The World: How DDB Brazil won Cannes Agency of the Year

Sergio Valente, the president of the recession-busting agency, says creativity is the cure for a cash crisis.

When asked what, if anything, UK ad agencies might learn about creating ads in a recession from their counterparts in Brazil - the Latin American powerhouse that has survived its fair share of economic and environmental catastrophes - Sergio Valente, the president and chief executive of DDB Brazil, winner of the Cannes Agency of the Year award, says it's how to do things faster.

"The most important and relevant impact that this economic crisis has had on my industry, is on planning time," he says. "Now we need more quick answers than ever. So if you are fast, and efficient, you can be better. This is the most important necessity for now."

Valente argues that Brazil, whose agencies regularly cart home crates of awards from Cannes, has been impacted less by the recession than have other countries.

"We have been in crisis for years," he says. "Clients have cut budgets something like 20 per cent. The best medicine is creativity and we are totally prepared for that. But because we have been through so much, we have to do a lot with very little, and that's what ad agencies could learn from us."

Valente cites what happened during the live broadcast of Michael Jackson's memorial service, an event watched simultaneously in countries around the world, to make his point.

"On Facebook, everybody was connecting with friends who were watching it. And when people are connecting, they are talking about your brand, your product, so you have to be a little more influential and fast with this networking. In addition to increasing creativity, the challenge is how to deal with the internet and networking. Last year, it was convergence, but this year, the most important trend is networking."

Winning Agency of the Year at Cannes, with a cache of nine Lions (two gold, four silver and three bronze, for clients such as Terra Travel, the sound-production company Saxsofunny, FedEx and the image bank Latinstock), is only the latest in a number of titles the Sao Paulo-based agency has notched up over the years. Others include Cyber Agency of the Year in 2005, and Agency of the Year titles in 1998 and 1999. (Formerly the local hotshop DM9, it was bought by DDB in 1997.)

"Winning at Cannes is not the most important thing but it is the most difficult thing in advertising," Valente explains. "Cannes is like the record of an athlete. If you focus on the record, you beat everything; you beat your competitors, and you will be naturally good for your clients, your colleagues and your partners. This is a kind of religion. It's not the most important thing, but when you get Agency of the Year, you show everybody, 'Look how good, how clever I am; how at the top of the trend I am', and, of course, everybody wants that."

Valente is less concerned with what it says about Latin America's creativity, than what it says about Brazil, a country of 180 million people consisting of two different demographics: the very poor and the very rich.

"We are a huge country with many different people, so we have to be very creative to deal with it," he says. "You have to be popular and breathtaking, but, at the same time, you have to be clever and surprising and use different weapons. The rich and the poor are like two different countries and situations, but you have different ways to connect. You don't have to use different weapons, sometimes it's the same weapons. But you have to have a good positioning to build great advertising."

In Brazil, media buying remains in-house. "That's the best way," Valente says. "Because you have to put creativity in the media. Media is just to buy goods and sell the brand better, it's not a finance thing, I'm talking about intelligence, research, genes and creativity and the best way is to put all this together."

Humour, emotion and passion characterise Brazilian ads, which often reflect the country's soap opera culture. And they also could be said to characterise Valente himself. Friendly and talkative, Valente has a fireman's pole outside his office and he slides down to the floor below, where the creatives and planners sit. Once there, he no doubt exhorts them to do better work and win more Cannes Lions.

According to Bob Scarpelli, DDB Worldwide's chairman and chief creative officer: "The passion and energy with DDB Brazil is palpable. They are always looking to the future. Even after winning Agency of the Year they were already talking about 2010. They just live for what's next. I think it has something to do with the way Brazilian agencies operate. It relies very much on the cult of personality. So many of its senior figures, such as Marcelo Serpa at Almap/BBDO, have reputations that extend well beyond the business."

In addition to passion and personality, it's also the agency's famous heritage that helps differentiate it from other Brazilian shops. "We believe in our soul, and our soul is DM9 and we never forget that," Valente says. "Despite being DDB, we have a DM9 heritage. We're different because we just want to be us, and I believe that many clients don't like us.

"One day, I had a meeting with a marketing director, and he's talking what he wants and what he doesn't and we have to do this and don't do that and I stopped him and said: 'Hey, man, I don't want to work for you. We're not happy together, so it's better for you to find an agency that matches you.'

"I'm still looking for clients that match with me. It's all about happiness. Maybe I am a little Pollyanna, but I really believe if we are not happy, we will not do good work."