Join me as I have a conversation with Alvaro Bretel, Head of Strategy, MEA at Virtue in United Arab of Emirates. As he shares his 3 pieces of advice for a strategist, his strategy journey, and what he found most helpful in joining The Planning Dirty Academy.
Hi, I’m doing Cole and today’s guest is Alvaro Bretel. Who’s head of strategy at virtue worldwide in, uh, middle East and Africa. He’s the head of strategy there. So my first question of our is what is your three pieces of boss for strategists?
Awesome. Thank you for having me actually. Um, I’ll try to keep it brief because I tend to talk a lot.
I love talking. Um, I think the first piece of advice has to do with relentlessness. Like you need to work hard on, on unit to push yourself even harder. I think that I have seen those two sides in the world where. Planners tend to be either super disregarded by creative and everyone inside the agency.
And they seem to be perceived as obstacles. And then there are few cases where planners are actually. Really helpful to the agency. And I always try to put myself here and I remember even wanting tribute a long time ago, a GM told me a planner gets hired and fired every single day by creative. So that stuck with me and that relentlessness of every single day.
And I think that feeds into our imposter syndrome, right? Every single day, we need to demonstrate that we’re valuable. So. That’s kind of the first one, the second one, I think it’s a bit cliche, but it has to do with curiosity, but curiosity in the sense that consume as much as you can have as many things as you can.
I think that, and I always do it when I did classes or anything in at schools. I always say that I love being a strategy and a planner because it’s the only job that pays me to learn about things that I wouldn’t learn otherwise, you know? Um, like if it wasn’t for strategy, I wouldn’t have started reading about the feminist movement throughout history for.
Um, uh, feminine hygiene brand, uh, and that, for me, it was amazing. Or even I remember for a food brand, I started reading about like, why are we so in love with food? And I went all the way back to, to first human beings and how they treated food and how food allowed us to change our brain on everything.
And I think that’s, that’s the most interesting thing of being Australia. Um, And it has to do with being with fueling that curiosity constantly and just consuming and consuming and consuming all types of content and inputs and everything. Um, I’m the third, the third one I think has to do with being really creatively, bold.
I think that trap that, that strategists and planners tend to fall into it’s when they become really academically. Uh, and I’ve seen it with, with severed ones where they go just by the book and they forget that they can actually take a leap on, because again, another planner told me. That description that I, that stuck with me, which was what a planner does is they get a nice glass or let’s say, uh, yeah, glass, they break it and they build something new with it.
And that’s kind of where our creativity has to come in. Um, And, and I think we tend to get lost in the, uh, we tend to get lost in, in the easy responses that we can get from books, from research, from all that stuff. And we forget that, Hey, actually, trust your own instincts and, and, and. Take that bold kind of creative leap in order to provide inspiration to creative because creatives are, they’re done and tired of getting the briefs that say like, Oh, we want to be the best or be unique and all that stuff.
I it’s so tiring. Um, so it, it, it’s always trying to. Push a bit, the boundaries of what you can actually deliver. Um, and yeah, I, I think that’s kind of the three things that I always kind of remind myself in my day to day class, all the other 200 things that we’re supposed to do. Well, there’s a lot, there’s a big list, but I love that.
Definitely. I definitely have that curiosity thing as well. Like. Just the ability to go deep on something. I remember I got a book on like the history of sunglasses and you’ll learn about this is amazing. So I can definitely see that, um, Alvara, I’d love to know about your cast and since you’ve kind of traveled halfway around the world, uh, looks like a strategist virtue or head of strategy.
Yeah. Yeah, it’s, it’s been kind of a long journey. Um, I think, and I’m going to go all the way back to two even university days, because I never meant to study advertising at all. I never meant to work at advertising. I wanted to study it or psychology or philosophy or it’s something interesting, you know, because advertising at the end of the day, it’s the most mundane thing that you can do, but also it can be the most interesting thing that you can do.
Um, And then I just didn’t feel like I didn’t see myself feeding in that psychologist or philosopher mode because it’s purely theoretical and I need to, to see things happen, you know, I need to grab knowledge and then make things happen. And that’s where I said, like, you know what, let’s study advertising.
And as, as many people that study advertising, you’re like, ah, I want to be a creative. And that was in my head. Um, and then I realized like, I really don’t like this biggest, it’s going too much into the details I lost. Ideating, but then when it goes into, okay, let’s start executing and let’s go into the script and what it would look like, and let’s go into different types of activations and executions and all that stuff.
That, for me, it’s just tiring. So I was in this crossroads, where, what do I do then? Because back in Peru, I’m Peruvian. Uh, I was born in, grew and lived there my whole life until I was 27 that I moved to Dubai. Um, And you didn’t have strategies in brewer. You didn’t have planning. It wasn’t a common knowledge.
Maybe a couple of agencies had one planner there and another dining in another one, but that was the, there wasn’t a school. Um, and that was challenging because. You never had an idea of that. And I remember it was my best friend. Who’s a copywriter. He told me, Hey, there’s this thing called planning that makes us marketing and creative.
