Creativity is a compulsion for Diego Medvedocky. In one of the toughest years ever, Diego, who wears many hats for Grey (president and CCO of Grey Latin America, president at Grey Argentina and a member of the creative board) has had a lot on his plate, leading creativity across the region – but he’s also found time for his own projects. Pandemos is a collaborative short film series made with director Luis Aguer. Diego sat up into the wee small hours of the night writing the films and worked with filmmakers all around the world to bring these stories of distancing and lockdown to life.
For clients, too, there has been plenty do to – from using real time data to give planet Earth a voice to helping digitally disconnected pensioners access their money during lockdown.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Diego to talk about his career, which kicked off during the golden age of Argentinian advertising, to find out how he’s been dealing with lockdown and to pick his brains about everything from data to award shows.
LBB>What kind of kid were you and was creativity a big part of your childhood?
Diego> That’s a tough one. I think, yes, I liked to draw a lot as a kid, but I think all kids do that. When I was maybe 11, I started to write short stories and edit some little mini books of mysteries. I had a collection of about seven mini books filled with stories about mysteries and disappearances and clues. That was my first memory about writing things. I miss those little books – it would be great to read them!
LBB> How did advertising get on your radar as a possible career?
Diego> When I was at a career fair at university here in Buenos Aires, they told me that tourism or advertising would be a sociable career for me. My father is an architect and he said that these were not proper careers. I said, I didn’t give a fuck. I decided to do advertising and I studied it for a year and half and I was bored. So I said I wanted to start working in an agency. And I was lucky because it happened a long, long time ago, in 1996. And suddenly I was travelling a lot because of my career, so advertising and tourism came together.
LBB> You started your career at a time when Argentinian advertising was really taking off, especially in the early 2000s.
Diego> That was insane because there was a lot of genius people working in advertising at that time. There were really revolutionary agencies that changed advertising in our country. People were talking about ads in bars with friends because they were really, really, really good. It was inspiring, working at that time. And I miss it.
LBB> What are the campaigns that you look back on and are really proud of?
Diego> That’s a tough one because I’ve been in this for 25 years. Del Campo Saatchi & Saatchi was, for me, the agency that changed my career. I did a lot of things there and I have a lot of love for some pieces. There was one campaign called Big Noses for BGH air conditioners and another one called Summer Hater. That was really good. We did some iconic campaigns for Sony cameras too. And at Grey, we did a lot of things for Procter and Gamble, The Salt You Can See, Coca-Cola. I mean, there’s a lot.
LBB> Early in your career, what was the advice or lessons that made a big difference to your career?
Diego> Failure! I did that a lot. That’s a huge lesson in me career – failure is like the push to move on and it really helped me not only in work but in life. When I crash I try to do it really fast, just to move on. But I crashed a lot.
LBB> I wonder if young people coming into the industry today have that same attitude to failure because everything’s on social media forever.
Diego> There’s a different concept of failure now. Before, you couldn’t fail fast, you know, so it was really painful. And that’s the difference between one and the other situation. Everything is going so fast now. Failure is permitted now. And I think that’s good for Lola, my daughter, she will be in a better place. But the world is changing a lot.
LBB> How did you end up in this leadership role? Was there a point in your career where you actively started trying to take on more leadership responsibility?
Diego> No – I think I’d prefer to be a copywriter for ever. But my career were putting me in these places. Each time, when a promotion comes along, I’ve say no about three times before I accept. One of my friends once said leadership is something that they don’t give you – you take it. I think that’s a good concept. You take leadership without permission and you do it yourself, in your own way. There is not a formula. When you’re at the top you feel alone and the only way to do it is to do it your own way. At least, for me, it’s the only way I can do it.
LBB> And part of that creative leadership role is to spot and nurture the good ideas that others have – how have you developed that spider senses?
Diego> I don’t know, everything has changed so much now that we use data. It’s a fancy world, right now in our industry. For me it’s really useful but you need to be able to read that data – if not it’s nothing. So there’s the ability to transform that data into n idea but I always say I really believe in the gut feeling in my belly. I’ve spent man years doing this. It’s like in life, when you meet someone and you just feel a connection – I don’t underestimate that feeling in this profession. I think it’s really important.
LBB> The industry has changed so much, does that change the kind of creative talent you’re looking for, or are the same creative skills and mindsets just applied a little bit differently?
Diego> The huge difference is that ad blockers are growing, maybe 50% a year. People don’t like advertising and that’s one truth that we need to accept. We need to be relevant for the people who don’t like us or don’t like what we do. Now with social we are interrupting their lives all the time. The key is to try to be relevant and be close to pop culture. We need to get people to care about what we are saying, if not we are just throwing our money away.
LBB> What does your day look like now in your current role – the scope is pretty massive!
