Partner and chief creative officer at Broken Heart Love Affair speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about operating an agency along with two other CCOs, why he gravitated towards art after moving to Canada from Guatemala, and discovering music and beauty treatments in lockdown
"Great creative has no boundaries. The best work can come from anywhere. Meet some of Canada’s best creative thinkers. The work is world class and consistent."
Canadian production company FRANK Content is a proud supporter of Little Black Book as its partner for the Canadian market. As part of the relationship, LBB is sitting down for a chat with the brightest and best minds from across Canada's advertising industry. Up today is Carlos Moreno, partner and chief creative officer at Broken Heart Love Affair.
Put simply, Carlos is one of Canada’s most successful creative directors. Under his leadership, Cossette - the agency he was at before starting Broken Heart Love affair two years ago along with Jay Chaney, Denise Rossetto, Todd Mackie and Beverley Hammond - was named Canadian Agency of the Year by Strategy Magazine in 2016, 2017 and 2018. He brought the same honour to BBDO in 2011. In both cases, firsts for the agencies. He’s also won a Grand Prix at Cannes. A native of Guatemala, Carlos was named one of the most Influential Hispanics in Canada by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and sits on the Board for the Advertising and Design Club of Canada.
While on day 17 of Carlos having not left the house due to Covid isolation and lockdown, he was kind enough to chat to LBB’s Addison Capper about his career.
LBB> You've been running your own business for almost two years now! Sum up the ride so far for us.
Carlos> I knew it was going to be scary to do this, especially leaving my global role at Cossette and trying something completely different with people like Denise and Todd who I’d never worked with before but had a lot of respect for. It was way scarier doing it through the pandemic to be honest, just because of all the factors that came into it. But it has been one of the most rewarding and most freeing parts of my 25 years in advertising. It's one of the most honest parts that I've ever experienced, in terms of being a part of something and having that freedom to really be open about what our story is, what we offer and what we are hopefully good at, and trying to deliver that for clients.
We're about to hit around 30 people in 18 months. Everyone has always told me that you've got to be so careful with how you grow something like this, because you can break it. We're really trying to be choiceful with, not only the people that we bring in, but also the clients that we're going after. It's growing at a good pace in a way that feels healthy and we're still trying to make each other laugh every day, which is really important. That creative, fun energy that I just want to have every day, when we were getting together in the office, is extremely important.
We launched a second unit called Lifelong Crush, and just how BHLA was set up to bring in top senior talent to deliver for clients, Lifelong Crush is also being built in a certain way to make sure that we are delivering through the funnel work at every stage for our clients. It's working really well, bringing in people that have had the experience - good and bad - in terms of getting massive campaigns into the market. And being able to have the fun conversations, but also the hard conversations, with clients at a top level just makes everything more healthy and fruitful. It's like your own personal relationships - you've got to have all those aspects of that partnership, working together.
LBB> You say you were warned about growing too quickly. What do you have to think about when you hire new people, compared to when you worked at a bigger agency?
Carlos> One of the things that I have always kept my eye on is people that aren’t afraid to try things. The work in your portfolio is only one aspect of how we like to look at people - their character, charisma and energy that they bring to an agency is extremely important. One of the things that I noticed over time is that the fun aspect of not just the work, but actually the people that were coming into the industry, was becoming so serious and so focused on certain aspects of the business that we started to lose that fun and irreverence that existed in agencies before. We try to bring obviously people that are extremely talented, but also that can bring that edge from a personal perspective into our business and into our clients' rooms on a daily basis, which is extremely important. It's that culture, that energy that we need.
LBB> Three of the five partners at BHLA are CCOs. How does that work? It must be nice to have two compatriots to bounce ideas off.
