Pancho González is a stalwart of the Chilean advertising industry. After initial plans to study medicine didn’t quite work out, Pancho wound up on an advertising course - during the period of Chile’s dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet - and never looked back. He’s had stints at the likes of Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi, Lintas, Y&R and Unitas RNL. But his time at big, global network agencies made him hungry for ownership of his own career so 10 years ago he and his wife launched Inbrax, the agency that he’s been the chief creative officer of ever since (his wife is the CEO).
What’s more, he’s also the director of ACHAP (Asociación Chilena de Agencias de Publicidad), the Chilean advertising agency association, where he strives to make a better market for himself and his colleagues and amplify the levels of Chilean creativity. He’s also the director and vice president at IAB Chile and a professor at Universidad de Santiago de Chile.
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with him.
LBB> How did you end up in advertising? I read somewhere that it was something to do with not making it into medicine school!
Pancho> I never expected to be in advertising. I studied medicine to be a doctor. It was at a faculty where in the future there is a test to get on the final course but unfortunately there weren’t enough places at that time and I had to wait a year longer. But I remember that I was a really creative kid, drawing, writing poems and books, painting. When I was trying to study medicine I said to myself that I wanted to solve humanitarian problems and create something, a vaccine or some kind of invention. That’s one thing in common between medicine and advertising, creativity is at the centre of the business. But when I was studying I had no idea what advertising was and no one in my family had that background so it was a total adventure. My family was asking me why I wanted to study such a thing, they thought I would be poor and not able to support a family. But I got a scholarship so I had nothing to lose.
LBB> When you were studying, what was the general perception of something like advertising as a career?
Pancho> Well, at that time Chile was a dictatorship - Pinochet was running the country when I started studying advertising at college. At that moment there wasn’t really a market for advertising or creativity so no one had an idea of what advertising really was. There were just a few agencies, most of them global. I didn’t have an icon to follow or anything that particularly inspired me to study this career but when I was a kid I was really curious about a lot of things. I would read about biology, painting, the arts, English, everything. I was a very good student at school but I didn’t discover advertising until college. It was like opening Pandora’s box, I opened it and suddenly understood what ads were for. My knowledge in different areas is so useful when working in advertising because you have to overcome different briefs for different businesses in different categories everyday. Advertising is like food for me, it feeds me when I’m starving for creativity.
LBB> Tell me about Inbrax, which you launched 10 years ago. What inspired the launch? How would you define the agency?
Pancho> To be honest there wasn’t any big inspiration. For me it was more about surviving. I interned at Ogilvy & Mather, worked at Saatchi & Saatchi, Lintas, Y&R Group, and then was at Unitas RNL, a Spanish agency that was operating globally. There I felt like I was doing everything, I did the PR, I escorted the agency to top 10 in the country in revenue, up to fourth place creatively across every festival here in Chile. I asked the owners to give me some shares and instead they would do things like send me to Cannes instead. But I was looking for property and ownership. I resigned and decided to start my own shop with my wife, who is the CEO. She takes care of the administration and most of the management. Suddenly night and day I was alone with my wife, no team, no corporate credit card, no nothing - just our personal investment. Carol is a lawyer and at that time we didn’t have kids, so we thought why not? We had nothing to lose and we started knocking doors. We’ve been going for 10 years now. We were three people in 2010 and last year we grew to 50 people but the Chilean crisis of last year has hit us and we sadly had to downsize a bit.
LBB> I wanted to ask you about the crisis of last year. - Chile was the economic darling of LATAM until the demonstrations last year and the most appealing destination in the region for global brands. What are your thoughts on that?
Pancho> I really agree with you that Chile’s economy was really strong thanks to its balance and the work ethic of the people here. But we were moving in a successful way and didn’t stop to look - the social issues that were there were invisible to many of us. When the social outrage came, we realised that we were blind and not seeing the lack of equality in education, social insurance, transportation and more - the list is huge. It’s like you're a squirrel and you’re in the thick of it and just running, producing, producing, producing, but not considering the lower levels of society and getting them involved in this successful living. That was the cause of the crisis. It’s years and years of collecting that feeling on the insides of people, especially less privileged people. It blew up. Nobody expected it to explode in our faces at that time.
It was a Friday, I still remember. I was in a negotiation with an American company to start their operations here in Chile with Inbrax, and this guy said to me that he heard something in the news about something going on in Chile. I told him to relax, sometimes we have strikes here, it happens. It was about 4pm in the afternoon and people were saying goodbye to me, which was really strange because usually we stay later on a Friday to have a beer and have some fun at the end of the week. But they were leaving early and I didn’t realise what was going on. As soon as I finished this call I turned on the news and saw the whole shit. They started burning the subway - one of our main clients is the subway. My account was burned!
LBB> How has this changed the mood and economy in the country?
Pancho> We always try to ensure that there is purpose to the work that we are doing as an agency for our clients. Rather than saying things, we should be doing things for the wellbeing of people, of minorities, all of those social issues. Brands today need to act accordingly to what is going on around them, not just around the board or the ROI. Brands need to do something beyond that. We can help people, we can change society, we can make movements. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for Chilean brands.
LBB> And that fits in with what you said earlier, about wanting to cause change in the world, whether it be through a vaccine or something with a brand.
Pancho> As a creative you should know what’s useful for society and want to do bigger things, not just sell products and services. If brands are really conscious and realise they have the power to support society I have no doubt that I will realise my desire of helping others, which I felt when I was studying medicine. But even if you have that desire to do something useful for people, you need a counterpart, you need a client, investment, money. Maybe there are some CMOs who are really goodwilling, but they still have to report to a board and they are going to be expecting returns. But as creatives we have tools as strong as a doctor’s to help people.
LBB> You’re the director of ACHAP too - why is a role like that important to you on top of running for your own agency?
Pancho> I used to work for global networks. There you have systems, processes, tools, you have a lot of things that when you’re independent you don’t have. When we launched, my partner and I looked at doing our value proposal for the market so we needed to connect with other agencies in the same situation - independent agencies and even the global networks to see what’s going around. Being part of an association makes us feel like we’re not alone at this game. We can have conversations and see the standards of others and look at how we can apply them in our business. It helps us in building a sustainable business and being better professionals. Even if you’ve had a longer journey in the market, like me case, it’s like starting again launching your own agency. After passing through huge networks you’re all of a sudden starting your own shop from zero with your own money, no loans, no clients. It’s a whole other story. ACHAP offers the access of info and inputs that I couldn’t otherwise get to. I think it’s valuable. It’s access to clients, tools, people, it’s not being alone. Imagine not being part of any association at this moment during Covid? You can share your ideas, what you’re doing to survive under these circumstances, how you’re going to create more tools, a lot of things.
LBB> How are you keeping busy during lockdown outside of work? Have you picked up any new hobbies or is more a case of just keeping busy and sane?
Pancho> I try to focus my time on my family and my kid, Caetano, who is six years old. I love sports. I love going to the mountains and snowboarding. I’m waiting for the winter season at the moment hoping that it will actually be a season this year due to Covid. But most of the time I’m playing with my kid creating stories. I love writing. I actually like to write papers on advertising - it is a bit like coming back to work so I try to write during the week. I try to live weekends without work because it’s hard, especially because of how we’re working now. You have to split the five days per week and the weekend. I also love teaching. I’m a professor at the university that I studied at, helping people and small businesses. I do mentorships. I’m very active in order to help others. If I cannot help society via my clients, there’s another way to collaborate and help society - and mentorship is one of those.