Luis Miguel Messianu, the CEO & creative chairman at Alma - part of DDB Latina - catches up with colleagues from different agencies and corporations from across Latin America to discuss how living through numerous crises has shaped Latinos as people
Let’s face it, we Latinos are the ‘children of crisis’. Through courage, resilience and optimism, we’ve been able to recover from social and political turmoil, economic meltdowns, natural disasters and adverse conditions. As we face the worst crisis of our lifetime, what lessons can we share as experts in ‘new beginnings’?
In order to get different perspectives from a wide range of countries, I asked several colleagues who I admire for their drive and determination to share lessons from an upbringing where crisis played a role. I purposely searched for those countries of origin where the crisis has impacted the way in which all of them have developed their leadership skills in the face of adversity. They are all accomplished leaders in their respective industries, and it’s a matter of great pride for me to share their points of view. So, don’t just take my word for it, here’s what they had to say about fighting back and keeping going no matter what!
Fernando Vega Olmos (Argentinian living in Madrid), Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Anita & Vega (ex JWT/Lowe)
“More than a decade ago, I spoke at Cannes and titled my conference ‘Mother Crisis’. In it I explained the reasons why I think that those of us who are used to being in crisis mode know better how to take advantage of it. Picture this: a road in Latin America. In front of us is a half-dilapidated truck that carries a huge amount of watermelons in its box. The watermelons are perfectly piled up on top of each other. That is until the truck runs over a hole - so common in our geographies - and the blow makes the watermelons jump through the air. In the two seconds that watermelons fly, everything ‘falls into place’.Some fall off the truck, those in the bottom rise above, the ones in the middle can move up or be relegated to the bottom. The hole is the crisis. The unforeseen situation gets released and turns into new realities. How much do we Latinos know about this?! You could almost say that it is difficult for us to progress because we are at our best when we have to react to unforeseen events. But how unbeatable we are when everything goes to hell. How amazing we are when it comes to being in survival mode. Surviving is our school. Now the time has come for us to graduate.”
Nacho Zuccarino (Argentinian living in Silicon Valley), Global Creative Director, Google
"I was born in Argentina. I am 46 years old. From birth until the end of 2019 there have been 22 recessive cycles. That is an economic crisis every two years. The crises and I are inseparable. This applies to all Latinos. Being born in Latin America is like being born in the 1st Marine Regiment. Your life is a long and strenuous period of training that takes you to your physical, mental and emotional limits. Any Latin American citizen can recite two things from memory: their soccer team roster of players and the list of all the Ministers of Economy that his country had. The abnormal thing for us is not to be in crisis: it is not to be. So, bottom line, we are prepared for Covid-19 and the crises to come."
José Guillermo Díaz (Dominican), Director/Founder, Miami Ad School Punta Cana
“When asked if Latinos are better prepared to face this crisis that surrounds us, my answer is one: in my opinion, we ARE. Now, why do I think we are? My response is based on seeing how our community has shown a positive and hopeful attitude in every crisis we have faced. From political crises in our countries of origin and economic crises that have led to bankruptcy to the family crisis that we confront when having to migrate to the United States - often forced immigration - and having to start from scratch. If it is true that the global crisis caused by Covid-19 is one that we did not anticipate, it is a crisis that we can face with compassion and empathy, qualities that, as Latinos, are in our DNA. Which one of us was not raised in a neighbourhood where no one went to bed hungry because where two eat, five eat. Or in a neighbourhood where all the children had a father and a mother in every block who watched over our wellbeing. I am sure that as a community we will be one of the first to emerge from the emotional crisis that we will have to overcome before facing the economic crisis that is coming upon us. We are a united group and unity creates strength. And strength with compassion, humility and perseverance can help end any crisis.”
Freddy Jana (Dominican), Creative Vice President, Ogilvy
“I call it the Bullshit virus, because it kills all bullshit in our lives and in society.”
