Wunderman Thompson Mexico’s CEO on an unexpected first year in the role, the inspiration of fatherhood and Mexico’s constant surprises
Agustin Rodriguez Peña took up the role of CEO at Wunderman Thompson Mexico in January 2020. So, while he anticipated a challenge, he hadn’t quite anticipated, well, that challenge. Starting a new, leadership role just as a global pandemic hit and clients and employees were looking to him to help navigate the tidal wave. As it turned out, it was almost the perfect ‘year zero’ to lay out plans and embed behaviours and cultures in the industry.
With 20 years of industry experience and over 16 years working in Mexico, Agustin has worked his way up through the Mexican advertising and marketing industry at agencies like DDB, Leo Burnett and Grey – but the culture never fails to surprise and inspire him.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Agustin to learn more about a momentous year, how the Mexican market is evolving and how fatherhood is helping him see the world anew.
LBB> You studied advertising at university – so it seems like a career you were really keen on from a young age. What was it that first got you hooked on the ad world? And what was it about the business side of the industry that appealed to you, working with clients to solve their brands problems?
Agustin> I have always been passionate about creativity, in all of its different forms. I have many memories from my childhood reading those awesome classics from Edward de Bono and the lateral thinking approach. Spending hours and hours watching TV ads from different parts of the world in the few ad shows that existed back then. And I have also been interested in trade, in understanding the transactional side of things and how I could influence that. So, from a professional perspective, I found in marketing and communications an arena where creativity met business: Bingo! So, when clients bring their needs to the table, magic happens. Every brief is a challenge, an opportunity and a white paper ready to be written.
Over time, I came to understand that this creativity not only drove brands and companies’ growth, but it was also building popular culture, giving us - people in this industry - a double responsibility and a great opportunity for helping others as well, for supporting bigger and relevant causes. For example, we at Wunderman Thompson Mexico are currently participating in the Unstereotype Alliance, a UNWomen’s initiative that will harness the power of advertising to challenge stereotypes that reinforce gender-based violence.
There is never a day that is the same as the previous one here. And I love that about our profession.
LBB> What was the most important piece of advice you got when you were starting your career?
Agustin > One of my first bosses once told me: “Constantly look for excellence, make sure you are adding value to your clients and always be empathic with your team, no matter the size of the project nor what your role at that point is”. It seems pretty simple, but it helped me build a mindset that still resonates.
LBB> How has Mexican advertising creativity evolved over the course of your career?
Agustin> The Latin American region has always been well known for its creative product, and Mexico is no exception. I believe that, as in many other markets, Mexican creativity has evolved both in form and substance. I think nowadays it is going through that crucial and challenging stage of becoming more strategic and data driven, while respecting its identity and its insightful human touch.
Mexican culture is really very rich, and that has always been reflected on its creativity. I've been living in Mexico for more than 16 years now and it is something that still surprises me. Mexico’s talent is optimistic by definition, creative by nature and innovative due to an endless sense of curiosity. It is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and inspiring thinking hubs of the region. Mexican streets breathe creativity. It’s hard to put in words, but once you come here and you live it… You just fall in love with it, I can testify.
LBB> And what are the aspects of the local industry that you think stand out compared to other markets in the world?
Agustin> We are in a moment of profound transformation within the industry, where change is a constant. In this context, we are seeing global and local brands performing well, and many others struggling with their marketing efforts and ROI indicators.
My belief is that brands need partners who can develop effective and creatively relevant marketing solutions which drive growth on their businesses. In order to do this, it is essential to put data at the service of ideas, enabling them with technology to achieve personalisation at scale. All I have just mentioned, must be clearly based on a deep understanding of both, the client's business and the journeys of its different consumers. It is definitely a great time for us agencies to contribute with the growth not only of our clients, but of the whole Mexican industry as well.
LBB> Outside of work, what inspires you?
Agustin> I have recently become a father for the first time. So, I am currently in that stage in which I am fascinated with the miracle of life, its cycle and how inspiring it is to see your kid discovering things for the first time. It has kind of taken me ‘back to basics’, and I am enjoying it more than anything else.
LBB> So, you joined Wunderman Thompson at a really wild time! Just in time for Covid-19 to turn the world upside down – how was that experience of taking on such a role just as the agency and all your clients faced the biggest pivot ever?
Agustin> Hahaha. True.
However, and of course respecting and understanding the obvious and countless negative consequences of the pandemic, industry-wise there could not be a more relevant moment for a modern digital marketing company like ours to be born. Given the fact that we are a singular blend: Part creative agency, part consultancy firm and part technology company; our capabilities are fully aligned with what clients are demanding nowadays in order to grow their businesses.
I would not say It has been particularly easy but, paradoxically, a year of pandemic and remote working ‘helped’ us in promoting and experiencing our company behaviours in a much more tangible way. These behaviours are: Positivity, ‘in it together’, creative bravery and listening. I cannot emphasise enough how key these four principles have been towards setting our North Star and reaching our goals. We have an amazingly talented team, a strong and unique culture, and a regional leadership which has been really present and supportive. All of that combined with our end-to-end services portfolio, helped us surf through these complex times and have put us in a very interesting position future wise.