Carlos> When I started talking to Denise and Todd about this, we kind of thought, ‘This is insane, we're going to have three of us, we're all crazy, we'll have our own points of view. You think something's good, what if I think something's shit? What's going to happen?’. I simply said to everybody that, at the end of the day, we all have the right intentions in terms of the work and the business, and I think that goes a long way. As soon as I said that out loud to everybody, it crystallised it. It made it very much like: ‘You may think differently than me, and that's OK, but I know in your heart and in your mind, that you all have the right intentions of doing the best work that we can and doing what's right by our clients.’ That allows everyone to bring the best to the table every day. Not just us, but everyone else we're working with, because it’s about having the right intentions. It's not about being frivolous or doing stuff just to entertain ourselves, but really providing the best creative solution for the business problems that we deal with every day.
LBB> How did you first get into this industry?
Carlos> You know what, it's funny. English is my second language, after I moved to Canada from Guatemala, so I really had a lot of issues in school. I was 11 [when I moved], so I spent my first four or five years in Canada just learning the language, learning the culture, and I really started to gravitate towards art in high school. One day I did this watercolour of a Coke can in the shape of a fire hydrant and that was pretty interesting. So from then on, I just started thinking about art, I kept on going into design and when I went to art school - it was a deliberate decision. The only thing I remember was thinking about whether I should be a designer or not, but I just knew I didn't have a strong enough skill set to be a designer. So I kept on going into communications. Again, it's so funny, right before I finished school I was so afraid of not being able to pay rent or anything, so I started pedalling the streets and trying to figure out where I was going to get my first job. And I ended up at McCann, for my first gig - so it was deliberate in a way.
LBB> You had a short time in New York but much of your career has been in Canada, right?
Carlos> Yeah, Peter [Ignazi, global CCO at Cossette and former partner] and I spent almost two years working as partners at Amalgamated with the ex-Cliff Freeman and Partners guys, which was a hell of a ride. We were partners for almost 23 years. This weekend, I was telling somebody that I miss Pete, for sure. He's still a dear friend, we text about soccer and movies and stuff all the time and chit chat whenever we can. But yeah, it was a hell of a ride for sure.
LBB> So you've worked in Canada for most of your career. How do you feel the local industry has changed and evolved over those times? Do you see more clients from the US looking towards you?
Carlos> The rise of the independent agencies has really taken over this market, in my opinion. Not just because I'm an independent, but I look at people that came before us like Rethink, Zulu Alpha Kilo, No Fixed Address as well. There just seems to be an energy that is more in control of the product and the talent that these agents are bringing in that is really changing the landscape quite a bit in this country. I don't know what other markets are like, but here it just feels like there is a bit of a thing right now. And it'll be interesting how this thing evolves, even five years from now. When I worked at Amalgamated in New York, at that time I think it was us, Brooklyn Brothers, Anomaly had just started out, Taxi had just launched in New York, and it's just interesting to see how the agencies that are here right now are going to continue to build that culture and that energy and hopefully everyone's still doing great and amazing things in five to 10 years from now.
LBB> When it comes to hiring new talent, does most of that come from Canada? Are there a lot of people from abroad looking to come to the market?
Carlos> We've gotten a lot of interest from people that are in New York and Europe, and a bit from South America as well, in terms of being interested in finding out more about BHLA, what we're doing, our story and having a bit of an open eye to what's happening here. It's really exciting, but at the same time, it's a double-edged sword, just because we also have unbelievable talent here that we need to continue to flourish and help grow as well.
LBB> BBDO and Publicis have just hired Brazilian CCOs - both of them at the same time and kind of out of nowhere, which is kind of interesting.
Carlos> It's interesting, right? I think it's interesting for our market to bring talent from abroad. But again, it's just how do we continue to grow our own? The talent pool is deep here and people are noticing. Some of our south-of-the-border clients or European clients are starting to look up here and, for their sake, I hope they start to open up their eyes a little bit more, just because I think there's unbelievable things being done here - on real budgets, real crafty and tenacious mindsets, in terms of how we go to market because we don't have those big budgets. But there's so much talent here. It's one of those stories where the work is going to lead the way, like agencies in New Zealand or Australia that work in smaller markets but are getting more attention from clients. But the work leads the way and, for us, that's how we have to look at it.