And I’m like, okay, that sounds interesting because I was leaning more towards the marketing side, but also the marketing side for me, seems boring and tedious at some points. Um, and they don’t have this and I discovered these things. And I tried to get a break. Um, I remember I joined Wunderman back in 2012, I think.
Um, and I started as a data analyst that wasn’t a job that I could get there. Um, and then from there I remember pushing it and the ECD was the one who told me, Hey, why don’t you be a strategy? Uh, and I was like, awesome. So I started. Kind of the department there. And I was 23, which is the worst thing that you can do actually to put a fresh new planner into, to be the only one in a, in an agency of like 200 people that doesn’t have planning.
And how was it like kind of lost, but I just went with it. Uh, and I always had that dream of, I want to get out of Peru. I want to go to a really weird market. I want to kind of. Have to relearn absolutely everything. Um, and I started kind of looking for opportunities and the challenge there is that with my passport, uh, it’s not that easy, you know, I cannot pack my things and move and be like, okay, I’m moving to the UX.
Uh, I can, because there it’s that recent Autry and all that stuff that Latina suffer from Latinos and effort days and suffered from. And then I remembered the. I, I started like basically applying to absolutely everywhere and I got to a job in Dubai and I was like, you know what, whatever, like what can I lose?
I didn’t have any major responsibilities, no family, no nothing. And I was like, you know what? Let’s go. Uh, and the beautiful thing was that I truly had to relearn absolutely anything because if I had moved to any other place in that in America or the us or Canada or Europe, It would have been kind of similar because it’s still that kind of Western mindset.
So it wouldn’t have been much of a change. I would have learned new things. I would have gotten probably a proper planning school or anything, but. But no, I decided to move to, to Dubai, to the United Arab Emirates. And I just, that from scratch here, I started as a senior, a senior planner at wonderment here as well.
And then I started like, I was the only one. Fighting trying to kind of build the planning department there, which was super complicated. The agency was in a, in a moment where creatives and client services wouldn’t talk to each other. So it was like a massive work. And I had to pacify everything there and it was four and a half really interesting years when I went from, from senior planner to director to head of strategy.
And then all of the sudden. Like I’ve always wanted to work for vice it’s. It’s that kind of millennial dream that I always had. Um, I don’t have this. I never recruiter told me, Hey, there’s this opportunity at virtual? And I’m like, look to my wife and said like, okay, this is it. Like I need to do it. Uh, and yeah, that’s, that’s how I started the process and everything.
I joined virtue actually in July of last year. And I, I love it. Like, I, I feel it fits with because it’s really beautiful when you find an agency that actually fits with your own philosophy and ideology, because I’ve always denounced. Kind of, eh, uh, words and, and all the runes things that are with that.
I’ve always tried to push brands to be more punk when they do things. I always kind of, um, I’m really skeptical on what advertising can do. And I always say that I hate it, but I love it at the same time, because I haven’t find, I haven’t found any other thing that I can do in my life. That it’s as fun as this.
So that’s why I love it. And also I love how really good advertising can actually. Move you to tears almost wa but at the same time, I hate it. I think the they industry it’s really weird position right now. Um, and then virtual had all those ingredients that, that actually fit with me. And I remember even when, when I finally got the offer, they told me the reason why we hired you was because you fit culturally with the agency.
Not necessarily because of your background or story or anything. But because you fit culturally well with the agency and that I love denim. I’m still here. I love it. We are an agency that truly pushes boundaries in certain ways. Uh, because we, we don’t come from, from advertising history. We don’t come from like a really wealthy background of 150 years to doing something we’re just fairly new.
And we weren’t founded by, by a holding company or anything. It was biased. Opening an agency. And that’s what gives you kind of different, a different type of output and a different type of expectation when you do things. But yeah, that, that has been kind of my journey from her. It was really challenging because for you can see Latino creatives all over the world, there’s almost one Latino, creative in everything agency in the world, in every single country in the world.
Um, but when it comes to do planners, You don’t tend to see that because you always expect the planner to know the culture perfectly and all that stuff. So it’s really hard for us, especially Latinos that don’t come from, uh, from UK, for example, that already has established planning school, but. It is really difficult for us to, to kind of jump abroad and find an opportunity or find a place that opens their doors for them.
And I love that that Wunderman did that for me, that was a massive opportunity. Um, and again, it has been fun because I had to, again, I had to return everything we’re working, you know, Muslim majority country. It’s totally different. It’s. It’s amazing. I’ve always been a strong proponent of being a foreigner is actually one of the best gifts as a strategist because you, uh, you don’t take anything for granted.
So you question everything and you can really see the things that are quite different. So it’s such a massive advantage that, um, we often see yeah. As a negative, but it’s, it should be held up as is something special. Exactly. 100%, because again, a foreigner. It’s going to be so curious to go super deep into the culture and try to figure things out that other people just take for granted because it’s their daily lives.
