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5 Minutes with… Tanya De Poli



The founder and COO of Founders discusses her journey in the industry and being the business brain for a “network detox” agency, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

5 Minutes with… Tanya De Poli

Tanya De Poli is a founder and COO of the minority-owned, independent creative agency Founders and a member of the board for by The Network. Before deciding to branch into the world of indie agencies, Tanya was the youngest appointed GM in Ogilvy Global’s history, where she became a catalyst for growth and performance as part of Ogilvy Miami. As a leader there, she secured large accounts for many global brands including Red Stripe, Starbucks LATAM, KFC (40 markets across LATAM and the Caribbean), and Universal Orlando Resorts. For seven years, she also helmed the team responsible for American Express’ Latin American and Caribbean growth – an account which allowed Tanya to deepen her knowledge of the financial world and work with various AMEX branches.

An avid advocate for gender equality, Tanya is proud to lead a team at Founders that is 60% female. She has also spent a lot of time in the Caribbean working for TECHO, a non-profit organisation that seeks to eradicate poverty across the region. Using her experience, energy, and team leadership capabilities she now runs and helps coordinate Founders’ international operations between its six offices in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, the US and Jamaica. 

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, Tanya discusses why she started Founders and her career story so far, the modern challenge of creating campaigns for increasingly scrutinised brands, and her admiration for people who “dare to dream big and jump into the abyss to make that dream a reality.”

LBB> What creative content from your childhood stands out to you today? And when did the possibility of working in the creative industry become a reality?

Tanya> I was always inspired by Saturday Night Live – how real-time it was, how jokes about something that happened that same day were written for a live show a few hours later. They were like an equivalent to trending topics on Twitter today. I was also inspired by art – Frida Kahlo being one who probably marked me the most, just her story and style, and female empowerment. 

My first ad job was at Ogilvy. I didn’t think I wanted to work in advertising. I was always more geared toward film/TV production. I was a double major in communications and business at NYU – but minored in production. I started off working at SNL actually and started learning about TV production. Then I worked at Universal Music Group before transitioning to a communications director role at a non-profit. That was the first time I worked with agencies – but on the client side. 

When I left that position, it was to try out the agency side. That’s when I started my career at Ogilvy. I learned most of what I know during my eight years at Ogilvy, where I got the chance to lead teams, work on global accounts and try and imprint my mark on. What I felt was an industry that lacked diversity and had close to no women in leadership positions. 

LBB> What’s the most important piece of advice you received in those developmental years of your career?

Tanya> Don’t be scared to fail, stand by your decisions, and always stand up for what you believe in. The notion that you have nothing to lose is what made me take the jump and start Founders. I have never been one to stay quiet in a meeting, or not share my POV. This helped me early on in my career since I got noticed pretty quickly in big board rooms full of middle-aged men. 

LBB> Founders has a strong Latin American base – how was the creative industry in Mexico and Argentina when you first started? Where does LATAM creativity fit in on the world stage today? 

Tanya> I think both markets have always had strong creative leadership, with amazing talent. That is why we decided to open offices in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia. The creative talent in these countries is unbeatable and there is also such a valuable work ethic and culture that is so amazing. Founders was born multicultural – we have people from 12 different countries – and we love the diverse aspect and cultural clashes that come of that. 

LATAM’s impact on the global creative world stage has grown significantly. If you look at the top creative lists and top awarded, most of the people on there are from LATAM. I think we started to dominate the world more in the last decade for sure. The [increased] importance of the Hispanic market has also impacted the growth of LATAM’s importance on the world stage. 

LBB> How did you and Checha (Agost Carreño, Founders co-founder/CCO) meet? Had you worked together for long before starting Founders? Why do you work well together and what do you argue about? 

Tanya> Checha was my mentor at Ogilvy. I was getting ready to leave Ogilvy – I was uninspired and felt I was not learning anymore – so I had quit my job. Along came Checha, who had recently been named CEO for Mexico and Miami, and he asked me to give him a shot and not leave just yet. We got to work on multiple accounts together, and I started learning the creative side of the business, working on global accounts like Starbucks and Red Stripe. And all of a sudden, I saw a completely different side to the advertising world that I loved, the shoots, the production, etc. 

We work well as a team because he is the creative brain and I am the business brain, and we both share the same values and goals for Founders. Thankfully, we don’t argue much but most of our arguments are around not having a work-life balance and whether we should take more meetings with potential clients or cut back. The good thing is that Founders is very democratic – if we can’t decide amongst ourselves, we always get our team to weigh in to make a team decision on important things. 

LBB> When and why did you two start Founders? And how has the company changed over time with its international expansions?

Tanya> We started Founders exactly three years ago. Our main goals back then were freedom and happiness. Three years later, we still abide by these objectives – keeping our freedom to choose and do what we want, with who we want, and being happy with what we are doing. Now, we are looking into how we continue to expand. So, one of our goals for next year is to launch a production hub, as well as develop our own product. 

We have six offices now (NYC, Miami, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Kingston and our most recent one, Bogota). We haven’t changed with our international expansions because we were born borderless and international. It’s how we were used to working even before the pandemic. Checha and I make a huge effort to be present around the world with all our teams constantly, since we want to make sure the Founders culture and vibe is strong and felt throughout. We are a tight-knit team, a work family. We treat each other that way and are super picky about who joins that family because we want to make sure the philosophy permeates with every person who is a ‘Founder’. 

