Erick Rosa replaced Jon King in the lead creative role at Publicis One Japan in February. Originally from Brazil, Rosa gives the impression of a low-key, unassuming yet optimistic individual with a genuine interest in Japanese culture and advertising.
Rosa does not buy into the dogma that brands have to be ‘always on’. Rather he says they just need to be relevant in what they say. To achieve that, he thinks advertising people should spend a good amount of time away from their desks “so they are not just consuming advertising 24/7”.
Like all the management at Publicis One, he has a challenge on his hands in uniting people from different companies that now sit under one roof. He does not aim to make his mark through disruption, but through democratisation. This involves giving open briefs to the office’s entire staff of more than 400.
“It doesn’t matter if you're a creative, an accounts person or in PR—everyone has a chance to present their ideas,” he says, but he has a special liking for planners. “Some of the best creatives, if not the best creatives, in an agency are the planners. I’ve been trying to break the walls here literally and figuratively.”
That has involved removing cubicles, which still feature in a surprising number of agencies in Japan. He sees “friction” and a certain amount of “loudness” as important for idea generation. He also wants to stop people from being too protective of their own ideas.
So far, he claims the response to the destruction of privacy has been positive. “Now, we can see everyone. We can quickly round up two or three people put them in a room and have them work on different briefs.” He describes the working style as “gregarious and democratic”.
Rosa is inspired by the “self-sufficient” nature of Japan, which he thinks has bred a unique style of advertising that he admits he does not always fully understand. He makes an effort to educate himself by watching a daily quota of local TV, even though he lacks the Japanese language skills to follow it. “It’s not like Singapore, where they feed off so many trends or countries or nationalities. Japan is a thing in itself.”
Nonetheless, Japan is increasingly less insulated from global trends, and the number of creatives choosing to work freelance is growing. While some might see this as an operational challenge, he sees it as offering freshness, as he does not think creatives should become too closely attached to specific brands.
Another trend changing the way agencies work is the increased desire to work from home, which Publicis is now trying to accommodate. In Singapore, where he used to live, Rosa says giving the mother of a young child freedom to work according to her new lifestyle resulted in much better work.
“I think agencies are adapting and becoming more agile in how they deal with the fact that sometimes their employees are not sitting at a desk from 9 till 6,” he says—a statement that applies to some more than others.
He agrees that it’s harder for agencies to attract creative talent due to the multitude of options now open to them at tech companies. “We can’t pretend it’s not happening,” he says. “The only way to solve it is to adapt.”
He sees Publicis’s introduction of the operating platform Marcel as an example of adaptation. Through Marcel, he says he was able to re-establish contact with a colleague he worked with 10 years ago in Portugal who is now based in Chicago. “She is one of the best creatives I’ve ever worked with but I haven’t worked with her since,” he says. “With Marcel I can work with her in the tap of a button.
He refutes the suggestion by Mark Ritson, a prominent marketing academic, that Marcel is simply “a poor version of LinkedIn”. “I don’t think LinkedIn comes close to connecting people in the way Marcel does because it’s intelligent—it learns how I work, who I work with and what I have done, so I think it’s pretty smart and his is not a very wise comparison.”
More creative people are also transitioning to in-house roles at brands. While many agencies see this as competition, Rosa prefers to see in-house creatives as “a trojan horse who knows how to work with you in ways that other people [such as a marketing head] wouldn’t”. His message to agency people is to “try to forge a good relationship and not see them as competition or people who will try to outsmart you just because they used to be in your shoes”.
The work that inspired a career in advertising
Rosa picks out two campaigns that stunned him in his early years. The first was ‘Hitler’, a piece of work for a Brazilian newspaper from the 1980s. Under the premise that a one-sided story can distort the truth even if it’s factually correct, it is as relevant now as it was then.
The other is Honda’s ‘Grrr’. “It was the first time I saw a car ad that didn't show a car going down the road in slow motion,” he says. “They broke every rule and it’s probably my favourite commercial of all time.”