Creative 100: International Agency Leaders

Introducing the talents from abroad who rose to the occasion with fresh ideas and unforgettable work

Calling the past year a challenge would be a remarkable understatement, but it also provided a hard reset for an industry hungry for fresh ideas. These global agency leaders didn’t just execute new ideas; they weren’t afraid to push the envelope or in some cases, get downright strange. That eccentricity is what made their work unforgettable, and the marketing landscape is all the better for it. Here are 15 international leaders who rose to the occasion in major ways:

Alexis Bronstorph

Co-CCO, Taxi

Based in: Toronto

Career path: Bronstorph knew she wanted to work in the advertising industry since age 9 while doing voiceover work, and then she dedicated herself to breaking into the industry. “I remember thinking on my first day on the job, ‘I better like this because there’s no Plan B.'” That first day took place in 2004 at Taxi, where she began as an intern. After stints at Sid Lee and Juniper Park, she returned to Taxi in 2018.

Recent work: Bronstorph worked on a sustainability project for Volkswagen called “The Carbon Neutral Net” to launch the company’s all-electric SUV, the I.D.4. This saw the automaker commit to lowering the carbon impact produced by its website by only offering live ASCII text and coding that used over 1.5 million characters to recreate the usual beautiful car imagery of promotional sites while reducing page weight—and its carbon footprint. 

Getting Gwyneth’s attention: Bronstorph was also involved in the “This Smells Like My Penis” candle created in response to—and released within days of—Goop’s “This Smells Like My Vagina” candle. The satirical product, which aimed to draw attention to the gender pay gap in Canada, ended up being discussed by Gwyneth Paltrow herself while appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Advice for aspiring creatives: “When you do your best, people notice. Do your best. Stay curious. Be resilient. And focus on the work.”

Alice Chou

CCO, DentsuMB Taiwan

Based in: Taipei, Taiwan

Career path: After six years at Dentsu Taiwan (now DentsuMB Taiwan), Chou was named executive creative director in 2012, making her the first female ecd in the office’s 60-year history. Six years ago, Chou was promoted again to her current role of chief creative officer. Her influence brought the agency its first Cannes Lion, in 2017—the same year she was named Outstanding Creative Person of the Year by the Taiwan Advertisers’ Association.

Recent work: Chou’s team developed a brand film from real estate agency Sinyi Realty called “In Love We Trust” to help people in Taiwan overcome their fear of commitment after the country’s divorce rate was discovered to be the highest in Asia. With an eye on the long-term impact on business caused by divorce, the film portrays a woman working in the Department of Household Registration office who is heartbroken to see the number of broken marriages recorded each day, until she meets someone who shows her that love can endure. 

Acclaimed film: In 2020, Chou’s team also created the 11-minute branded film “Time Will Tell” for investment firm Schroders Taiwan. Released to much acclaim and winning multiple awards at the New York Festivals and APAC regional awards such as Spikes Asia and One Show China, the film aims to encourage viewers to consider the most important investments they make in life and is told through the lens of a 42-year promise made during World War II. 

Advice for aspiring creatives: “When facing challenges, I have to understand the art of compromise. You may think compromise means failure, but I don’t think so. As long as we never forget our goal, then compromise is not a compromise. We bow down because we want to get out of that awkward situation first and wait for a better opportunity to strike back.”

André Toledo and Saulo Rocha

Ecds, David Madrid

Based in: Madrid

Career path: Toledo and Rocha have spent almost two years at David Madrid as executive creative directors, previously working five years at LOLA MullenLowe Madrid as senior creatives. They have worked together on clients including Burger King, Toys R Us and Unilever. 

Recent work: The duo’s “Confusing Times” work for Burger King promoted the Impossible Whopper with darkly humorous and relatable scenarios about people reclaiming their lives following a year of Covid-19 lockdowns. In addition to being proud of the work, Toledo and Rocha say they were honored to have a chance to work with one of their advertising idols, director Juan Cabral.

