After 18 Years at One Agency, Global Creative Icon Eva Santos Is Planning Her Next Step

Proximity's worldwide CCO says creativity will be vital to 'rebuild ourselves socially and economically'

Most recently serving as global CCO of Proximity, Eva Santos has been with the agency network since age 22. Courtesy of Eva Santos
Headshot of David Griner

Advertising isn’t a field known for its longevity and loyalty, with top talent and their agencies often parting ways every few years. But for nearly two decades, Eva Santos has been a fixture at Proximity, the global network owned by Omnicom.

In that time, Santos has risen to be not only one Spain’s top women in creative leadership, but also one of the world’s most respected agency executives. Serving as global chief creative officer for the past three years, she has been featured on a litany of awards juries, been a frequent public speaker around the world and was named to Adweek’s Creative 100 in 2017.

But now Santos has ended her 18-year run at Proximity, which Omnicom recently folded into sister network Rapp Worldwide. She hasn’t committed to a next step yet, saying she’s deciding whether there’s an agency that fits with her goal of prioritizing creativity—or whether it’s time to just launch her own shop.

Adweek caught up with Santos to learn more about how the ad industry has changed, especially for women, over the course of her career, and what she’s looking for with her next opportunity.

You’ve been with Proximity for 18 years, which is an incredibly long run in the agency world. What are some of the benefits of staying at one agency as your career grows, rather than moving to a different company every few years?
Santos: I started at Proximity when I was 22 years old. During these 18 years, the industry and the agency itself have radically changed, so I really feel like I have been in at least three different agencies: one more focused on direct marketing, another one on digital and CRM, and the last one on a holistic creative thinking, where the channel is chosen based on the idea and not the reverse.

The latter was my vision, and still is, and the one I tried to instill during my three years in the global role. I believe the benefit of developing your career in one agency is that you are more likely to influence the vision of the company and get to leave your own stamp.

What can you tell us about your decision to leave Proximity? And do you have any firm plans for what’s next? 
My decision to leave Proximity is closely related to the previous point. I felt that there was beginning to be too much distance between my vision and the global strategy of the company. I felt my capacity to influence was limited, just at the moment when we most need a complete rethink our industry’s model.

I live this profession with great passion, and I was entering a monotony and a conformism that not only did not make me a better professional, but probably a worse one. This profession is for adrenaline junkies, as my friend Laura Visco says.

My plans for this new chapter are focused first on listening to what the market has to tell me, and then trying to find or build my new projects—projects where I could develop my vision at a moment when creativity is going to be one of the key disciplines to rebuild ourselves socially and economically. And my plans include feeling that adrenaline again too.

The worst inequalities are the invisible ones, and when I started in creativity, nobody talked about why all creative directors were men. It was normal.

Eva Santos

You’re one of the most well known female leaders in the global creative industry. How would you describe the situation for women—in Spain and globally—when you first joined advertising?  
The worst inequalities are the invisible ones, and when I started in creativity, nobody talked about why all creative directors were men. It was normal. While I was in junior positions it was not that evident, but when I was promoted I found myself in many clearly “not normal” situations, such as being announced as “the first female juror in the history of our festival” or a client who told me that “you are a weird creative director, because you wear necklaces,” just to name a few.

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."