Laura Sampedro, Carlos Alija and Javier Passerieu speak to LBB’s Addison Capper about an almost two-year journey to creatively revitalise the agency
MullenLowe Los Angeles opened its doors in 2013 when it won Acura as a client, a piece of business that it still runs today. In the last three years, under Javier Passerieu's leadership as managing director, the agency has picked up accounts like Hawaiian Airlines, Whole Foods, Grey Goose and Corona.
In 2020, Laura Sampedro and Carlos Alija joined the agency as executive creative directors. They came with a mission - ‘to rewire MullenLowe LA’. Less than two years later and the effects have been tangible. They have shaped a more diverse and international team, with creatives from 15 different nationalities. Each piece of work since - such as Corona's 'La Vida Más Fina' with Snoop Dog or 'Chiaki's Journey' for Acura - has become pivotal in the journey of the agency's clients' brands. What's more, Laura and Carlos were just named in Adweek’s Creative 100.
Intrigued to know about the 175-strong agency, the journey of the past two years and where it's set to go in the future, LBB's Addison Capper chatted with Javier, Laura and Carlos.
LBB> When Carlos and Laura joined, the three of you had the goal of “rewiring LA.” What can you tell us about that? Define rewiring! What did you do and why?
Carlos> Saying you want to raise the bar and put the quality of the work at the centre can easily become wishful thinking. It’s every small decision at every stage of the process that makes or breaks the final output, so ‘rewiring’ has meant incorporating a mindset that aims for excellence as a way of operating, not as a consequence. ‘If you take care of the input, the output takes care of itself’ is one of our favourite mantras.
Javier> The easiest thing in advertising is just saying something is not ‘good enough’ and focusing on the negative, so we focused on giving solutions and showing our teams what we really meant specifically. After a few months of observing and learning, we knew what needed to change, and we presented to the agency the day-to-day behaviours that needed a new approach to elevate our standards and our output.
Laura> Ferran Adria, the chef who turned cuisine into a creative art from his restaurant El Bulli, told us once that they didn’t just change the entire menu every season, but even the little pencils they used to take the orders. Even a small change can make a difference to spark a new mindset.
LBB> What have been some of the effects of that rewiring?
Laura> We’ve become more inquisitive and thorough. We’ve managed to attract some amazing talent and partner with collaborators who get this and want to work in an environment where their managers have the same creative agenda. As a consequence, the work across all our clients is sharper, better crafted, and has a more unique voice.
Javi> One would think there’s immediate resistance to change, either from clients or internally, but we were surprised about how eager and open everyone has been. It’s been challenging sometimes, but the most immediate effect isn’t just the work getting better, but the pride our people and our clients feel after seeing the real results of this new mindset.
LBB> How do the three of you work together across creative and the more business side of the agency to achieve those goals?
Javi> Every decision in an agency is a creative decision for the impact it can have on the work. From the team structure to the opportunity a new business represents or not, but also the small things, like how much time you need to have a good convo with the client during a presentation. In that sense, we operate a bit as a trio, since we have a relationship that allows for many ongoing check-ins and discussions.
Carlos> I move my hands a lot and can ramble for 10 minutes about anything I’m excited about, but Laura and Javi are the ones who make the important calls!
LBB> How does the agency’s location in LA drive its culture and the type of work you do?
Laura> We are an agency based in LA, but we don’t see ourselves as an ‘LA agency’. We are a diverse team of more than 15 different nationalities that develops work globally for some of its clients (Grey Goose and Patrón)—just without freezing our butts off six months a year! Now seriously, in the last few years, Los Angeles has become a creative hub beyond the movie industry: tech, gaming, TV, music, fashion, you name it. We want to let all that percolate into our work and culture…and become an active player in that hub too.
LBB> Speaking of culture, you implemented a bunch of well-being practices around taking lunch, meeting scheduling, Friday half days, etc. Can you tell me a bit more about them and why it's important to have semi ‘rules’ in place for stuff like that?