Diego> Yes, I have a lot of titles. I am president of Grey Latin America, and besides that I am the CCO of LATAM and beside that I am the president of Grey Argentina… and besides that I am on the global board. I have an assistant who is my left hand, and Florencia Kessler is my right hand and the three of us are trying to move forward in everything we do.
I care about two things in this profession. One is the work and that’s what keeps me doing that. And the other is the people.
LBB> And in terms of supporting your people, this past year has been really demanding. How have you navigated that?
Diego> It is hard, of course it is. There are a lot of things going on, I have huge lists of things to do day by day and I talk with lots of people every day. This pandemic situation has made some people feel depressed, sometimes bored. Working at the same table for a year and a half is insane. You need to talk with people a lot, more in these crazy times we are in.
LBB> And on a more upbeat note, what are the campaigns and bits of creative that have kept you excited this year?
Diego> Like I said, the work is what keeps me going. When I see great work coming from Argentina or other offices in the region, or even from Grey in a global perspective, I feel happy. The hormones start to circulate again, the dopamine. When I see great work or when I’m judging, it’s refreshing. It makes me feel like this profession is still great.
Diego> It is so simple and I hope everyone follows that account. It is smart with technology and is trying to make a positive change. There is a lot of advertising that doesn’t add that. I like it a lot and I hope it can be big because that, for me, is the key to that campaign. People tweeting, following, criticising, and trying to make a change around the world.
What’s interesting about it is that data is everything. It’s how you read it, how you use it, how you transform it into something relevant. I think it’s key now in our profession, it informs how you sell your product online, it’s how clients evaluate things.
We did something in Argentina around pensioners. They go to the bank every month because they don’t trust the system and they don’t believe you can do things online. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were hundreds of thousands of old people on the streets trying to collect their money. It was insane. With one of our clients we worked on the logistics and were able to deliver their pensions to their homes in less than one month. We needed to pass it through legal, client recognition, logistics, especially because we were handling money. We had to fight a lot to make it happen but it was good and still we can keep improving it. We did some good things with Corona too. In a strange year, I am happy with the work.
LBB> Outside of work, do you get up to anything else creatively?
Diego> I like to write a lot, I like to read a lot. I watch movies – strange movies from all over the world. During the lockdown, I started to write with a director that I know and we delivered a series of nine short films called Pandemos. In two and half months we made a film in Alaska, London, Barcelona, Mexico, Brazil. You can see it on pandemosproject.com
It was a collaborative project, and there were more than 100 people around the world working on it for free.
LBB> Why is it important to have these creative projects that don’t have a client?
Diego> It is liberating for me, in a way. Now advertising has a lot of rules. You can curse in a series, you can kill people, you can talk about the deepest shit. You see it on Netflix all the time, but not in advertising. I think it’s maybe the future of brands, moving to content to be relevant again for people.
LBB> How do you fit all that in?
Diego> I work a lot! I would start writing Pandemos at maybe 12 at night until 4am ever day for a month and a half. That’s because the rest of the time I’m doing advertising.
LBB> And what fuels your creativity?
Diego> I like paintings, and I can’t wait to get out to see more. I have a lot of paintings at home, and over this year and a half I’ve been able to put them up on my walls. I like plants too, I have a lot of plants and I spend about an hour a day looking after them and giving them love.
And of course, there’s my daughter. She’s the best. Children are like sponges and the can absorb a lot. I’m learning a lot with her.
LBB> What sort of toll do you think this lockdown is having on people trying to get into the industry, without the ability to learn and celebrate in person?
Diego> That’s the human part of it. Here in LATAM we kiss a lot, we hug a lot and that’s just who we are. And I miss that. But then at some points I’m quite happy to be at home and at others I want to run away to a strange, crowded street. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.
LBB> So Cannes is coming, and I think it’s been interesting year for award shows, with some people questioning their relevance and others thinking it’s more important than ever to celebrate good work made in difficult conditions. What’s your view?
Diego> I feel that as an industry we have a lot of award shows – too many. And I think the relevance is changing. But I am a fan of celebrating the best work we have. SO that’s my point of view – it makes us grow as an industry, it makes us feel proud of what we do and the things that we are changing. But I don’t know how many we have – but it’s a lot.
LBB> What frustrates you about the industry now and on the flip side, what excites you?
Diego> For me the work does both. It saves me when it’s really good and it frustrates me when it’s really bad. I’ve been there a lot. It frustrates me when things are more difficult that they need to be. We talk about advertising as if we were surgeons and we sell shampoo. We need to understand our role otherwise you can get really confused.
LBB> And – knowing how changeable the situation is – what are you goals for the network across the region in the coming year?
Diego> I will say, survive! But we have a bit of a gang here in LATAM and we’ve been talking a lot about this. There are a lot of changing and we have to keep going with everything that’s happening, keep focusing on the work and take care of our people. That’s the two main things. And to have fun!