Creativity through closeness: Jessica Apellaniz, Ogilvy Latina

By Mark Tungate

Sometimes, one person’s remark can impact your entire life. Jessica Apellaniz was working as an assistant director at MTV Latin America and envisioning a career in production when the fateful phrase came her way. She says: “My thing, what I love the most, is solving problems, so I felt the position of producer was perfect for that.”

Then the director of the top ten show asked her for a script to make it more lively. “It was always the same: ‘Here’s number one, here’s number two’, and so on. The challenge was to bring in some interesting ideas.”

As it happened, the director had a past in advertising. When he laid eyes on Jessica’s script, he said: “You’re not a producer – you’re a copywriter. You should try it. And I know someone at an agency.”

Today Jessica is Chief Creative Officer of Ogilvy Latina. She’s based in Mexico City, where she’s built her entire career, from an early stint at TBWA to no less than 12 years at Publicis. So what aspects of the Mexican creative scene have influenced her the most?

“I think we’re resourceful and hard-working. We’re also inventive. You should see the signs written by people in the street asking for five pesos. There are amazing copywriters in the street! You can feel the creativity, easily, in every part of the city.”

As for Mexico City itself, she describes it as “chaotic, lovely, vibrant and dangerous, all at the same time”. Even the weather is unpredictable: four seasons in one day. Outsiders find the place baffling. “I have friend from the US who lives here now and she says that the hardest thing is simply trying to understand why most things are like they are.”

Jessica has apparently negotiated this complex landscape with ease. She now oversees a multi-award-winning team – and Ogilvy Latina was the WPP agency that grew the most last year. What were the secrets to that performance, creatively speaking?

“We’re a close creative community and we help each other with every new business win. I know something about the automotive industry, so if Peru, for example, is pitching, I can share my knowledge. We share data and insights from across the region. We have a meeting every Friday where we talk about progress. I believe this closeness is the secret to the large growth.”

To crown a perfect year, Ogilvy Latina was named Regional Network of the Year at Cannes. Historically, great work from the region has hailed from Argentina and Brazil. But Ogilvy Latina has been buoyed by campaigns from markets that were previously under the radar – especially Honduras, with its incredible “Morning After Island” campaign.

Jessica says: “You’re right: typically the hot spots have been Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. Colombia is also very strong. This year Honduras shone like never before, with eight Gold Lions including a Glass. That’s an amazing thing for a country that had never won a Lion before. There was also a first Lion for Bolivia.” Going forward, she advises us to keep an eye on Peru: “The next shining star.”

What provokes a sudden upsurge of creativity at an agency? After all, Jessica is in a good position to know. “I think you have an atmosphere that creates a momentum within a team. You have a group of people who work closely together and it creates a bubble of creativity. They were shortlisted for two years – and this was the first year they won. But they’ve been working hard towards this achievement.”

In the past, regional creative directors (and indeed global ones) hopped from agency to agency to encourage this momentum in person. But Jessica was appointed to her new role just before the pandemic made travel impossible. How did that shape her approach?

“For a start we had to learn how to work from home. So I looked at what was working for the teams here, and at how I could escalate that to the teams abroad. I started to see them as extensions of my local team.”

Since then, it’s been a tale of two very different years. “The first one was about keeping the business going amid the stress, as we were trying to keep our clients and our people. It was emergency mode. In 2021, thanks to the growth we had, I could focus on helping more operations in the region contribute to Ogilvy’s creative reputation.

As we said before, the main creative output mostly came from the same four countries. But why couldn’t it be more? We have 17 countries! Even one amazing campaign from each would be a great result.”

Jessica is justly proud of the Honduras campaign. But also of a Cannes Gold for an intensely moving film for the Mexican beer brand Victoria Cempasúchil.

“It’s a local brand with a local insight, and we’ve been trying to get some recognition from the international creative community for – trust me – some time. So finally we managed to be understood by our fellow creatives. It’s the first Lion for this brand and I’m delighted about it.”

On her LinkedIn profile, Jessica notes that she’s one of the few women in a leading creative role across Latam. She also mentions the difficulty of maintaining a busy career while being the best possible mother to her five-year-old daughter and young baby. Does she have any tips for other adland parents?

“Somebody asked me in Cannes: ‘How do you do it?’ And the answer is, I don’t. I miss some stuff. But you can win Regional Network of the Year at Cannes when you have a newborn baby – because that’s what happened. Actually I should thank home working for that. I’m the proof that you can be productive. Network of the Year at Cannes with a newborn baby at home.

But the truth is, some days I’m a great mother and some days I’m a great CCO. I just try to reach a good balance at the end of the month.”

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