Bringing back an iconic dad: The team’s “Twitter Dad” project leveraged the viral fame of academic Robert Kelly, whose children famously interrupted his live BBC interview. David Madrid’s ad saw him talking about how Twitter’s new settings help control who can interrupt your business’ posts. 

Reflecting on home: For Toledo, starting out in Lima, Peru, taught him to “constantly work on finding simple and powerful ideas that connect with people without getting involved with big productions.” Rocha says that growing up in Brasília, Brazil, instilled in him an “underdog mindset that has been fundamental in my career, from the places I chose to work to the way I fight for ideas to happen.”

Aurélie Scalabre and Olivier Aumard

Creative directors, BETC Paris

Based in: Paris

Career path: Scalabre worked at a number of agencies in Paris before joining BETC Paris as an art director. After some time at DDB Paris, she returned to BETC as a creative director. Aumard began his advertising career at Le Chose before moving to Madre Buenos Aires for a three-year stint. He became a senior copywriter on his return to France, joining Fred & Farid before taking a break from the advertising industry to become an author for the French TV show Le Grand Journal on Canal+. He was lured back to the ad industry to work alongside Scalabre in September 2016. 

Recent work: Their work at BETC has predominantly been with iconic client Lacoste, and the two have worked on every campaign produced by the agency for the fashion brand over the past five years. Their visually stunning 2019 spot “Crocodile Inside” took a full year to realize in partnership with the Megaforce director collective. It aimed to illustrate the brand’s signature “Life Is a Beautiful Sport” by demonstrating elegance, style and values. The visually impressive film features a couple arguing while their house falls apart and they begin to think about life apart. 

Giving while getting: Their 2020 Lacoste project “Give For Good” focused on ecommerce and improving the sustainability of the fashion sector. Each order received through the Lacoste website included an extra shipping label for customers to send unused clothes for free to a nonprofit in need. 

Advice for aspiring creatives: “Don’t only focus on advertising. Nowadays, agencies are looking for profiles that are diverse and hybrid. Creatives must go beyond their job description and see themselves as being part of the entertainment industry as a whole. Once you consider Netflix and video games as your main competitors, it changes your whole perception.”

Badong Abesamis and Herbert Hernandez

Founding partners, Gigil

Based in: Manila, Philippines

Career path: The founders of Gigil first worked together at Y&R after careers that spanned agencies including DM9, JWR, Leo Burnett, McCann, Saatchi & Saatchi and TBWA, though both cite their extracurricular—but starkly different—musical interests as being just as important to them: Abesamis sings tenor in a church choir, while Hernandez plays guitar for two rock bands. In 2017, they founded Gigil, whose name is a Tagalog word for the indescribable joy of seeing something cute.

Recent work: Unnerving spots for RC Cola proved to be breakout work for the pair, not just because it received worldwide attention online, but also because the work increased sales of RC Cola Mega by 67%, according to the agency.

Creating a talent lifeline: Gigil launched The Indirectory for advertising creatives across the Philippines where clients could source freelance talent for projects. This proved to be vital at the height of the pandemic, especially as jobs were being shed across the sector. The initiative included a Zoom seminar to offer advice for freelancers to find work and two matchmaker events to set them up with clients.

Chaka Sobhani

Global CCO, Leo Burnett 

Based in: London

Career path: Having grown up in the south of England in Devon and Epsom, Sobhani was used to the quiet life before moving to south London and eventually entering the advertising industry. She describes those differences in lifestyle as having shaped her transition “from being the outsider as the only brown kid in my school to moving and finding my tribe through bunking off school and sneaking up to London.” Sobhani was involved in setting up ITV’s in-house creative studio as its first creative director before moving to indie agency Mother in a content development role and then onto Leo Burnett London in 2016.

Going worldwide: In May, Sobhani was promoted to global chief creative officer, tasked with upholding the agency’s global standards and helping identify new creative talent. Despite taking on an international role, Sobhani will also continue to hold the post of chief creative officer at Leo Burnett London.