Jaime Rosado (Puerto Rican), Owner & CCO, RosadoToledo (ex JWT)
“In 2017, Puerto Rico experienced, for the first time in its history, the fury of two hurricanes - one of them devastating - as the entire world witnessed. It was as if the country had literally been bombed. Then, in the summer of 2019 we went through a peaceful but emotionally draining revolt in which we managed to remove from power - also for the first time in our history - the Governor on duty. It seemed then that 2020 was coming more calmly, but unfortunately for many, January began with a series of tremors in the southern area of the country that lasted practically for all of January, and thousands of people were left homeless. All this without counting on the economic crisis that has already lasted 10 years and that has left us with literally a bankrupt country. So, as we Latinos say, "we were few and grandma gave birth," this pandemic came. Today we celebrate 40 days of confinement and, as in many parts of the world, a different return to normality is emerging. Have we lost hope? The resounding answer is no. We still laugh, we still sing and dance. We still say to ourselves, "everything will be fine". And still people like me and my partner launch a new agency in the midst of all this chaos. Why? Because we believe in ourselves and deeply love what we do. Because we are precisely children of resilience, that which comes from our Latin spirit and that we Puerto Ricans have made it an essential part of our DNA. It is that claw that comes out when everything gets very difficult. Resilience and courage are what best define us. We know that what is coming will not be easy, but I think that Latinos rest on what our parents and grandparents repeated to us to exhaustion: “ask God for health that the rest will work out.’ Forward, always!”
Edgardo Rivera (Puerto Rican), CEO, DDB Latina Puerto Rico
“It should come as no surprise that Latinos are prepared to face any crisis. Historically, we have become accustomed to navigating times of great political, economic, social and climatic uncertainty. Particularly in Puerto Rico, the devastation left by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 helped prepare both the government, private businesses, and citizens. The Island lost electricity and drinking water services for months, forcing the partial closure of the country's economic apparatus, leaving thousands without jobs and weakening the ability for hospitals and medical services to respond. Thousands of families lost loved ones, while hundreds more said goodbye to their small and medium businesses. In the midst of an economic recession never before seen, Puerto Ricans recalled what they truly needed to survive a category 5 hurricane: collaboration, empathy and hope. In the summer of 2019, that same formula allowed us to overcome the institutional crisis that precipitated the fall of the government, and in January 2020, when a series of earthquakes shook the Island for two consecutive months, it was no longer a memory but a lifestyle. The earth calmed down for a few days only to make way for the Cocid-19 pandemic, and although this new crisis challenges us differently, as a people we have the ability to put our differences aside for the common good. Although the government continues to be a very important factor in the development of the country, it has really been the people and private companies that have reinvented themselves, forcing a creative revolution that has brought great innovation in various sectors. Private companies, community leaders and especially young people, have occupied spaces ignored by the government and have taken the helm for lack of leadership, demonstrating commitment and filling hope with a generation eager to act. Above all, they have demonstrated the ability to collaborate in times of great conflict without losing the North, safeguarding life at all costs. Perhaps we have not yet overcome the loss of nearly 5,000 lives due to lack of resources and leadership during Hurricane Maria. Perhaps, because culturally the Puerto Rican has a family situation highly rooted in his human essence. And although the economic and social impact of this crisis could be equivalent to that of a world war, we are sure of something, Puerto Rico knows how to progress amidst the chaos.”
Raul Cardos (Mexican), Founder/President, Anónimo (ex DDB/Ogilvy/Leo Burnett)
“The vast majority of Latinos have lived almost all of our lives in crisis, and it seems to me that having to get ahead in these contexts forces us to be more creative by nature. I am convinced that in a country like Mexico you have to be creative just to survive. Having to always be alert to uncertainty forces you to be thinking about different solutions and alternatives all the time, because here nothing is certain, nothing is as it is predicted to be. And that, in some way, is magical: what happens on the street, people, provides us with examples that we must observe to learn every day. The best creatives are essentially curious onlookers, great observers of life.