Carlos> Air Miles has been around for around 30 years in this market and it's going through a bit of a renaissance right now. It was one of those brands that just needed that extra push, that little bit of extra energy, a little bit of an image overhaul in terms of how to get people excited to be associated with it, and how to get people to start using it more. And that's how we approached it. There was nothing to win by using the same tropes as other points programmes, so we just really looked at it differently and said, ‘What is the most human way that people talk about this and what they offer?’ That's how the line, ‘It's all gravy’ came about.
It’s not unbelievable, amazing things that are going to change your life forever, but it's just a whole bunch of things that are just like, ‘Hey, that's kind of nice!’ - it’s a little something, a little taste. One thing that someone said to me when we first launched it, and that has really stuck with me, was: “I really want a little bit of that, whatever that is, I want a little bit of it.” And I think that's how people have felt ever since we launched it - and it's working. Their results are unbelievable, in terms of engagement online and with the card and their partners that they work with on a daily basis. I can't wait to keep doing more on the platform. And we built it to last. ‘It’s all gravy’ can be used in so many different ways for years and years to come.
LBB> Is there a piece of work from your time at BHLA that really sticks out as being particularly important, or that you're particularly proud of?
Carlos> BHLA is really thinking about our clients’ business from a longevity point of view - trying to come up with platforms that are meant to last the test of time and not just be here for a day and gone in 15 minutes, which happens with unreal, unbelievable ideas online every day. Air Miles we're really proud of, but the work that we did for MadeGood was also something that we felt was very, in its own way, honest and true to what that brand has been built as by the three partners that started it. It's honest and trying to be forward looking in terms of how to do business the right way in today's modern world, from their packaging to their resourcing, and it's not greenwashing in any way. They're not there yet, they’ll continue the journey that they're on and I think the work that we did for them puts a foot in the ground at what they're trying to do. It’s a big platform and it's done in a way that feels very honest as well as genuine, in terms of how the kids are talking, and how we're trying to build the entire system under it. I love it because it made me think. And all the comments that we've gotten back, it's really made people stop.
I thought about our original Kruger ad too [which we did a feature on here]. That one is very honest as well, I think it's got its own energy and came out at a time when everyone was saying, ‘we're in this together’. We just went above that and tried to do something that was going to acknowledge what people are feeling and how we act when we are at our most vulnerable moments, and to tie all these products together under one roof for the first time ever. People connected really well with that as well.
LBB> What's one piece of Canadian work maybe from the last year that you didn't make, but you're kind of jealous of?
Carlos> I am a big fan of things that come from big brands, blue chip ideas for big clients, like ‘Draw Ketchup’ from Rethink, which is really good. It's a blue chip idea for a big client and I like kinetic stuff like that more than anything else. That should be our goal as agencies in the industry, in terms of the kind of value we can bring to our clients.
LBB> What keeps you happy, relaxed, sane when you're not working?
Carlos> As we speak right now, I’m on day 17 of being inside [Carlos was recovering from Covid and Ontario is in lockdown when we speak]. I've been listening to a lot of music and I really, really engage with it and see how, not only for myself but for my kids, how it changes the mood about things. I went down this rabbit hole with Jools Holland’s show and there are so many unbelievable performances. And even rediscovering things like Plastic Beach by Gorillaz - that album is freakin’ unreal. Music has been a big part of it lately. And then trying to do my own pedicures and manicures on myself is also quite inspiring - baby blue looks best on my toes!
There's this other thing on YouTube called Live from Daryl’s house. It’s with Daryl Hall from Hall and Oates and he brings all these people into his barn and they just jam. He'll bring in people like Cee Lo and Chromeo and all kinds of people to do songs from their era and from Hall and Oates’ era, and it's just unbelievable to watch and rediscover some of the stuff.