5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

5 Minutes with… Andrea Diquez

Advertising Agency
Chicago, USA
The CEO of DDB Chicago speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about why diversity involves more than just hitting quotas, settling in at DDB after 26 years with Saatchi & Saatchi, and why Las Vegas is the perfect getaway

Andrea Diquez joined the DDB family in May of this year after 26 years with Saatchi & Saatchi. She has joined the agency as the CEO of its biggest office across North America, DDB Chicago. 

Originally from Venezuela, Andrea has spent the majority of her career in New York, most recently serving as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi New York. However, she has also spent time in China, Singapore, Europe, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Under her leadership Saatchi & Saatchi New York experienced a period of significant transformation, growth and industry recognition that included numerous creative and effectiveness awards.

Andrea is the first Latina CEO at DDB Chicago. In this new role, she’s making a point of meeting everyone in the agency, regardless of seniority in order to foster a truly inclusive environment. LBB’s Addison Capper chats with her about that, how she’s settling in at DDB and why Las Vegas provides the perfect opportunity to switch her mind off.

LBB> You joined DDB Chicago in May - what appealed to you about the opportunity to tempt you away from Saatchi & Saatchi after so many years? 

Andrea> I spent my whole career at Saatchi and it's an incredible agency. I love the brand, I learned so much and it's always going to be part of who and what I am. I was CEO at Saatchi New York for around four years, but this opportunity came to join DDB Chicago and I immediately was struck by the vision of the DDB brand. The North America president and CEO Justin Thomas-Copeland is a great guy and a great boss. He is putting together strong teams, regionally and at the local office level. And it’s not an isolated team. It's a team that enables connections between all the offices, allowing us to bring in people with skills and expertise that make us a stronger network. And most importantly there's the creative vision, which is at the core of what DDB does. That speaks to me because creativity has always been at the core of what I love to do, it's the reason why I'm in this business. 

The industry has its ups and downs, and everybody talks about whether advertising is dead. But in my opinion, advertising is never going to be dead. Instead, I think it changes and evolves. Your skill comes from how quickly one can adapt to change, and that happens to be something that I'm pretty good at, so I don't mind change. Which is ironic coming from somebody who spent 26 years working at one agency. But if you look at my career, it's never been in one single place. I was always doing something different. Every 10 or so years, I have switched markets. I’ve spent time in China, Singapore, Europe, Puerto Rico and Mexico. And now I have this great opportunity in Chicago.

Overall, I was driven to the DDB brand and its people. I love the work, both what we are doing currently and what has been done in the past and I am excited to see how we can get Chicago to be even better at something we already know how to do.

LBB> Stepping into your new role at DDB, what are are your main aims and ambitions? What was the task laid out to you when you joined? 

Andrea> The industry and the creative are constantly evolving and so should we be. I think we need to do a little bit of work in terms of transformation. Transformation is one of those words that is used loosely a lot because it can mean many things. I think that we have incredible clients right now, but we need to make sure that we're bringing in every skill and capability that the client needs in order to solve their business challenges. And I'm leaning on my North America network to bring in people with those skills that are needed in Chicago.  

One of the first things I always do somewhere new is meet everybody in the agency. I do one on ones or three on ones, just to understand what people like, what people think could be better, how they're feeling and so forth. I also spend time talking to clients and understanding what they need and what we haven't given them and where they're aspiring to go. With that information, it then begs the question of what you do with it. For me, it's three simple things. We must solidify the relationships we have with our clients and grow them. We must bring in new business. And finally, we must improve the creative reputation of the agency. It's a simple strategy, but in my experience it always leads to growth. If you do great creative work, unexpected work, that takes on the client's biggest business challenges, then the agency will grow. I think we need to get that spirit of growth back to the Chicago agency and instil the idea that we can do anything. And we're doing just that. 

LBB> DDB is in the throes of its Unexpected Works initiative and campaign. What are your thoughts on that and how is it feeding into the way that you're running DDB Chicago? Is it a helpful guide for you coming into a new company?