Recent work: “Inner Child,” the Christmas 2020 campaign from McDonald’s U.K., featured the tale of a teenage boy who still yearns for the childhood wonder of the season but holds back, thinking he’s too grown up. Sobhani, who has been very close to the client during her time at the agency, says the animated tale “shows the true power of simple and heartfelt storytelling told through beautiful craft.”

Advice for aspiring creatives: “Be tenacious. Be resilient. Be curious. And make, make, make. We are lucky enough to live in a time when you don’t have to ask permission to create and get your ideas out in the world, so have fun playing and getting stuff out there.”

Xolisa Dyeshana

Chief creative director, Joe Public United

Based in: Johannesburg

Career path: Dyeshana began his career with FCB Cape Town, spending four years there before moving to formerly IPG-owned agency Joe Public Johannesburg as a creative director. He became a shareholder when the agency’s founders bought it back in 2009, then became its executive creative director two years later. Over the past decade, he has been elected chairman of South African advertising awards initiative The Loeries, chairman of the country’s Creative Circle and a member of the One Club International board. 

Recent work: Of “Secrets” for Nedbank, a major banking brand in South Africa, Dyeshana says, “The insight around the piece is that in South Africa, money is a taboo subject that no one likes to talk about, and yet as a nation, we have some of the worst money-saving habits. So as the bank that wants to encourage people to ‘See Money Differently,’ we created a movie called ‘Secrets.’ It was advertised all over the country, unbranded, and the trailer led viewers to believe that there was a new blockbuster coming about people who had secrets to hide. We revealed the reality of the stunt in cinemas, movie premiere-style, where a 15-minute film was shown, revealing at the end that it was in fact a campaign for Nedbank.”

Advice to aspiring creatives: “Make yourself heard and seen. The industry needs you. The world is changing, and you should be a part of that change. Most importantly, bring that change into the work you do.”

Cristiana Boccassini

Global CCO, Publicis Italy and Le Pub

Based in: Milan

Reflecting on her home cities: “I spent my youth in Italy, first in Rome and then in Milan. Being born in Rome is a privilege. You can’t help but bump into Michelangelo or Caravaggio just by turning a corner. Milan is also the city that made me grow professionally, a city of fashion and design, more international and with a constant cultural mix.”

Career path: Boccassini arrived at Publicis Italy as executive creative director in 2011 from JWT Italy, where she’d risen to creative director. At Publicis, she worked alongside creative partner Bruno Bertelli, leading the group’s global Heineken account. She has also worked across Diesel, Renault and Nestle, among other global clients. In 2018, she became the agency’s chief creative officer for Italy, running creative from the Milan and Rome offices. Her work has picked up 61 Cannes Lions.

Recent work: Diesel’s two-minute spot “Francesca” was created to mark Pride Month with the aim of celebrating people’s right to live as they want. “From the beginning of my career, I looked with admiration to Diesel’s films. After 20 years, I managed to run a campaign that perfectly matches the brand’s anti-conformism, making it relevant on critical current issues of inclusivity and gender rights. This film had a long journey, and seeing it on air gave me a lot of satisfaction,” says Boccassini. 

Other projects: Boccassini led Barilla’s “Playlist Timer” that created Spotify playlists matching the length of time different pastas should be cooked. For Heineken, her team created the “Socialize Responsibly” campaign featuring three ads encouraging drinkers to stay apart during the pandemic.

Advice for aspiring creatives: “Being realistic is only good for those who don’t know how to do better.”

Eric Schoeffler

CCO for Germany, ecd for Europe, Havas Creative

Based in: Düsseldorf, Germany

Career path: Beginning in 1994 at Cologne agency Westag, Schoeffler ended up at DDB in Düsseldorf, rising to executive creative director. In 2011, he was asked to succeed Amir Kassaei as regional chief creative officer at the agency, leading the offices in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg and Vienna. Five years on, he moved to Havas with Thomas Funk to run creative out of Germany and serve as acting ecd across Europe. 