They just assume that that’s how we behave culturally, but a foreigner can kind of go deeper than that and, and bring a fresh perspective to a market that already has a specific style of doing things of same things. So building brands. Um, but yeah, you, you don’t tend to see that often. You always go for the safe option, which is okay.
I need someone that has 15 years of experience in this market and knows it inside out rather than going for, you know, what let’s let’s bet on someone that doesn’t know. Yeah. Yeah. Um, it, I feel like we could chat for ages on this. The last question I’m wanting to get to. Uh, you been in the planning dirty Academy for a while.
What have you found the most helpful, like practical skill you’re taking from there? They, they, it’s interesting because it’s not necessarily the practical one. It’s one that indirectly helped me a lot, which was, it helped me to fight my imposter syndrome. Um, massively not only, I remember a LinkedIn post, you posted that.
Kind of crystallized absolutely everything. And I’m like, okay, this is it because we always fight against it. Right. We always have it there. Um, and it’s really hard for us to totally embrace it and be like, you know what, let’s take advantage of this imposter syndrome because it pushes you to keep on pushing yourself, you know?
Um, but what the Academy did was kind of. Help me understand where it’s coming from, by going to the basics again, by going to basic courses as the research one or the insights one and being like, you know what? Yeah, it wasn’t that wrong. You know what, like I feel validated in certain ways. Plus it gives you that additional bit of insight where you’re like, Hmm, I didn’t think of it this way.
Uh, even they, that, I guess it’s your most common downloaded deck, which is the frameworks one. I think that agencies tend to have frameworks and I’ve always been against frameworks that like fixated frameworks, that agents and South, and that, ah, we have the four CS of Mecca, or we have the disruption thing at DWA and it’s always like no, that framework.
And I do believe that frameworks always lead you to the same answer. It’s because you’re responding to the same questions while. Every single challenge that we have in our day to day are totally different. Each one is totally different from the other one on each one D serves a totally different framework.
What I loved about that deck was that it opens you up to that, to our world or frameworks. And I actually worked as. The way frameworks are supposed to work, which is if they’re a toolbox, they’re, they’re a box of different tools that you can use depending on what type of job to have it’s you cannot solve every single thing, or you cannot fix every single thing at your house with a Felix, right?
Eh, screwdriver, you need separate ones. Right. And I think that’s, that’s what it gives you. Um, and then finally, it’s the broadness of topics. That you can find there from again, from the basic one, from intro to how to present to a client all the way to do management and how to become a better manager. And I remember doing the management one, even, I think you released it as a better and I jumped in it and you were like, no, no, I need to close it right now because it’s not fully, fully done please.
Um, because I, I really enjoyed that one because again, It helps you not only to learn new things, but it helps you deal with the insecurities that we deal on a day to day basis. And that, for me, it’s the best thing that I can get out of it actually. Um, and then the other best thing that I get out of it is that once you start working in this industry for like decades or several, several years, it’s, it’s easy for you to forget or take for granted the basics.
In the sense that you already know you already internalized and automatized. So many of the processes that when you try to teach someone new and when you’re getting someone in your agency that has no experience whatsoever, you forget how to teach them to do the most basic things, you know, and you always take for granted that no, you should know this.
Because I do it automatically. So you should know this and you’re like, no, I don’t because it requires practice. And what the Academy actually allowed me to do was I can go back to the basics, not throw it at them and be like, you know what, learn by yourself. But it was for me to go back to the basics, debrief and learn certain things.
And then. Go back to them and, okay, this is how I can explain it to you, you know, and, and all these things that right now I take for granted because they are just there for me. It’s automatic for you. Okay. These are the basics, and these are the foundations that you need, uh, to, to tackle any type of challenge.
And I think those are the big things that I’m, I’m super grateful for that. Thanks. Thank you so much. So VAR that’s. Yeah. It’s. But it’s kind of you saying wide graded and it’s not trying to be rocket science and like invent some new process. I’m just being like, Hey, this is what you got to know. I just want to put a map up there, show it all together.
So I appreciate it. Appreciate coming across too. That’s good. It is really good for someone that again, because I don’t come from a, from a good planning school, like I never had. Planners. Like I only have one time in one agency, a planning boss, the rest of the time I was alone, I was by myself and I had to, but a lot with feeling really insecure throughout the years and feeling like there’s no guidance, because again, when it comes to planning.
For within the agency, it’s easy to point to put in one line what, uh, our client servicing person is supposed to do. What I created is supposed to do what a production product producer is supposed to do, but when it comes to planning, it’s really hard to put it in one line. An agency can sit in a different way and all that stuff.
That’s where, again, going back to, you know, what. Take it step by step every single one of the things that you should do in a really orderly manner that that really helps a lot, actually. That’s great. Well, thank you so much. Appreciate, um, yeah, the gems of wisdom you’ve dropped on us and love to be that genuine as well.
Sign up to my fortnightly Strategy Finishing School Newsletter. I share tools, resources and brain bombs for your strategy comms for planners.