“It’s been a year of learning and that’s been the positive side of Covid. We have grown, we have learned, we have pushed things beyond our imagination.”
In a normal year, Fernando Fascioli would spend 200 days flying between McCann Worldgroup’s 27 offices in 21 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. The past year has seen him grounded but that’s not to say he hasn’t been moving fast. Almost overnight, the region had to shift 3,000 people to work from home mode and clients were facing the need to reach customers and understand the sudden shifts.
In the Latin American context, one of the most dramatic industry stories has been the shift to ecommerce. Compared with Europe and Asia, ecommerce adoption has been lagging due to poor connectivity and lower penetration of online and credit card payments
. “Logistics were the number one nightmare. Imagine for a second payment – you needed to have people who had a credit card and bank account that would allow them to buy online. And then the second thing was whether people were comfortable enough to use their credit card on an ecommerce platform to buy something,” explains Fernando.
That meant that every client was facing the same problem – but each faced it in a wildly different way and were in need of vastly different solutions.
“I have seen the most diverse challenges and every challenge has to do with the level of maturity that the company has, and the sector the company was playing in. But what amazed me most was the solutions. That was a constant. There was not a single company that was not challenged by this situation. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that the response was different for every company. And clearly this is going back to the year of learning,” says Fernando.
To illustrate, Fernando brings up three wildly different examples that unfolded on wildly different scales. For Chevrolet, McCann Colombia created the Live Store. Pre-Covid, the typical car-buying journey followed the pattern of online research followed by a trip to the showroom for a test drive for an in-person purchase. Live Store allowed potential buyers to video chat directly with salespeople in a Covid-safe space, who were able to answer questions and show aspects of the car up close. They immediately began completing sales online and the platform was so successful that it was rolled out across Latin America and was celebrated in General Motor’s Detroit headquarters.
Meanwhile, in Chile, where Fernando lives with his family, there’s another digital transformation project that couldn’t be further from a global auto manufacturer. High end chocolatier, La Fete, had 50 physical stores but no ecommerce facility. Together with the agency, they developed an ecommerce infrastructure that was carefully designed around the idea of joy and superior experience – and now La Fete delivers exquisitely packaged chocolate treats within 45 minutes of an order being placed. It’s now the top ecommerce platform for the sector in Chile. Such was La Fete’s success that Nestle bought the brand at the end of 2020.
So, during the year, the McCann Worldgroup goal was not simply to help clients survive the pandemic. “It wasn’t about surviving. Either you skyrocket your business or your out of business. I’m being very extreme in these comparisons,” he says.
You’d think Fernando must be feeling pretty proud with such success stories, and while he’s proud of the McCann teams he says that at heart the praise must go to the businesses themselves.
“It’s not us. We have the fortune to be with that client and accompany the conversations, but it’s about what’s going on with the business. Live Store is a story from General Motors. The chocolate story was from La Fete and the home improvement store is from Sodimac, the largest home improvement store in Latin America,” he says. “We had retailers transforming into marketplaces, we had marketplaces skyrocketing. And again, what takes me back to the beginning of the year was that it was going to be a year of learning and transformation.”
The accomplishments of the teams in the group and within clients are not to be diminished, but Fernando has a tempered and nuanced take on the longer-term impacts of the crisis. From a strategic point of view, his agencies have layers of political, cultural, psychological and economic strands to unpick in order to help clients move forward.
“[It’s] a multidimensional crisis. At the core, we had the crisis of Covid. Then we had the crisis surrounding it, which was a socio-political crisis and a leadership crisis – and we are seeing that all over the world and it’s something we have to acknowledge because it will last longer than Covid. We will stop Covid with a vaccine… we will not solve a socio-political leadership crisis with a vaccine. And then we have, connected a profound economic crisis,” says Fernando, aware that talking about the network’s successes and the adoption of ecommerce is just one side of the story. Across Latin America unemployment and poverty levels have risen – a March 2021 report from Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean notes that 22m more people in the region qualified as poor in 2020 compared to 2019
“That’s the other face of this story. This story has different faces. Yes, there’s the bright, luminous face of learning, development, growing, transforming. And then there’s a human face of a lot of people who are suffering big time. I think we need to acknowledge that because then it comes with what I believe is the most challenging crisis, the mental health crisis. And we’re at the tip of the iceberg,” says Fernando. The mental health fall out is something he thinks agencies and brands need to watch closely.
Throughout the past year, the agency has had an eye on the future. While the top two priorities have been helping talent and clients, the third was to understand what sort of world clients would be stepping into. The political and social responses across the region’s countries have been markedly varied. “Clearly the world of the past would not come back. But this is not normal either. Covid will not be with us forever.”
Aside from the ecommerce explosion wrought by Covid-19, Fernando’s also been leading McCann Worldgroup Latin America on another journey of growth and transformation. They’ve been focusing on diversity and inclusion across the region. Over the past few years the focus has been on women in leadership, specifically creative leadership and this year, The Women Economic Forum awarded Fernando with the award for "Business Reference Leader for Equity", and Maribel Vidal who heads up the company’s Women Leadership Council won the ‘Iconic Woman Creating a Better World for Women’ prize. The strategy has broadened to include LGBTQ representation and working to improve D&I across age, ethnicity and sexual orientation. The agencies have been certified by LGBTQ groups and Human Rights Watch. It’s the key to a stronger creative product.
“We have a made a lot of progress, but I believe there is no finish line with diversity, equity and inclusion. We were the first agency in the world to sign the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles. That’s a fact. We took action and a lot has been happening over the past three years, and then two years ago we started mapping other layers onto the diversity strategy, so working with LGBTQ groups and we certified our agencies with Human Rights Watch. Since then, we haven’t stopped,” he says. “We need to choose inclusion and choose it consciously in order to become a better community and better agencies, equipped to produce better work.”
And that ‘better work’ and creative product is key. Creativity that centres client experience and behaviour is, Fernando thinks, the key to the next twenty years. While the network has moved fast and helped clients completely change their way of working, they’ve also built a foundation for the future.
But while his eye is on the future, Fernando thinks we should all take time to acknowledge what we’ve collectively achieved too. “I would challenge every human being in the world to think about his or her last 12 months and balance their accomplishments. I can assure you, it’s way more than you could ever imagine. I have accomplished lunch with my kids for 12 months – that’s something I did not accomplish for over six years; I was travelling across the region for 200 days a year. We accomplished a new way of working for 2,500 people. We accomplished a more connected network. Yesterday we were delivering a pitch presentation with 25 people from six different speciality companies across eight different markets,” he says. “You know, one of the reasons we are so tired is that we have worked so much. The hardest part of our life is having to unlearn and relearn.”