Bossing It in association withLBB Pro

Bossing It: Honesty and Transparency with Energy BBDO's Ricardo Salgado

Advertising Agency
Chicago, USA
Energy BBDO’s creative director talks industry inclusivity, the importance of honesty and what it takes to be a good leader

Ricardo Salgado is a creative director at Energy BBDO. Although he currently resides in Chicago, his story began in his home country of Brazil. Ricardo speaks Portuguese, English and Spanish. Over the years he has worked at industry leading agencies – like DDB, Leo Burnett and FCB – and worked for clients like Jack Daniel’s, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Walmart, Samsung and McDonald's. His work has also led him to serve on juries, like New York Festivals and Young Lions Brazil, and to university speaking engagements.

In 2020, ADC named him the fifth Most Awarded Writer overall and the second Most Awarded US Writer. One Show ranked him as a Top 10 Global Writer. The Drum’s World Creative Rankings also named him the 24th Most Awarded Copywriter in the World. Ricardo’s work has been recognised in the most respected advertising festivals around the world, including Cannes Lions, D&AD, One Show, ADC, Clio Festivals and NY Festivals.

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Ricardo> You learn what to do from the good leaders and what not to do from the bad ones. Every time I had an incredible boss, I tried to understand why they were a good leader and what I could take from them. Usually, they are kind, know what they want from you, have clear goals, let you do the work and boost your career. That’s the kind of leader I want to be every day. Not sure if I'm there yet, but that’s my goal. 
On the other hand, every time I had a terrible boss, I tried to understand why they weren’t good and what mistakes I didn’t want to make myself. In my opinion, usually, they micromanage the work, lack confidence, are a barrier between you and the CCO and don’t give you room to grow. I fight every day not to become this kind of person.

LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Ricardo: Well, as they say, ‘A calm sea never made a good sailor’. So, pitches and late nights are very good to learn from good leaders – and bad ones too. My biggest leadership lessons come from these moments. Good leaders make them smoother. Bad ones turn even a social post into a nightmare.

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role?

Ricardo> I kind of did. I think I realised that when I was a kid playing soccer in Brazil. I was always that annoying guy telling others what they should do in the game. Pass, calm down, calm down, calm down, shoot, that kind of thing. Although my friends made fun of me for it (and still do), it came from a good place - I was trying to get everyone on the same track to go towards the same goal.

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Ricardo> I believe some people are born to be leaders. They have this natural talent. But I believe even more that we can learn to become leaders too. We can prepare ourselves by taking classes, reading books, by watching good leaders and by throwing ourselves into a position where we need to make decisions. Experience is one of the best teachers.

LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? 

Ricardo> Personally, language has been my biggest challenge so far, even after living in the US for almost five years. Think about it: I’m a Brazilian writer who has to judge and provide feedback to American writers. I can imagine them saying “Who the f* is this Brazilian who can’t even speak English very well, telling me that my copy is not there yet?” That’s tough. Luckily, our Energy BBDO team is lovely and they totally understand that foreigners have their own strengths too. I also do my best to provide high quality feedback to make the process easier for everyone involved. 

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be as transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Ricardo> In my opinion, being 100% honest and transparent is more than important – it’s crucial. I don’t believe in motivational speeches based on lies. Sooner or later – usually sooner – the team realises you’re lying to keep them motivated and that’s when you lose them. 

When you’re transparent, the team joins the fight with you because they see you’re working for them and for the goals they’re also fighting for. I’d rather say “Hey, we have this brief here, it’s tough, we’re gonna need everyone together to get it done, maybe we can sell something incredible, maybe not” rather than asking everyone to work on it because ‘it’s a great opportunity’ when clearly, it’s not. This second approach doesn’t work anymore.

LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Ricardo> Something I’ve learned to do more during these crazy times is listen. It’s incredible how many simple things we can do to help our team by simply listening to what they have to say. It’s been a tough year for everyone. Being kinder and helping each other is something everyone can do. Also, work-life balance has never been so important. Unless it's a huge emergency (and by emergency I really mean emergency), late nights and weekends are not meant for work, at all. It's healthier for everyone – the team and the business.

LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Ricardo> As a Latino, it’s a shame we’re still discussing diversity and inclusion in the workplace in 2021. It’s so clear: diversity and inclusion work. So, whenever we’re hiring, that’s a subject that’s always top of mind. For example, we just hired an incredible South Korean designer, So A Ryu. She’s an amazing designer and has a background completely different from mine – and from Americans’. Again, diversity and inclusion work. The more diverse the workplace is, the more productive it will be and the better the work becomes.

Work from Energy BBDO
Skin Like Me