Having ascended through the industry to become chief creative officer of the biggest agency in Spain, part of the dominant global force that is the DDB network, José María Roca de Viñals could be forgiven for having complete confidence in his creative abilities. He looms large in the creative community of Iberia and throughout the Latin world, as his role as jury president at the 2017 El Ojo de Iberoamérica awards demonstrates. But somehow he’s managed to stay humble - grateful for the opportunities he’s been lucky enough to have and remaining honest about the areas he needs to grow in to progress as a creative professional.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with José María to try to understand the man at the heart of Spanish adland.
LBB> Your career began in graphic design. What made you realise you were more of a copywriter than a visual creative?
JMRDV> It’s thanks to my first boss, a brilliant graphic designer of the Barcelona 1992 Olympics school. He told me one day that I actually wanted to become a copywriter even though I didn’t know it yet. The truth is that any project involving text that was landing at the studio was my job. I enjoyed it. From a headline to a 10-page brochure. I loved the design process but I loved even more to conceptualise and write down my ideas. Following this chat, I decided to begin studying advertising in the afternoons. I worked in the studio in the mornings and studied in the afternoons. There, I started to become a copywriter. Nonetheless, a copywriter with a strong background in design and art direction.
LBB> And how did your career progress from there?
JMRDV> While I was completing my advertising degree, I was able to begin work at Wunderman Barcelona, a direct marketing agency. I spent a year learning to write and coming closer to what I really wanted: to work for an advertising agency focused on TV. Then I managed to move to a small agency, small but creative. We were small, however the owner had contacts and creative ambition; therefore we were taking risks and generating good results.
I was lucky enough to move to Casadevall Pedreño & PRG, a Barcelona agency working for international clients that had been recently awarded Agency of the Year in Cannes and AdAge, and were aiming for creativity 100%. This was the agency that left the biggest mark on me. It was my true school: whatever you do, take care of every detail to the fullest. Then, being 27 years old, I moved first to Y&R Barcelona as a creative director and later on to DDB Barcelona, where I am still learning and have been growing for the last 20 years.
LBB> How do you feel about your time working in direct marketing? Did you learn any lessons then that you still draw upon?
JMRDV> During my period in Wunderman Barcelona I gained considerable experience about the dialogue, the dynamics and overall relationship between brands and consumers. It was a great learning curve!
When the Internet arrived several years later, I realised that direct and digital marketing were both based on similar principles. At the end of the day, they both try to establish a direct interaction between the brand and the consumer.
LBB> You’ve been at DDB for almost 20 years - what has kept you at the agency for such a long time?
JMRDV> Numerous things. Where do I start? Firstly, let me talk about DDB's people. Throughout these 20 years, I have met brilliant professionals who have become good friends, because they are very good people in addition to being accomplished professionals. I have been lucky enough to be mentored by exceptional colleagues and I feel tremendous pleasure and responsibility to mentor younger colleagues in return. Moreover, I have been able to grow professionally, from creative director of a small team in the Barcelona office to VP and CCO for the whole of Spain and a member of DDB Worldwide’s Creative Council. I have gained valuable experience and have been trusted with bigger and more challenging projects along the way. As a result I feel constantly stimulated and never bored.
LBB> And how has DDB changed since you started there, both in the Spanish market and as a network?
JMRDV> When I started, DDB Spain consisted of two different agencies, one in Barcelona and one in Madrid. We were both DDB Spain, but we functioned separately, without much contact between us. In 2010 we decided to build one unique agency with two separate offices. We started to share talent and knowledge between each office depending on the necessities of the projects we had to manage, regardless of where the project came from. This union made us better and stronger. This was the first big change in DDB Spain.
The second one took place during the deepest part of the financial crisis in Spain. It was then when we decided to focus our strategy on business abroad. Now we work internationally for well-known brands such as Audi, BBVA, SEAT, Telefonica or Telepizza while being based in Madrid and Barcelona.
In terms of our network, DDB is the best network one could belong to as a creative. It has always been a creative, innovative and open-minded group allowing individual offices the freedom to innovate. As a result, even though a lot has changed in these 20 years, the essence and principles of DDB are still the same as those Bill Bernbach established in the ‘50s.