Andrea> Definitely. I think that it helps everybody because it grounds you on what you need to do and it's a vision of what you're going to do. If everything you do is expected, it's not necessarily going to work. It could work, but it will always work when it's unexpected and catches the audience by surprise. I always ask myself, ‘is this surprising enough? Is this something that people will see? Is it an idea that will impact culture?’ If it’s not unexpected, it usually won’t answer those questions. And Unexpected Works moves beyond just a creative idea. It's how you approach a business challenge or a client and how you transform a team. 

LBB> When I interviewed Justin, he was telling me about the new people team set-up across DDB North America, which I found super smart. I also know that building diverse teams has been a passion of yours for a long time. Can you speak about how you're hiring talent at DDB Chicago and the new people team at DDB North America is aiding that?  

Andrea> Despite being new, I've gotten to know and collaborate closely with everybody at the centre of the North America team. I think that helps in many ways. It's not only about hiring new and diverse people. I know a lot of the diverse talent that exists in North America, who I'd eventually love to hire. But when I sit with Nikki Lamba [DDB’s global head of diversity, equity and inclusion] and we talk about DE&I, we openly look at the kinds of things that we would need to do in the agency to actually make these kinds of diverse hires. In that sense, I think the communication between the people team and myself and being linked to the office in terms of recruitment is key and creates a good weekly conversation. We can look at the spots that we have open, the candidates that we have and discuss what we are doing about it. It's a constant ongoing conversation.  

But I think the North America team is bigger than just people and diversity. I think it's also about how you connect every office and every capability that we have in North America - which is quite vast. We can find everything we need within just our network; you just have to know where and who to talk to. When you have that person and that connector in the middle, you're able to go from operations to studios to data to analytics and people quite easily. We can explore different centres of excellence and just enable every office to be at their best. 

LBB> You said to Muse by Clio recently: "Success in cultivating diversity is achieved only when you decide not only to hire people who are different but to create the right environment to make it work." Can you speak about that environment? What does it look like and how do you go about cultivating it? 

Andrea> Diversity is quite hard. Sometimes people just think that it's about hiring people from diverse backgrounds and different countries and cultures and races. But that can be difficult if people don't know how to work with each other. I believe you need people who understand interactions and how to bridge cultural barriers. 

Personally, I know how to do things in a Venezuelan way, which might be very different for somebody that didn't grow up in the same system. Growing up in Venezuela, I wasn't told every day that I was in the best country in the world. I grew up in an unpredictable system and that shapes you in a way that is completely different, therefore I would approach a problem in a very different way than somebody born in the US, regardless of the race. And there has to be some kind of communication there. People need to be able to understand where I'm coming from, and I need to be able to understand where they're coming from. And when it comes together, it's magical because you take the best of both worlds and make it click. 

And this communication comes from the top down. When you create an environment of inclusivity, everybody can be made to feel included and important. That's why my mission is to meet everybody. Whether they're a junior or a senior, I want to be able to understand them and what work they do. Every person brings something valuable to the table and without our people, we won’t survive. They're the heart. They keep our door open all the time. So why wouldn't I meet them and respect their role in the agency and culture? 

I also think that the more siloed an agency is, the less opportunities people have to meet others and understand different backgrounds. I’ve been very lucky to work on and put together some diverse teams over the course of my career. I've always had Latin people, Black people, Asian people and people of many sexual orientations, just because I know that it works. Everyone brings a different energy and perspective and for me it's fun. 

LBB> Is that something that just happened by chance? 

Andrea> When I came to the US in 1995, I started by working at Conill, which was the Hispanic agency for Saatchi. When I arrived in New York and was told I would be working in a Hispanic agency, I had no idea what that even meant. Working there, I really learned that all Latin people are different. A person that's second-generation Latin in the US is very different from somebody who just came from Latin America, or somebody that comes from Spain. Somebody born here might barely speak Spanish because they felt it was better to assimilate, whereas others might have grown up speaking the language, so you're already in a very diverse environment when you come in. And you also have Americans in the mix. That's when I really started thinking about diversity. I learned that when you make a team, you're going to learn new things. It was so different from my country. For me, it was about needing to take that opportunity and making it the most amazing thing in my life, because I thought I would surely go back to a less diverse environment at some point. But you just have so many different backgrounds and you need to make them work together and create a team that can collaborate effectively. And that’s when you really win.

