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Bullseye: Juan Carlos Ortiz on DDB Latina’s Quest for Creative Success
Advertising Agency
Miami, USA
Consistency, care and craft have underpinned the system that led to DDB Latina’s D&AD and Cannes success this year, writes Laura Swinton
The transition from creative to creative leader is tricky one – and something creatives are often left to figure out on their own. When it comes to learning how to stoke a fiery passion for creativity across your team or teams and how to raise the bar in terms of the quality of the work, Juan Carlos Ortiz has been on a journey over the past decade that’s worth learning from. 

His strategy is bearing fruit… and the harvest is bountiful. This year Africa, DDB’s Sao Paulo agency was the third most awarded agency in the world at D&AD. At Cannes, DDB Latina took home Grand Prix for ‘Salla 2032’ with the House of Lapland. With 29 Lions in total at the festival (one Grand Prix, six Gold, six Silver and 16 Bronze), the Latina network took home around half of the DDB group’s Cannes award haul.

We’ve already talked a fair bit about DDB Latina’s culture-first approach, which pulls together a cultural and linguistic bloc across three continents (read more here), but the secret sauce is what Juan Carlos calls the Bullseye system. It’s been developed as a counterpoint to the numerical, reductive approach to assessing creative work popular at global and regional levels. An alumni of the Leo Burnett Global Product Committee (GPC) – prior to joining DDB Juan Carlos led Leo’s across Latina America and then in North America – that approach to assessing creative work was turned on its head when JCO stumbled upon an old Bernbach insight.

“I found a quote in a book from Bill Bernbach saying that you can never put an idea into numbers because emotions cannot be numbers. And it was brilliant. I realised that I could not do a scale from one to ten. That’s why we build this idea, this emotional concept of a simple idea that exists on three levels: ‘Bye, Bye Baby’, ‘Maybe Baby’, and ‘Bullseye’,” explains Juan Carlos. “It’s simple, emotional, human and it’s open for debate.”

According to this schema, ‘Bye, Bye Babies’ are ideas that don’t have the quality or potential to be different or breakthrough projects and so not worth expending regional resources on. ‘Maybe, Babies’ have potential but are in need of development – the idea needs to be twisted and pushed harder, production and execution needs more flair and craft. Comments and suggestions are taken back to the team on the ground. And then there are the ‘Bullseyes’. “That’s when we see an idea that is going to win. That’s an idea that’s going to bring us reputation and be super successful for our client,” explains Juan Carlos.

Every year, each office’s CEO and CCO commit to reaching a certain number of ‘Bullseyes’, and it’s built into their targets and bonus systems. With ten years’ of data gathered under this system, Juan Carlos can confidently say that with campaigns that have unanimously been declared a ‘Bullseye’, there’s a 95% chance it will take at least a silver or gold at Cannes.

So what does it take to push a ‘Maybe, Baby’ to a ‘Bullseye’? “It takes consistency. Persistence. Go, rework, rethink and try to find different angles on the idea. Find new ways to produce it. It’s always 50% idea, 50% production,” says Juan Carlos.

It also takes a certain mentality. Confidence is key to creativity, but arrogance can shut you off to improvement. All of the leaders that Juan Carlos has gathered around the region also buy into this collective push – there’s no space for politics in the ‘Bullseye’ system. But it this took time to put in place. 

“There have been many, many challenges. When we started DDB Latina, there were a lot of people who were like pirates, they just wanted good things for their own office. It was a very selfish culture. I had people saying, ‘no I don’t want to be part of this’,” recalls Juan Carlos. “I changed easily 45% of the people in the company. I changed heads. Because you need to get people who really believe and when you get people who really believe, you start to see results. The first few years were tough. It took time, it took effort, it took bad nights, it took nightmares, it took changing people. And I have to tell you, after doing that I learned that this is a business of people.”

These days, the battle for talent is fiercer than ever, and here Juan Carlos also recommends not relying only on what looks good on paper and in numbers.

“I always think in this business you need to find people who are talented and also good human beings,” says Juan Carlos. “I’ve been in front of talented people that are disaster for a company, as disaster because they destroy cultures. They don’t want to be part of anything. They are super selfish, they are destroyers. When you get good human beings together you create the power of ‘we’.  On the other side, you get good people, nice people that don’t have talent. You need to find both. 

“If you find someone that is a good human being and a talent person, you have a jewel, a treasure. Keep pushing and inspiring him or her, let that person fly and it will be a beautiful sky for all of us.”

And having nurtured a cache of such gems, Juan Carlos is seeing this combination of positive attitude, creative talent, and the Bullseye system manifest as more proactive ideas. It’s a sign that people and teams are engaged and curious, rather than sitting back and awaiting client briefs.

“That gives us a little of what the industry is missing – it is not just about ‘doing the homework’ it’s also about creating something that’s not part of the homework. Sometimes big ideas come from proactive ideas,” he says. “That’s very important for a company that’s an innovation company.”

It’s been a tough year for the Latina team because Covid-19 has meant that these very human creative leadership gatherings have been entirely virtual, but they haven’t let that get in the way of creating award-winning work – and attracting clients along the way. Following Cannes, the teams across the Latina region have had much to celebrate but that hunger for ‘Bullseyes’ will not be sated for long.

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