13 Global Agency Leaders Whose Ideas Go Beyond Borders and Transcend Boundaries

Meet the international voices on this year's Creative 100

Joaquin Cubria and Ignacio Ferioli are co-CCOs of David Buenos Aires.
David Buenos Aires

Often admired (and occasionally envied) in their own countries, these creative leaders have also grown beyond their borders, helping influence work and young talent around the world. Some are regional powerhouses helping to advance creative communities across multiple nations, while others seem unfettered by any geographic limitation and are changing the rules on the worldwide stage.

Janne Brenda Lysø and Stian Johansen
Co-founders and Creative Directors, POL (Norway)

For many years, Norway has been a country whose international advertising reputation rested largely on one agency: TRY. But five years ago, a new player emerged onto the scene, practically erupting like Athena from the skull of her father.

POL was founded by six TRY employees, including creative directors Janne Brenda Lysø and Stian Johansen, and the young agency quickly carved out a reputation as a global creative leader with work like Audi’s “Enter Sandbox,” a VR experience that turned a children’s sandbox into an off-road driving experience. POL and production partner MediaMonks took home five Cannes Lions, including a gold, for that project in 2017.

The agency later partnered with DVA Studio recently to create an AR app that extends an Audi commercial into your living room.

The agency also recreated a real, ravaged home from a Syria war zone and placed it right in the middle of an Ikea, where most model apartments are picture-perfect and cozy. The campaign raised 23 million euro for the Red Cross.

Most recently, they’ve been proud of their campaign for Norwegian Railway, for which they wrapped trains with large displays celebrating specific train riders as heroes for helping boost the environment and economy by taking the train.

The creative duo, who’ve been partners for nearly 20 years at Oslo agencies including BBDO, Leo Burnett and McCann, say Norway’s small population—about 5 million—poses challenges (namely an increasingly competitive creative marketplace) along with unique benefits.

“We get closer to the marketing directors, closer to the CEOs,” the two say in an email to Adweek, “and in that way we also get closer to the decision-makers, making our work more hands-on.”

Laura Visco
Creative Director, 72andSunny Amsterdam

Imagine if someone told you 10 years ago that one of the leading voices in the fight against toxic masculinity would be Axe. But that’s exactly what’s happened, despite the line of men’s body sprays and grooming products being synonymous for years with scantily clad women fawning over guys in pheromone-induced ecstasy.

Today Axe is sparking global conversations around the meaning of manliness, thanks to its “Find Your Magic” campaign and #IsItOKForGuys hashtag. The woman behind both is Laura Visco, a Buenos Aires-born copywriter who, since 2014, has been creative director at 72andSunny Amsterdam.

“I believe advertising can be a powerful tool for change, and can have a positive impact in society,” Visco says. “That’s why Axe’s ‘Is It OK for Guys?’ was so important for me on a professional and personal level. The campaign shines a light on the fact that guys are born into a ‘man box’ with lots of gender restrictions, and nowadays masculinity is more toxic than ever.”

In addition to generating conversation online, the campaign had another unexpected result for Visco: “When we launched this campaign, for the first time in my 19 years of experience, people looked at the credits and contacted some of us individually to thank us for starting this conversation,” she says. “It was incredibly rewarding to see men talking about this subject for the first time.”

Kalpesh Patankar
Executive Creative Director, Y&R MENA (UAE)

Every part of the world has its own tapestry of cultures, ethnicities and political perspectives, but in terms of complexity, few can rival the Middle East and North African area known in the corporate world as MENA.

But Kalpesh Patankar, ecd of Y&R MENA, has been one of the marketing industry’s unifying forces in the region, bringing together disparate groups while also pushing the area’s clients forward. His approach is best captured by “The One Book for Peace,” which highlighted the many similarities between the Bible and the Quran and was mailed to world leaders. Created for Interreligious Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it became a global sensation.

“We always have to be aware of cultural sensitivities here, as we create work that defies boundaries and borders—ideas whose creative spirit have not been restricted, but instead raise the bar,” Patankar says. “The MENA market has grown, and now people see it as a hub for creativity. We are proud to keep this momentum going.”

Patankar’s career has taken him across much of the world, with stints at agencies in India, Malaysia and Singapore. He’s now based in Dubai, where he recently led the process of creating the city’s own font. It was Microsoft’s first city-specific typeface and will have a global impact for the destination. “We told the story of the city through type,” he says, “and embedded that brand in over 100 million devices across the world.”

Helen Pak
President of Grey Toronto and CCO of Grey Group Canada

It made for an eerie, otherworldly sight during Toronto’s rush hour: an empty streetcar, swathed in black, running its route like a ghost ship amid a sea of commuters.

The riderless car was a commemoration of the more than 200 workers in Ontario who die on the job each year, and its Friday evening route marked the arrival that Saturday of the National Day of Mourning dedicated to remembering such deaths.

“It was incredibly rewarding to see how powerful the work was, how moved people were and how it made them think differently about their own safety at work,” says Helen Pak, president of Grey Toronto, which created the project for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario.

Pak joined Grey in 2017 after many years in other Canadian agency executive roles, including CEO and CCO of Havas Canada, Toronto-based evp and ecd of Saatchi & Saatchi, and creative director at Ogilvy. An award-winning architect before pivoting to a career in creative direction, Pak also served as a creative strategist for Facebook and Instagram from 2013 through 2014.

Canada can be a challenging market for creative agencies due to the combination of tech fluency, high consumer standards and far smaller marketing budgets than a similar brand might allocate in the U.S. But Pak says this combination can result in a focus on great ideas that don’t depend on massive media spends for success.

“We are continually faced with adapting global assets and confronted with shrinking local budgets,” Pak says, “and as such, we find ourselves having to be more inventive and more innovative in how we make our ideas more relevant and breakthrough. Although the industry is changing, I find this to be a very exciting time where the best ideas rise to the top.”

Bolaji Alausa
Executive Creative Director, Noah’s Ark (Nigeria)

On the “Our People” section of the Noah’s Ark website, the Nigerian agency’s staff was recently reimagined as characters from Marvel’s mythical futurist nation of Wakanda, and it’s no surprise who got picked to be Black Panther: Bolaji Alausa.

The executive creative director is, like the character of T’Challa, highly respected in his home nation despite having (for now) a relatively low international profile. In both 2015 and 2017, he received a Grand Prix from the Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival, and his team’s “Life Without Data” spot for Airtel won gold at the 2017 Epica Awards judged by international ad journalists.

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