And, hey, we will always be the first generation of such an emblematic brand as Wunderman Thompson in Mexico. That’s a huge honour and privilege as well.
LBB> What changes to that have come about due to the Covid disruption will stay?
Agustin> The pandemic was a situation that took us all by surprise, that put multiple challenges on the table and that, at the same time, taught us a lot. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest learnings for us had to do with the ability to adapt and the importance of flexibility. At Wunderman Thompson we implemented an agile, highly focused and collaborative way of working, which was to a large extent what allowed us to overcome the context in a very favourable way. This year, hoping the health situation allows it, we have the challenge of maintaining all the positive aspects of this way of working, but combining virtual and real-life modes.
It is also clear to everyone that the pandemic generated drastic changes in the way of consuming, entertaining, educating, etc., accelerating technology adoption processes and opening huge opportunities for companies like ours.
Over recent months, we have received a significant increase in the demand for services such as e-commerce, data and business intelligence, and also in the implementation of marketing technologies. We are supporting many clients on their digital transformation processes, becoming a real growth partner for them.
LBB> Where do you think Wunderman Thompson sits in the Mexican market and what are your goals for the agency?
Agustin> After only two years, we have just been recognized by Merca 2.0 (one of the most important trade magazines here in Mexico) as the #1 Digital Marketing Agency of the market, for the second year in a row, within their national ranking.
Despite this kind of recognition, which of course makes us very proud and reflects the incredible talent we have within our teams, I believe the market acknowledges that Wunderman Thompson is a different player, with a wide set of capabilities and a large pool of experts when it comes to digital transformation and marketing technologies.
Our mission is to inspire growth for ambitious brands. And that is what we are working on nowadays. With creativity at the heart of what we do, we are evolving from digital agency to a growth partner role for our clients. This spans a much broader spectrum and represents a much more interesting business engagement.
LBB> Globally, Wunderman Thompson has been working hard to marry the creative mindset with the transformative capabilities that clients are looking for – how is that shaping your approach to recruiting talent and also nurturing talent? What do teams look like at WT Mexico?
Agustin> It is exactly the way you have just described it. I think one of the main aspects that makes WT different is the talent that we have in place and the diversity in the profiles. This is not something new, it has been this way for a couple of years now. Our people have always been the most important pillar of our business.
Over the recent years, with the advancement of technology and digital transformation, communication has become much more complex, and an additional layer has been added to talent: capabilities and specific skills on certain disciplines. The profiles for a business consulting project are not the same as those required for developing an e-commerce strategy, or a brand-building campaign. The interesting thing for clients, then, is to be able to access the correct experts based on their need. In this sense, an added value for the client is knowing that they have not only local talent available but also access to the right talent within our network. And this extends to capabilities, tools, best practices, certifications, etc. In the specific case of Wunderman Thompson, a truly technologically and strategically connected network, these types of benefits become tangible on a daily and immediate basis when clients have direct access to multidisciplinary teams in real time, regardless of their geographical location.
LBB> How important are awards to clients and talent in Mexico?
Agustin> Awards are still important for us and for the industry as well. Festivals are the opportunity to connect with colleagues and a really inspiring environment where the best work of the sector is showcased. Nonetheless, I believe the slight evolution that happened has to do with the fact that awards are nowadays relevant as long as they reflect a real business growth (sales growth, brand health growth, engagement indicators growth, etc.).
Creativity has long ceased to be just entertainment. Over the past year, and driven by the pandemic context, we have seen countless examples that once again highlighted the liquidity and value of creativity in its purest sense; far beyond a mere advertising issue but strongly driving growth for businesses.
LBB> What recent creative work has the agency done that you’re really excited about?
Agustin> We have recently launched the Volkswagen Taos here in Mexico. Although it is a car that will be sold in many markets including North America, Europe and Asia, the worldwide launch has been here in Mexico, with a 100% multi-platform campaign.
In terms of strategy, the communication target were the DINKS (couples between 35 and 45 years old, double income no kids). It was a bold bet in a relatively traditional country with such strong roots in family as Mexico has, but it ended up being extremely effective and differentiated within a category in which so many SUVs talk very similarly.
"El camino diferente" ("The different path") was the creative concept, with a storytelling around demystifying those clichés of how life should be lived like when you reach adulthood.
We have also developed the microsite for pre-booking, which within the first 48 hours online had already reached the goal of 800 units booked.
Today, three months after its launch, VW Taos has already sold 3,000 units, more than doubling the first target we had. In such particular times, when the trend in sales across the category is down, Taos doubled expectations. That’s our mission, to drive growth.
LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about the ad industry in Mexico right now?
Agustin> The always-in-Beta mode. I think that concept changed every paradigm for good. Brands know they can always do better, even when something ‘worked fine’.
I think a must-have for this new era is to really embrace change. To enjoy it. And to feel honestly comfortable with being uncomfortable.
LBB> And the most frustrating?
Agustin> That the day still has only 24 hours.
LBB> What advice would you give to young people looking to get into the industry today?
Agustin> Never lose your curiosity. Feed it. And be always ready for change.