Agility Is Key: DDB Latina's Juan Isaza

Juan Isaza
President DDB Mexico + VP Strategy and Innovation DDB Latina Group

Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do?

I’m the head of planning at DDB Latina. I have worked in strategic planning for my entire professional life; some time in media agencies and then at DDB. I have led planning departments in DDB Colombia, DDB Mexico and now in the regional hub giving support to a group of more than 30 extremely talented planners and strategic thinkers in Latin America, Spain and the Hispanic Market of the US.

What did you do before your current role and what led you to where you are now?

I was the head of planning at DDB Mexico where I stayed for almost four years while developing the planning department. It was a very fulfilling professional time, helping the office grow in terms of business and creative reputation. It was also a good time for thinking about the role of planning and insight finding while incorporating social media listening skills, which was the new big thing by that time. I then started leading planning, innovation and social media projects regionally and it eventually took me to Miami for the position I’m now.

How would you define the role of a strategist in your agency?

Planners at DDB have to be team players. We don’t expect strategy to be the star, the star in DDB is always the creative product. Our job is to provide our consumer knowledge, our business perspective, and our cultural insights to inspire a better creative product. At DDB, we truly believe that creativity is the most powerful force in business, so we don’t have theoretical expert planners, we have inspiring people that are always happy to work with their team and help grow clients’ businesses.

How have you seen the role of a strategist been evolving since you first began?

In several Latin American markets, the planner is still relatively a newcomer. However, since I started, I would say that we have evolved from being the “brief makers” to being co-equippers that understand the culture, the consumer and the client business, and ultimately match all that knowledge with the power of creative ideas to generate behavior changes. Planners have to be more committed with results now. We have much more pressure today for going beyond the power point and work in a more agile way with an innovator’s mentality.

In your opinion, what are the greatest barriers an aspiring planner/strategist encounters when trying to start their career?

I think the biggest barriers are related to how we think and the way we have to see the business now. Aspiring planners have to think of themselves in spaces that look less like Mad Men agencies and more like technology companies that work in an agile manner. They have to bring more of an innovator’s mentality rather than an advertiser’s past ways of working. They have to bring an experimentation perspective rather than just being creators of advertising executions. They have to have a mindset of problem solvers rather than only being the person who simply writes the brief.

In your time, what have you noticed are the key skills and traits that separate great strategists from the mediocre?

I think great strategists are always aware of the power of culture and how a consumer’s evolution brings new opportunities for brands. Great strategists work as innovators, creating new products, services or experiences because they know that only communication and advertising is not enough for today consumer’s complexity. Great strategists want to make brands influential and consequently generate behavior change. They don’t ask what the key message is, they design and transit a key experience. 

How do you avoid getting stuck in a cultural bubble and stay informed on the needs and desires of everyday consumers?

Perhaps what I enjoy the most about my work is that I have to travel constantly across Latin America, Spain and the United States. I’m always exploring new local movements and ideas. I always ask local teams in the countries to take me to new places, to tell me about political their situation or show me the new influencers or local celebrities. It allows me to do a sort of “cross-pollination” of ideas and perspectives, to connect points across geographies and to maintain a fresh perspective on societies and avoid stereotypes. I’m also an addict of online courses about everything from history to psychology and I have to confess that I’m a crazy podcast listener.