’t get angry easily, but some pitch processes can make me very upset.”

Basically, the idea is to get to know all the members of your team and ensure that they can contribute with different skills in different parts of the process, regardless of their title.

When you force yourself to avoid seeing the members of your team through the lens of their specific title in the hierarchy — that makes all the difference. I also like to put myself in my team’s shoes all the time and ask myself the question: as a member of this team, would you like to be treated that way? If the answer is yes, I make the decision.

What kind of kid were you: studious, nerdy, curious, cheeky?? Who was your earliest creative influence?

I was very studious and responsible at school. I always loved books and authors. They were my passion, especially real stories and biographies. To this day I still think that I should have started as a copywriter.

Do you have any rules or rituals that you live by?

I am an early bird. I absolutely love mornings. I feel productive and happy when I can do my personal things before work starts. In Tokyo it became harder, because of the time zone, all my friends are awake while I am sleeping. So I use the early mornings to catch up with friends and family too. I don’t use an alarm clock anymore and around 5:30 I am awake and active.

How did you find your voice as a creative? What makes you angry? What brings you joy? What sets your soul on fire?

I am constantly looking for inspiration outside of my field. Projects that are driven by the heart and not by money excite me. It can be a podcast or an Instagram account, any project that people do just because they feel like doing it. It inspires me and pushes me to overcome constraints and be the best creative I can. I don’t get angry easily, but some pitch processes can make me very upset. (It can be disrespectful sometimes.)

You are a Final Judge at AD STARS 2020. Why did you accept the invitation to join the jury this year?

It will be my first time judging AD STARS and to be invited to be part of this Festival is a tremendous opportunity to connect with more professionals and see the work in the region and the world. We always learn when we exchange experiences with new people. I am looking forward to it.

Luciana Cani is judging the Interactive, Integrated, Innovation, Mobile, Data, Insights, Social & Influencer categories at AD STARS 2020. Winners will be revealed on Monday 7th September via adstars.org.


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