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Creative director Suzana Apelbaum is an award-winning industry innovator. She has worked with top brands including Coca-Cola, Fiat, Google, Unilever, Pampers, Converse and Procter & Gamble. Over the past decade, Apelbaum has had a significant impact on the digital landscape of the Brazilian and international markets. She led her own agency, Hello Interactive, in São Paulo and was a creative director at agencies such as Africa, JWT, StrawberryFrog New York and Anomaly New York, where she led digital campaigns and innovation projects. Currently, Apelbaum is partner and transmedia creative director of Asas da Imaginação, an international collective that creates special arts and entertainment projects. She is also an actress, and will love you more if you talk to her about that.

12.31.13

An Artistic Approach

What was your riskiest professional decision? Moving to New York to work as an executive creative director. In Brazil, I had reached a pretty high position and was very well known in the industry. I was in a safe place, and moving made me very vulnerable. I didn’t know English so well, I didn’t know the best professionals to work with, I didn’t know the vendors… I had to figure out a whole new industry dynamic in terms of business and relationships, all while having assumed the responsibilities of an ECD. It was a wonderful experience, though.

How has the experience of starting out in Brazil affected your work? In Brazil, most clients have a hard time planning their business and communications initiatives far enough in advance, due to a lack of organization, a lack of long-term vision or internal political issues. So the schedules are constantly crazy and the deadlines are super tight. Plus, the budgets are a lot smaller and it’s normal to have a client expecting you to create a miracle with limited investment. Starting out in this context made me a very fast thinker and worker, and also very flexible and resilient. Most importantly, though, Brazilian people have a great sense of humor, so even in the most tense situations we have an ability to laugh at ourselves and keep a positive vibe. This energy and lighthearted approach to life has a big impact on the quality of my work.

What challenges do today’s advertising agencies need to address in order to remain relevant? Figuring out how to incorporate disciplines that are not at their core, but that clients still expect them to deliver. It’s still a huge challenge for traditional agencies to create digital and mobile work with the same level of excellence as their TV spots and print campaigns. The same is true for big digital agencies that are being expected to make TV spots. I don’t think agencies need to deliver everything in order to succeed, but what is crucial is for them to clearly determine their positioning and make sure that they can deliver whatever they commit to with high quality.

How is the rise of technology helping or hurting the brands you work for? I have clients who embrace new technologies with a true strategic vision, and they are enjoying an amazing competitive advantage in their category. I’ve also seen clients who get overly excited about a new technology and force it into a situation, getting distracted from their real challenges. They end up wasting some serious money and time. Recently, I saw a client lose an amazing opportunity to do a game-changing interactive piece, because he didn’t want to take the risks involved in doing something truly innovative. That kind of episode breaks my heart.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in advertising? I’d be involved in creating plays, web series, films, art exhibitions—any project that I feel is meaningful for me and for society. I’m an actress and writer, and I belong to a collective in Brazil called “Asas da Imaginação” (“Wings of Imagination”), which is a group of twelve people from countries around the world, all with different artistic backgrounds. We collaborate both virtually and physically, and right now I’m working on a TV and web show that will be launched in February in Brazil.

How does your acting experience affect your work? It definitely helps. Theater is all about storytelling, pretty much like advertising. Acting taught me how to observe people and create genuine characters and dialogues. Writing copy, you have to think of a brand as a character, and really know its voice and behavior so that you can write in a compelling way.

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Embrace who you are. Try to find something special about yourself and let it come through your work. You are a unique person with a very particular perspective. If you trust your point of view, you will come up with more genuine, fresh and interesting work.