I prefer to always see the good in everything and, in my opinion, crises are an incredible fuel for creativity because they force you to be more alert, to understand how to do more with less, how to solve life's problems from another place. Somehow, this crisis brought us that time that we always asked for to “slow down a bit and think,” but that we never gave ourselves. So here we are, thinking, sharing, understanding that we actually need far fewer things than we thought. Trying to grow, connecting with what is truly essential. Because those of us who learn more from this, those of us who understand that this involuntary break came to change many things that we had been doing wrong, will undoubtedly turn out to be stronger, more creative: better.”
Luis Gaitán (Mexican), President/Chief Creative Officer, Grey Mexico (ex Uber/Google)
“There is something that undoubtedly distinguishes us as Latinos: a mixture of ingenuity and resilience that stays with us from the moment we are born and as we grow, and which is the result of permanently living in a scenario of crisis in our countries. So much so that the crisis is part of our daily landscape and therefore we navigate it with certain normality or at least with less concern compared to the rest of the world. In other words, crises may not surprise or paralyze us as much, since they are part of our landscape. Growing up and living in this way has led us to develop a very creative and intuitive ability to face and solve problems, to turn stones into gold, to generate value where there was none, to create wealth where there was only dust. And to do it with optimism and a good face. In advertising as in life in general. I usually think that if you are Mexican, you have a hacker inside. And that same DNA applies to all Latinos.”
Carlos Bayala (Argentinian living in London), Founder of New - London/Boston (ex Mother)
“I think the only thing I can say on Latin America’s behalf is that this crisis has ‘equalised’ us all in one fundamental aspect: the feeling of infallibility of the most powerful countries has collapsed, the crisis of governance is clear, and the role, often false and hypocritical of many companies, became evident. And for Latin America, this means an opportunity to:
1) Apply our own ideas and easily adopt examples of small and smart nations (New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, South Korea).
2) Reflexes and ability to react without arrogance (arrogance is the big culprit in this and most crises).
3) The possibility for the entire region to develop its own creative, intellectual and academic skills as it relates to healthcare.
This is a new deal with the planet. If we are smart, we could be in a position to have a seat at the table and start a conversation, not with the most powerful but with the most intelligent.”
María Elena Salinas, News Anchor/Journalist (ex Univision)
“Latinos in the US are among the most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. They are disproportionately represented among the cases that test positive. In New York, they are the highest demographic in number of deaths, 34%. Many of them do not have access to financial aid, health services or social services. Those who are undocumented will not be receiving a stimulus check even though they pay billions of dollars a year in taxes through their ITIN number. Half of Latinos in the US have $500 dollars or less in savings. Only a fraction of workers have jobs they can do from home and have limited access to the necessary technology to either work or have virtual lessons for their children. Yet, Latino workers are the ones that are keeping the country going during these difficult times. Whether it’s working in maintenance, delivery or supply chain, these workers risk their lives to help others save theirs. In the agricultural industry, farms and processing plants, they are considered essential workers and must show up, often without the proper protection. And they don’t only do it out of need, they are resilient, accustomed to facing adversity, and have an innate work ethic that is even more prevalent in times of need. They are also heroes and should be treated as such.”
Throughout history, it is clear that ‘when the shit hits the fan’, and at a global scale, the United States of America has always come to the rescue of any country in turmoil, whether for muscle or for economic aid. The US has demonstrated its charitable ways by always putting others ahead - during wars, disasters and unrest. The American way is to help others. Hopefully that spirit will prevail, and tolerance and equality will continue to play a role. Without a doubt, we can learn from each other, we can help those in need, and together we will come out of this crisis - the most serious of our lifetime - strengthened and enhanced as a society. Stay safe!!!
Luis Miguel Messianu is CEO & creative chairman at Alma, part of DDB Latina