Recent work: Schoeffler describes himself as “very much in love” with the work produced for Getty Images in Munich, creating an image library to reflect on the current pandemic and how modern times can mirror previous events. “Simple, powerful, contemporary, it carries a message without finger-pointing while also presenting the brand for what it is: the biggest and best photo library in the world.”

Advice for aspiring creatives: “Be silly. Be brave. Be kind.”

Fernando Duarte and Henrique Del Lama

Creative directors, AlmapBBDO 

Based in: São Paulo, Brazil

Career path: Duarte and Del Lama met when they were hired by the agency in 2015 to work together across many of the agency’s clients before their promotion to creative directors in 2019. They were involved in the agency’s win to bring in the Volkswagen account alongside a number of global pitches for Mars Foods. Initially promoted to lead the work on Havaianas, a Brazilian flip-flop brand, they expanded their focus amid the pandemic to work on other accounts, such as Frito-Lay, and helped the agency win the Diageo account for Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil.

Recent work: For Wasabi Doritos, the duo created a campaign in Japanese but intended for Portuguese-speaking Brazilians. To ensure the ad was built on appreciation rather than appropriation, their team worked with consultants, directors, translators and actors of Japanese descent as well as with the Doritos marketing team in Japan.

Capturing the return from isolation: For Johnnie Walker, the duo developed a long-form ad featuring an astronaut returning from space. Released in January, the film served as a metaphor as people began to think about emerging from the isolation they had experienced during the pandemic.

Advice for aspiring creatives: “Don’t rush it. Enjoy being creative before aspiring to management roles. Life’s a lot more fun with less meetings.”

Hrafn Gunnarsson

Creative director, Brandenburg

Based in: Reykjavik, Iceland

Career path: Having graduated from Iceland University of the Arts in 2006 with a degree in graphic design, Gunnarsson began his career at Fiton, a creative agency in Reykjavik. In 2012, he and three partners formed their own agency, taking the lead as its creative head. 

Recent work: The agency has been working to promote Icelandic fish to the U.K. and the U.S. with a festival they called Fishmas. Rather than an annual celebration, the event is meant to be celebrated twice a week. They also developed the story of Father Fishmas, who fronts the campaign. The agency is currently working on creating a village for Father Fishmas.

Reimagining a national icon: Brandenburg’s new visual identity for KSI, Iceland’s football association, was named by Adweek as one of 2020’s best marketing moves. “We created a new identity based on the old folklore of the spirits of Iceland, each with their different attributes and their territory to watch over. These four creatures are the ideal symbol for a team spirit needed for our national teams. It’s also a great saga to share with the world that amplifies what our teams stand for.”

Advice for aspiring creatives: “Put in the hours, and then do a little extra. Working hard at something usually pays off in the end.”

Jessica Apellaniz

CCO for Ogilvy Mexico and Ogilvy Latam

Based in: Mexico City

Career path: Starting out as a producer for MTV Latam, Apellaniz was working on a show whose director persuaded her to try the advertising sector. Out of curiosity, she did. After a few years at TBWA, she moved to Publicis for a decade, going from junior copywriter to creative vp. During that period, she won both Mexico’s first D&AD award and the agency’s first Cannes Lion. Moving to Ogilvy Mexico, she was invited to join the agency’s Worldwide Creative Council in 2019. In 2020, just prior to the pandemic, Apellaniz was named CCO for Ogilvy Latam. 

On a recent win: Her agency’s upcoming Coca-Cola Olympics campaign: “I led the pitch against amazing agencies, and we were fortunate to have been chosen. For me, it really felt like winning the Olympics. I held our own internal Olympic competition, and the best talent around the Ogilvy network are now working on the project. It’s been truly fulfilling in terms of the actual work and the lessons learned in terms of the global collaboration we have had since the start of the project. For me, this project is showing Ogilvy at its best.”