LBB> You say Founders is “an ideas company for those who are looking for a network detox” – can you elaborate on this? And which of your projects shows this off best?

Tanya> We coined the concept of a ‘Network Detox’ because for us, Founders was about Detoxing from WPP (the ultimate traditional network that we had belonged to for many years). [It was about] taking what we thought was best from there and taking our learnings to build a faster, more agile, nimble and cost-efficient solution for clients.

We like to say we are an ideas company because we like to bring disruptive ideas to the table for any brief, sometimes the solution for us might be creating a product to generate a new line of revenue. A great example of this is our most recent project for Netflix for the launch of Resident Evil. The brief was ‘let’s do something to launch the series and grab attention globally’. We put together a live-action stunt on the streets of Santa Monica that went viral.

We’re also super proud of ‘Calling CMOs’ a new business stunt we just carried out in Times Square. Never in a million years had we thought we could see our brand all over Times Square – and it happened. What started as potentially just having our logo in Times Square, turned into wanting to get some big ideas done and needing the attention of certain CMOs. We also recently did a great experiential event for National Tequila Day for Hornitos in New York City. A cool way to make the brand relevant in culture in NYC: Hornitos-Visions of Agave.

LBB> How are you involved with ‘by The Network’? How did this come about and how does this partnership influence Founders’ work?

Tanya> We are founding members of ‘by The Network’ (BTN) and I am also a board member. We worked with Per Pedersen to launch BTN two years ago, we thought it was a brilliant idea and wanted to be a part of it. The partnership has influenced our work at Founders tremendously. First off, providing global opportunities to work on brands like Snapchat or Netflix and secondly, being able to count on a network of brilliant creatives, led by Per Pedersen, is amazing. 

The Snapchat global campaign is probably the piece of work that changed my career. It challenged me in so many ways and it gave me the opportunity to work with so many different creative teams around the world. It also gave me the chance to work with a brand I admire – being pushed by them to do something great also challenged me on a personal level. There was definitely a before and after that one. 

Knowing that you can go to this network of people and say, “Hey I have an idea for Ikea, does anyone know someone?” and six people connect you to top CMOs in their market – that’s the true power of a network. No egos, no bullshit, true collaboration to get great creative work out there.  

LBB> Who and what in the industry inspires you? And what frustrates you?

Tanya> I get really excited by quirky or smart ideas, even just a tweet. I am inspired by people who dare to dream big and jump into the abyss to make that dream a reality. I am inspired by that determination to overcome fear and by people who don’t hold back, who are passionate about what they do and don’t care what others will say. People who focus their energy on that illusion and go full speed ahead like a bullet train. If I had to pick one person who inspires me I would say it's Malala Yousufzai because she put her body (literally) towards the cause she believed in (education). She was willing to die for that. 

I have also always been inspired by Michelle Obama, a woman that had to be in the place where the most difficult decisions of the world were made, and who had the emotional intelligence, the guts, and the attitude to make everything flow. She used her role to inspire young women around the world and to make a difference. 

Lastly, I am super inspired by Anna Wintour. She defined not only the fashion industry, but her influence on all industries is so strong and marked. She hasn’t been afraid to get involved in politics or to use her tremendous voice and magazine to support parties whom she feels will make a difference.

I am constantly frustrated by the lack of female talent in creative departments across the world. I am not sure we are doing enough as an industry to accommodate families. We are such a cutthroat, work-until-you-drop industry that it doesn’t make room for a family or work-life balance, which reflects in the number of men versus women talent in our industry. 

LBB> Socially, economically and otherwise, what are the trends shaping life in the areas where Founders has offices? And how are they impacting your work with your clients?

Tanya> The whole world today has a lack of trust and credibility in governments and people who are in decision-making positions. People are sceptical even about the companies for which they are working and the brands they buy. Brands today need to solve a lot more issues than they had to before because nowadays we are concerned with environmental impact, pandemics and even war, just to name a few. These challenges need to be considered when we are creating campaigns for brands.

LBB> What does the rest of 2022 hold in store for yourself and Founders?

Tanya> We have some great projects in the pipeline. One that has me super excited is a project we are doing to revamp New York City. We are super excited about this one. Also, we have some cool World Cup briefs which are always fun. And we are filming some cool things for film and series launches for Paramount+.  I’m also super excited that I will be taking John Hegarty’s course: ‘The Business of Creativity’ a little later this year. 

LBB> Outside of work, what do you do to decompress or stay fresh? What motivates you at work and in your life?

Tanya> I love travelling, getting to explore other cultures, languages and foods. I find lots of inspiration through travel, through visiting exhibits, museums, concerts etc. Some of my hobbies include skiing and cooking, both of which I use not only to decompress but at times when I need to think. I am motivated by the 43 amazing people that work with me every day, and continue to bring ideas out in the world that are relevant and impact people in some way. Whether it’s making you laugh, cry, or do something, I am driven to keep finding those moments that make a difference.

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Founders, Wed, 21 Sep 2022 14:50:00 GMT