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5 Minutes with… Agustín Vivancos

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CEO of the newly founded ‘creative transformation company’ PS21 on his entrepreneurial roots, algorithm for naming a company and his education addiction

5 Minutes with… Agustín Vivancos
For 14 years, dommo has been a huge silhouette in Madrid’s creative skyline. Since 2004 it has helped build business by building brands including Google, Alfa Romeo, Marca, Fiat 500, Alfa Romeo, Yoigo and Tuenti. In 2016 the agency was named one of Scopen’s top 10 ad agencies and one of the top three independents. In 2011 it was named the world’s leading independent agency. After 14 glorious years in his first advertising job, dommo’s founder and Agustín Vivancos is starting afresh, setting up PS21. A new kind of business that describes itself as “a creative transformation company.”

At the start of this new venture, LBB’s Alex Reeves sat down with him to understand his philosophy on business and get a bit of context on the man behind this bold new firm.
LBB> You've just transformed dommo into PS21, a 'creative transformation company'. Why is that the right description and how is it different from a creative agency?

Agustín> We believe in the power of creativity as a means to an end, in this case for business transformation. Creativity is the value of the 21st Century and must be applied to across the whole value chain. And I mean creativity, not “advertising creativity”. We understood that the market was entering a disruption process and we were to change, change to stay honest and be able to offer better creative business solutions. Twenty teams have been working for three months to complete the model. It has been an amazing project and the best example for us.

LBB> What was the first thought or conversation you had that eventually led to forming PS21?

Agustín> The first time we had this talk was a few years back, in 2016. We were growing, the market in Spain had reactivated but, somehow, we visualized a skull and talked about the fact that to keep doing the same would end up in our ‘death’ in not such a long time. We changed some things, but it was incremental, it wasn’t radical as we needed to do. We learned that it doesn’t matter how many inspirational talks you give your team, if you don’t involve them in the process and do it in a radical way, nothing really changes. In our industry, everybody is talking but no one is doing.

LBB> You say you will be placing a creative on the board of each of your clients. Why did you make this decision and how have your clients reacted? 

Agustín> It’s a sort of purpose, a dream that would reflect that we have been able to capture the value we add to the companies we work with. Our clients reacted well, with some of them we are currently working with the management board but what we’re really creating are these teams like the publishing boards, where we integrate part of the C-Level, similar to an advisory board but focused on the experience, the society, consumers, brand.... trying to convert brands’ mindsets into publishers.

LBB> Why is voice technology so important to the new business?

Agustín> We were thinking about the new technological wave three years from now, and after analysing options, we chose to invest in AI. Inside that tech, which is immense, the nearest thing to what we were doing was voice. The same way we build brands working from the inside all the way to their aesthetics, we should be capable of creating the voice of these brands, decide whether it should be masculine or feminine, what’s its point of view about social trends and communities, decide if he or she reacts when you insult him or her, if it’s active of reactive. So in that sense we are creating the first voice lab in a joint venture with the tech company Sngular.

LBB> What is your strategy and focus when it comes to recruiting and developing talent in PS21?

Agustín> This is another big challenge, specially for us because we’re independent. On one hand, 17 people (out of 70) were let go from the company and we’re now recruiting new figures focused on consultancy, design, media and technology. On the other, we’re gonna invest a huge amount (for a company our size) in training, at HBS as well as ISDI or the Berlin School of Creativity.

LBB> Where does the name PS21 come from?

Agustín> The story started in Cannes 2018. We started by analyzing logos of creative, consulting and tech companies that were there, participating in the event. After too many chats and some silence, we concluded that if we wanted the brand to catch the eye it had to contain four letters and two digits. This formula would allow us to differentiate from the classical model for agencies and consultants that (usually) use the name of the founder or a “very very creative term”.
These parameters became the basis of an algorithm. We needed a name with four characters that combined numbers and letters. We put the data in the system - words related with our positioning and services - and the algorithm ended up with the P and the S in the equation. Simply because they were the initials of the words most used in our core: people, power, platform, society… and the 21, because the perfect square needs 21 squares to be built [according to A. J. W. Duijvestijn’s 1979 discovery].  That’s why our logo is a square.

LBB> Let's get some context. Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? Any clues back then that you'd become such an entrepreneur?

Agustín> I was born into a family of businessman and entrepreneurs, third generation. My mother is an entrepreneur, created three businesses, went bankrupt three times, but always continued forward, no surrender. My role model, I’d say, is my uncle, a very brave entrepreneur that made strategic moves in his sector, and on the other hand, my mother making me a more risk-averse type of person (although it seems the opposite).

LBB> You studied in both the UK and US. How do you remember those experiences most?

Agustín> I’m in a lifelong learning process and every year I dedicate two or three weeks to the sole purpose of learning. The last five years I’ve been going for one week to the London School of Business and one week abroad, to Stanford, Singularity University or the Harvard Business School.

Next year I’ll start the HBS OPM, three weeks a year for three years. You know, some people ask me why I’m doing this - what is left to learn - and it’s a paradox I guess, but the more I got surrounded by talented people, the more I realised I can’t afford to stop learning. I became an education junkie!

LBB> Access/Com was the first company you founded. What did you learn from that and how was the experience?

Agustín> It was a fashion accessories company. We opened shops in Madrid and Oviedo and everything was very fast. From that time, I keep some important things in mind: One of the most important decisions is who is your partner. On the other hand, the quick growth needs to have a very solid operational foundation, not only a nice Powerpoint deck.

LBB> Years later you founded dommo. When you reflect on the 14 years it has existed, what have been the biggest changes? 

Agustín> I started dommo as a media-natural creative agency. I had never been in an advertising agency before, so I could say the real engine behind the company was ingenuity. That ingenuity made us grow very fast.

The biggest milestones of these years have been:

1. The first two years our revenue was 1 million with 30 clients. We wanted to go further but do so, and with the way of thinking, we would have needed 200 clients. So we changed our mentality and go some very young talented people to join the team. We hugely increased x3 the next year and our revenue went from 1 to 8 million in 1000 days...

2. We changed our creative leadership team in 2013, starting with Marta Lucia with three successful years, and later on with Pablo Barrionuevo - now alongside Victor Blanco.

3. And last but not least, the creation of NOW/Trends and Randm, the production company.

LBB> What DNA from dommo is continuing in PS21?

Agustín> We bring along all the expertise from the past but we love to look forward to what is yet to come, everything we aim to accomplish vs all we did in the past. We don’t wanna live there, in the old glory.

LBB> What keeps you inspired outside of your work? Is there any particular interest or activity that you live for?

Agustín> I love art and mid-century decor and I am a food lover (I travel with this excuse).
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PS21, Thu, 01 Nov 2018 18:02:48 GMT