8 July 2019

Interview with Ana Leao

She is an expert in getting new business off paper. Define teams, roles and set up operations. She has done so throughout her career at major communications agencies in the Brazilian market and also at Dentsu Aegis Network, where, in 2014, she began to lead a daring project for General Motors (GM) - to create a digital service hub for the dealer network, the first pilot of the project outside the United States. The mission was so successful that, two years later, the DAN Group also won the digital Chevrolet brands and products in Brazil. In leading this movement, Ana Leão has always counted on humility to learn the new and ability to manage and integrate talents as distinct as advertising and statistics.

With extensive experience in the areas of research and advertising and marketing business, the executive assumed, last March, the leadership of the São Paulo office of Isobar Brazil. Among the challenges is to reinforce the agency's creative technology vein to create experiences that impact clients' businesses and transform people's lives. In this interview granted to NÖSE, Ana talks about career, business, technology, creativity and gender equality.

What is your main challenge as Managing Director of Isobar in Brazil?
To reaffirm our essence of pioneering, innovation, technology, of transforming people's experiences with the brands we work for. We need to build our future on this heritage.

In some of the most recent and important festivals of innovation and creativity in the world, we have heard from advertisers that agencies need to seek a place of relevance in the context of digital transformation. How is Isobar seeking this relevance?
I look at Isobar as a brand. Thus, our search for relevance is the search for brands as a whole. To be relevant to our clients, we need to find ways to make them relevant to their clients. When you have an answer, a method, a formula to connect the brand with the consumer, your customer trusts you.

And what's the way to promote that brand connection with people?
First, we can't do it by looking at our own industry. The solution is not in here, but in the consumer chain. We also need to see this consumer in a different way. In general, he is treated by each brand in isolation, as if the person who consumes the hydrant did not consume the car as well. We need to look at this person as a whole, and look for ways to connect him or her with customers - including by seeking partnerships with other brands, which can make this interaction more meaningful. We'll only be able to connect brands with people when the brands present a value proposition that is, in fact, relevant to people.

In a recent study conducted by AdExchanger, 60 advertisers in the United States revealed what they expect from agencies. They cited the ability to manage Adtechs, to maximise loyalty from existing customers and identify new ones, and to create an ethical interface design. At no time was the word advertising quoted. Does this presuppose a reconfiguration of the agency's role?
Yes. And that is an interesting discussion.  Advertising was not cited because that word died. It was eroded over time because it was associated by clients with something like, "I'll give you my money to spend for me." That's not the agency's role. The way people connect with brands has changed. And those responses signal that. Today, the agency is expected to help its clients connect faster to their consumers, to generate business - in a cool, creative, ethical, and therefore relevant way.

What changes are taking place in agencies, particularly at Isobar, to connect to this new reality?
In the medium term, this scenario requires a reconfiguration of the structure, the team, the operating formats. It changes, for example, the profile of the professional you hire, because the digital ecosystem requires some very specific skills - such as great expertise in BI, for example. It is also necessary to redesign the internal operation model, focusing on the project approach and teams that plug and unplug, depending on the client's needs. This format is close to the model adopted by the consultancies.

The consultancies have been investing in the advertising market, with the purchase of several agencies. The Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) group, of which Isobar is a part, made the opposite movement by acquiring the business and technology consulting Cosin Consulting. What has this movement added to the agency?
It has been an incredible experience, even if it has been painful at times, like the whole process of change - especially when different tribes come together. With Cosin, we learned to follow methodologies, to have more discipline, to work by projects; it is a more dynamic and measurable approach. On the other hand, they absorb this way of thinking and creating, more intuitive and organic. This fusion of the consulting modus operandi with the creative chaos of the agency - which is absolutely necessary to build inventive and interesting things - is very interesting and transformative.

Speaking of transformation, technological innovations have been promoting many changes in the way brands consume and also in the way they relate to people. How can Isobar help its customers deal with the new challenges brought by technology?
By connecting all this with strategy. Isobar is responsible for understanding how these technological innovations can contribute to the construction of solid strategies for brands. Our role is to transform people's experience with our clients, using digital creativity. In this process, a great challenge is to take the risk of doing it first - something inherent to innovation. And there needs to be a lot of trust between the agency and the client to make that happen.

To be respected in leadership positions, some women still feel the need to adopt attitudes considered typically male. What is your style of leadership?
I don't think it's about being more masculine or more feminine. All of us, men and women, have masculine and feminine forces, we have these two natures. What happens is that at certain times you will be stronger or less strong; more daring or less daring; more aggressive or less aggressive. In the business environment, aggressiveness is a very present characteristic, especially in C-Level. The point is that, culturally, strength and aggressiveness are not recognized as attributes of female nature. But they are. In the past, some women were forced to follow stereotypes of male behaviour, as you mentioned - even as a way to avoid sexual and moral harassment. They were tools of self-defense, which we now have to turn off. Because we are no longer defending ourselves. We are acting.

What are Isobar's goals with regard to gender equality - especially with regard to the percentage of female leaders?
One of the reasons I chose this position was because I'm a woman. And that needs to be taken into consideration, yes. For a long time, white, male, class A and B people were privileged, with access to good faculties... Now, you have to privilege other people, until you have equality. Here at Isobar, in particular, we have a target of having 50% female leadership by 2020. It is a bold target, but it is important.

*Published on nose.bar