A few weeks ago, a big moment in the history of Latin American advertising took place when 45-year-old Colombian Mauricio Sabogal, until now CEO of Omnicom Media Group Latin America, was named managing director of Initiative Worldwide. It's the first time a Latino has been appointed to a global managing position within a media-agency network -- and it's safe to say the move will make Mr. Sabogal the most important Latin American executive in the global media-agency business.
Mr. Sabogal, who was born in a small town in the mountains of Colombia, will report directly to Initiative Worldwide CEO Richard Beaven, and will also be replacing Jean-Christophe Petit -- who just became part of the Europe, the Middle East and Africa leadership board -- as president of Latin American operations for Mediabrands.
He makes the move from Omnicom Media Group, which he joined in 2002 to take on the challenge of organizing the OMD network in Latin America. In just two years he managed to expand it significantly, establishing offices in 19 countries (with the exception, of course, being Brazil, the only country that has never been open to the media-agency business).
OMD Latin America quadrupled in size under his leadership, becoming the media agency with the greatest growth in the region, and it has positioned itself each year as the most-awarded media agency in creativity in Latin America. Mr. Sabogal has also led the expansion in Latin America of another Omnicom media network, PHD, by building operations in 13 countries between 2008 and 2009.
Before coming to OMG, he spent more than 10 years working in marketing research and TV audience measurement for Nielsen, and he was also responsible for developing several media-agency shops for Mindshare in the region. Just as he did at OMD and PHD, Mr. Sabogal started things from scratch at Mindshare and helped turn it into a considerable organization. In its last years under Mr. Sabogal's leadership, Omnicom Media won a number of big accounts in different markets in the region, including Johnson & Johnson, Visa, Cadbury Adams, Scotiabank and GlaxoSmithKline.
Mr. Sabogal also stands out for having a strong creative profile. He positioned Omnicom Media as one of the most creative networks in Latin America and eventually was named president of the Worldwide Creativity Council of the company and appointed to its worldwide board of directors.
Interpublic is planning a broad restructuring of its media shops, Initiative and Universal McCann. Mr. Sabogal will personally be in charge of the changes in Latin America as president of IPG's Mediabrands there. As for Initiative, CEO Richard Beaven said: "We are ready to start accelerating the growth of the Initiative network. One of the things about Initiative is its ability to bring something different, and that has to do with having a team of diverse professionals that bring different experiences and cultures to the table. Considering the reality of the world we live in, diversity of thought can be a critical element for changing the game."
The last time Mr. Sabogal crossed paths with Nick Brien, president-CEO of IPG Mediabrands, was in Cannes in 2009. Mr. Brien was president of the media jury, and Mr. Sabogal was also a member of the team. "We had met before, but it was then that Nick and I discovered we have the same idea of how the media business should be run. It's a matter of how people adjust to certain organizations. In this case, the chemistry was right," he said.
Said Mr. Sabogal, "What you do depends exclusively on your determination. Anyone can do anything they want."
Below is a brief Q&A with Mr. Sabogal.
Ad Age: What does Initiative mean when it talks about restructuring?
Mr. Sabogal: Actually, IPG is restructuring both of its media brands, Initiative and Universal McCann, mainly planning to reposition the brands in a stronger level all over the world. Initiative restructuring has to do with a talent restructuring. Strategic moves will be made to make the network stronger.
Ad Age: Why do you think they chose you to lead worldwide operations?
Mr. Sabogal: The change of dynamics planned by Initiative has a lot to do with the work I've been doing my whole life, and especially in the last years, when I was in Omnicom. I've dedicated my career to help reorganize companies, making them grow from zero. Initiative is an excellent brand, with excellent resources, that needs to go through a reorganization process in order to exploit its potential.
Ad Age: Still, it is a big leap for the media world to appoint a Latin person to this kind of position. Is there any other reason, apart from your successful career, why they chose you?
Mr. Sabogal: It might be surprising for many that, for the first time, a Hispanic person is reaching this kind of position. But my designation came from a process like any other. Because of my previous job, I am lucky enough to have met all the leaders of this industry. I always had to be connected at all times with all the other regions. The chemistry with Initiative just worked.
Ad Age: Are you bringing in any clients with you from Omnicom?
Mr. Sabogal: No. I had to sign papers that forbid me to do that. There's no way I can touch OMG's clients.
Ad Age: For how long?
Mr. Sabogal: At least a year.
Ad Age: What does your designation mean to Latin America?
Mr. Sabogal: This has already worked in favor of uniting the region. Many competitor colleagues have called me to congratulate me. Latin America is walking its way into the world. It's an honor because they've also evaluated giving this job to people from other regions from different networks, and Latin America was chosen.
Ad Age: Why is Latin America important to Initiative?
Mr. Sabogal: Every market is important to Initiative, since it's a network that aims to be the best in every region. Latin America in particular is important to every global network because even though it's not a big market, financially speaking, every shop needs to be strong in Latin America in order to face global pitches from a strong position. You need to be firm in every angle in order to have a good chance of winning.