Advice for aspiring creatives: “You don’t know it all. It’s a fact in your career moment, and it’s a fact in my career moment. Be sure that there’s always something new to learn and new ways to become a better creative. Be eager to learn. Become a 24/7 sponge.”

Jyrki Poutanen

CCO, TBWA\Helsinki

Based in: Helsinki

Career path: Having studied commercial art, studio art and advertising in the U.S. and Finland, Poutanen joined digital agency Satama Interactive as a graphic designer, working for Nokia mobile phones. A year later, he moved to Accenture as one of the first employees of its digital offering. After a stint at Dynamo as an art director, he joined Taivas Ogilvy in Helsinki, winning two Cannes Lions over two years with his team in 2009 and 2010. After serving as a creative director at McCann Helsinki, he landed at TBWA\Helsinki in 2016.

Recent work: “The Climate Crisis Font” for newspaper Helsingin Sanomat: “It’s a typeface based on Polar Ice data and future ice cap predictions. The font is currently being added to the font library of most Google online tools—Docs, Slides, etcetera. This makes me very proud.”

Advice for aspiring creatives: “Creativity separates our species from all other life forms on this planet. Creativity is a way to invent new and persuade change. A creative person has an ability to influence the world and people’s lives. And if those things do not sound like something close to superpowers, then I don’t know what does. So let’s use our powers for healthy progression and all things honest and good.”

Nils Leonard

Founder and CCO, Uncommon Creative Studio

Based in: London

Career path: Having worked in advertising and design for over 20 years, Leonard worked at a litany of U.K. agencies while also running his own design consultancy for the fashion and music industries. In 2008, after a celebrated eight-year run at Grey London, Leonard broke away, alongside agency CEO Lucy Jameson and managing director Natalie Graeme, to launch Uncommon Creative Studio. In four years, the studio has become one of Europe’s most talked-about creative shops.

Recent work: Leonard highlighted the work the studio has done in partnership with clothing retailer H&M to create “One Second Suit,” which will offer young people with job interviews the opportunity to borrow a suit for a 24-hour period. The brand recognized that many young people did not own or could not afford to buy formal clothing, so they were losing out on work as a result of how they were dressed during interviews. Additional markets where H&M stores are based will host the initiative, too, after a successful launch in the U.K. and U.S.

Advice for aspiring creatives: “Create something famous on your own. Be talked about. Learn the tools and never step away from them. The less people you need to make an idea happen, the more powerful you are.”

Swati Bhattacharya

CCO, FCB India

Based in: Gurugram, India

Career path: Described by a friend as “a binary miracle” in an industry known for its revolving doors, Bhattacharya has held posts at just two agencies. Her first was JWT India, where she joined as a trainee copywriter and worked for 22 years, rising through the ranks to become its national creative director. Then she moved to FCB Ulka in 2016 as chief creative officer—the first woman to hold a national CCO role in India, according to the agency.

Recent work: Bhattacharya worked with technologist Tara Krishnaswamy, the founder of women’s collective Shakti, to develop a campaign to inform audiences about the group and to encourage more women to get into politics in a nation where their voices and experiences are often absent from policy decision-making. The campaign included a film directed by Bhattacharya that used objects rather than actors to signify women who felt invisible in public life. “We had a very unique idea of going to women in lower party cadres and asking them to send their selfie to the community head to say, ‘Nominate me! Nominate 50% of women!'” 

Advice for aspiring creatives: “Fall in love with the brand. Once you do that, reaching the heart of the brand, reaching the heart of the consumers becomes so, so, so easy.”

Check out Adweek’s Creative 100 for 2021 by category: Agency Leaders | Agency Talents to Watch | Branded Content Innovators | TV and Streaming Innovators | Visionary Directors | Media Innovators | Artists and Authors | Icons and Influencers | Cover Star: Amber Ruffin

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