Carlos> You can’t put the work at the centre without some guardrails to protect those who have to make it and are so passionate about it. I can’t help smiling when I see a company out there making a big announcement about one of the policies that are just normal to us: email curfews so you don’t bother your peers after hours, creative presentations banned on Mondays so weekends are respected, mandatory lunch breaks, early wrap on Fridays, total WFH flexibility, etc.
Javi> We want to create a place WE want to work at. We love our jobs, we work hard, but we also love our families and our time outside of work. We’ve worked for many agencies in different countries and cultures, and we know the things we want to avoid from our past jobs.
LBB> You turned Snoop Dogg into somewhat of a beach guru in a campaign that I had a lot of love for. Please tell me more about your work with Corona and Snoop!
Javi> ‘La Vida Más Fina’ was our way to express and celebrate Corona’s mindset: that you can always choose to lie back and live for the moment with a fresh perspective. Snoop embodies that spirit, and this year, he is trying to pass on some of his ‘beach wisdom’ to Andy Samberg, who plays the role of a bit of a neurotic foil. Working with both of them and comedian/director Neal Brennan has been a highlight this year for sure. We see Corona’s beach as a playing field, like their own sitcom set where anyone, from sports legends like Vince Carter to reggaeton stars like Bad Bunny, can show up anytime to share their take on living ‘the fine life’.
LBB> I'm really intrigued by your rebrand of the Arizona Coyotes. Sports teams and fans are so tribal and protective. A rebrand like this must undergo huge scrutiny. What was the creative process like for the campaign? Please tell me about it!
Laura> A team is a brand that lives in the fans’ hearts. We approached the Coyotes rebrand with a lot of respect and humbleness, but we brought a strong POV to the competitive pitch: the NHL isn't as inclusive as it should be, and in order to grow and expand their base, the Coyotes had to stand for a more progressive vision of the sport that better reflected the real Arizona, and particularly Phoenix’s fast-growing population. Starting with their vintage ‘kachina’ ’90s logo, we created a new ecosystem that celebrates this fresh take on the sport and the team’s values. Definitely it was a relief when we saw the fans liked the work!
LBB> Which other pieces of work from your time working together feel particularly important or are you most proud of? Why?
Carlos> I’d say that Acura’s Type S launch has been an all-time creative highlight for the brand and the agency. ‘Chiaki’s Journey’ was pure storytelling and craft in the shape of an anime series that had almost 300 million views. A disruptive and ambitious way to approach car advertising these days. We couldn’t speak highly enough about the passionate team behind this project.
Laura> Although the account had been in the building for some time, Patrón’s last holiday campaign was a total departure for the brand into a new tone. Bolder, sophisticated, and authentic, more aligned with how a premium brand needs to talk these days. ‘Gracias a la vida/thanks for life’ was a cool bilingual rendition of a beloved Spanish song we brought to life, collaborating with Grammy-worthy artists. The music video received amazing reviews and has set the path for the new work we’ll be launching this year.
LBB> Given the successes of the past couple of years, what is the plan from here? What do you hope to achieve over the course of 2022 and beyond?
Laura> This is clearly an exciting new episode for MullenLowe LA. We want to be a home for those who didn’t get into advertising or marketing to tick boxes, but to explore their full potential and find personal fulfilment. We are building the only agency we’d like to be part of at this time in our careers.
Javi> We’d love to help our clients broaden the many ways they could connect with their consumers. Put a few more provocative ideas out there. Work in new categories we feel we could bring a lot to: fashion, gaming, tech, retail.…
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Carlos> Any business that wants to be relevant these days must ask themselves, “Why do we exist?” Particularly in such an oversaturated industry. So it’s up to us and everyone working at MullenLowe LA to earn that right to exist. And that starts by doing things in a way no one else does!
Laura> We live in an attention economy, so trying to keep persuading captive audiences with the same old tricks is not going to fly anymore. Only those who understand the culture and use lateral thinking in magnetic ways will still be here in five years. So hopefully, we can have this chat again then!