LBB> DDB Latina was recently awarded as the most creative network of Ibero-America at El Ojo. How do you feel about creativity in the Latin global creative scene and DDB's role in it?
JMRDV> As a result of Juan Carlos Ortiz’s leadership DDB Latina has been transformed into a creative power within the wider DDB network (one of the most creative networks in the world and the region). Our festival - and business - performance has been improving year after year, reaching top place in Cannes and becoming the best creative agency in El Ojo in 2017. Winning El Ojo means winning the main Latin creative contest. A contest with a simply impressive list of winners, ensuring that the Latin world still remains an international reference. Countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Spain or the US (Latin market) are doing great in the main international festivals, competing for gold or other awards with the best agencies of the English-speaking world. El Ojo provides a reflection on Latin creativity and its influence in the world.
LBB> You've spoken about how digital content requires production craft and investment to ensure quality. How do you convince clients that quality is worth paying for?
JMRDV> The advertiser-agency relationship depends on trust. Trust is the only secret of success for a brand and for communication. If your client trusts your criteria, your professionalism and your transparency, there is nothing to convince them about as they sense the necessity to invest in good production as much as you do. Another issue is whether their budget allows it. When you are dealing with such a problem, you have to find a 'creative' way to get the funds to invest in production. I guess media budget is always a good idea if your objective is for your content to grow organically in social media. Even though each case is different, if there is trust between an advertiser and an agency, together we are going to find the solution to generate quality content that the brand needs in order to shine in the digital world.
LBB> I've read that although you're very senior, you like to work on the day-to-day of creating advertising. What projects have you particularly enjoyed working on recently?
JMRDV> I am a copywriter. I work as VP and CCO in the biggest agency of my country and this takes a lot of my time, however, I am still a copywriter. I enjoy the creative process, working with brilliant people, who contribute ideas and help me become better. I enjoy laughing with them and suffering with them when we can’t conceive the damned idea. To argue with a communication problem and then solve it with a creative idea, to nurture it so that it grows and transforms itself into something amazing, able to change the world. Such challenging situations make me continue to love my job. Therefore, I always try to find the time, even though it involves late nights and weekends.
Lately, I have worked directly for two projects, one for BBVA and the other for Volkswagen. We suffered, as always, there were good and bad moments, but I truly enjoyed every second of the process. In addition, both campaigns are working really well. What else can one ask for?
LBB> You recently stressed that the challenge for advertising agencies is to constantly reinvent themselves? How do you ensure your creative department is doing that?
JMRDV> Reinventing yourself involves learning. I completed an MA in Digital Business last year. For nine long months, I dedicated all my Friday afternoons, all my Saturday mornings and the majority of my free time to study and learn something I hadn’t mastered: the digital world. It was hard, but I reinvented myself in a true way.
I believe in continuous learning and improving and the immense power of digital transformation. This is something I believe not only for myself but also for everyone who works at DDB Spain. This is why we maintain agreements with certain development institutions who in turn help our teams to constantly train and be able to reinvent themselves.
LBB> What are your passions outside of work?
JMRDV> My family and the sea. I wouldn’t be able to live far from my family and the sea. I enjoy doing a lot of things with my children. But what I like the most, is to travel to warm places by the sea, where we can dive, sail or surf.
I also enjoy doing sport during the week (I need to). I am extremely lucky because our offices are located by the beach in Barcelona. Therefore, I can go running at lunchtime or surfing if there are waves early in the morning. I do like what most people like, too: cinema (good and bad), reading (since moving to Kindle, I read much more) and dining with good friends.
LBB> Finally, what are your predictions for 2018? How do you think the year will be defined for the advertising industry?
JMRDV> My prediction is that there are no predictions. You never know in advertising. I only know that everything will keep changing a lot and fast, and if we want to continue being part of the game, we have to continue learning in order to adapt to all these changes. The rest of my predictions would be as worthy as the weather prediction on a spring Friday afternoon.