And then I had the chance to travel the world because of global assignments. When you're working in China, you don't go in and say ‘because I'm from New York, you're going to do it the way I want it to be done’, because you'd get burned in one second. Same thing with Mexico. I'm Venezuelan. I don't know how Mexicans work. It has nothing to do with my culture. Coming to the Mexican market from New York, I’m used to a working lunch and just eating a salad at my desk and they said, ‘no. In this country we have lunch for an hour with our friends, we talk about other things’. I'd get invited to people's houses to meet their families. It's completely different and you have to adapt both ways. When you learn that from an early point in your career, it becomes much simpler. And that's why you also need a leadership team that's diverse. 

LBB> There’s no catch-all solution...

Andrea> There's not one right way to do it. It's not a quota. You have to work at it. For example, there are things in American culture that I still don't understand, just because I didn't grow up here. There'll be times when I see an idea and I have to ask for clarification because I don't get the reference. And you must have a team on the other side saying, "’he's not stupid, it's just that she's not from here’. You need that kind of dynamic in your agency where people are able to ask whatever question they want. They should be able to share their opinions and be taken seriously, without being afraid of being judged because they don't know something and don't have the same life experiences as others. 

LBB> You were born and raised in Venezuela - what was your childhood like? Did it involve any signifiers that you might go on to work in a creative industry? 

Andrea> I didn't plan to work in advertising. I had an incredible childhood, and we were very lucky. My father was an architect, so I guess that's where the creativity comes into my soul. We had the chance to live in London for two years and we were exposed to many different things that we didn't get in Venezuela, from museums to opera to theatre. Just in those two years, my parents took us to do everything they could. From that experience I discovered I'm super passionate about theatre and film.  

I came back to Venezuela to study communications and while on vacation in New York a friend of mine encouraged me to try advertising. When I interviewed at Saatchi, I was very lucky because the head of human resources was a fanatic of theatre and that’s all we spoke about. I guess she saw my passion displayed. I met everybody there, I got the job, and to my parents surprise, moved to New York. Then after three years, I got the opportunity to work on global projects.

LBB> Was it the bigger, global work that tempted you to stick around?

Andrea> By the time I was 27, I was on a plane to Japan, which never would have happened if I had been in Venezuela. I actually had an offer to go back and work at an agency in Venezuela, but I realized that I wouldn’t have this opportunity to travel globally on such incredible projects if I left the agency. I got very passionate about creativity in advertising when I started working on projects in Latin America.

I was still in New York, but I had teams in Argentina. We were doing Latin American work at that time and I was working with Pablo Del Campo, who was my CCO at Saatchi. When you work with really creative people, you become fascinated at how they can solve a problem. It's obviously one of those jobs that I would love to be able to do, but instead I can be part of it and I can help them make it happen, which to me is even more fun. It was during that time I started to really understand how creativity could become part of a culture. It could change people's minds and it could grow an agency. It could delight the clients and delight consumers and make people laugh or smile or cry. 

LBB> As a CEO, I imagine much of your work involves mentoring others - but are there any people in the industry that you look up to or have particularly helped shape your career? 

Andrea> Many. I think the first person that had an incredible impact on me was Marie McNeely. She was my boss and the one who brought me into this global advertising world. Every time somebody asks me the question of ‘how hard is it to be a Latina woman and become the CEO of an agency’, I say, ‘I don't know what that question means’. For me, working in the US was a great experience, because my bosses always loved that I was a little bit different and that I'm very passionate. I might be more casual than other people, but that's okay, because I bring out ideas in a very different way than other people. And Marie was incredibly supportive of that. 

LBB> What do you get up in your free time? Any passions or hobbies to tell us about?

Andrea> I love gambling, I love theatre and I love travelling a lot. I am going back and forth from New York to Chicago almost every week and I get to do the travelling thing, which I have missed. I've already gone to the museums in Chicago, and I’ve walked the whole city, and the architecture is spectacular. I just love experiencing new places and eating new kinds of food. 

And I love Vegas. In my family, we grew up playing poker and blackjack as kids. I have been going to horse races since I was 14. It's something we've always loved. Aruba was close to Caracas so we would go a lot and every game that we could play and gamble on, we'd try. I try to go to Vegas three, four or five times a year with some friends. I think it's the only place where I can completely disconnect from what's going on.  

Additional reporting by Josh Neufeldt