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What Happens When “Creativity Is Blended In” with Life in Spain?

Production Services
Barcelona, Spain
Nicole Taylor, CEO and Toby Talbot, CCO of 14 Barcelona on global creative work made in Spain, the enticing aspects of culture there and how their client SEAT is shaped by its Barcelona heritage
Nouri Films, the Barcelona-based production and service company, has partnered with Little Black Book to sponsor the site’s Spanish Edition. As part of that, over the upcoming months we will be spending time with some of the most exciting creative talent the country has to offer.

14 (formerly C14TORCE) is an agency full to the brim with exciting creative talent, all working on a single client in the form of SEAT’s automotive brands. In this conversation we speak to the agency’s CEO Nicole Taylor and CCO Toby Talbot, who have each worked extensively in other countries and are now based in 14’s headquarters in Barcelona. We discuss the experience of moving to the city as foreigners, the creative landscape in Spain at this moment and how the agency has managed to keep 80% of its staff in the office despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

LBB> To me observing from London it feels like there’s ambition in Spain as a country and Barcelona as a city to be creating to an international standard. How long have each of you been there and have you felt that shift since you arrived?

Toby> I've been working for 14 since last April but I spent my first three months in New Zealand, which involved a serious night shift. And then I got here in July of last year. So I'm not a year in yet. But through the nature of the work and being here in lockdown, it feels like, probably about three years. I suspect, Nic, it feels even longer to you.

Nicole> I arrived in September 2019. So I had the privilege of living in the city for a few months before everything locked down. Just over a year-and-a-half, in advertising years that's a bit of time. You start to feel like you're making a difference, I think, in year two. The first year is kind of a discovery, especially when you go to a new culture. 

I think your observation about the ambition of Spain and Barcelona to be on the world stage is a real one. We've got a client who articulates their ambition that way, “inspiring the world from Barcelona". 

It's a global ambition, not a local ambition, and I think that's probably one of the unique objectives of this agency. It serves other markets in its operation, it thinks globally, it has to think multi-market. Toby and I are here. We're used to working in multi-client agencies, so it's a very different thing but it's a creatively ambitious thing. That was what attracted me for sure.

LBB> Obviously you have this one client. So I wanted to ask you about SEAT as a Spanish-born (or maybe more specifically Barcelona-born) brand - how do you feel it is shaped by where it's from?

Toby> I think fundamentally it's a Barcelona-made brand. There's a real link to the city and it's more than just the physical one. I think it's a very cultural link, which is something we're very keen on.The fact that we're here too as part of that process, I find it really exciting. 

We're almost the opposite of the way the world has uncoupled in the last year. It's not unusual for you to live in London and work in New York now. But we're all here together. 

What I love and what everyone seems to love about this city is that it's arguably the most diverse, creative place. It's got a great tech culture that people might not know about. 

When you think of all the countries around the Mediterranean, Barcelona is in a rather unique position. The fact that we're here, our car brand is here, allows us to look at life through the lens of Barcelona, which is arguably more interesting than through the lens of other cities. It's a beautiful and optimistic, positive, wonderful setting. 

Nicole> It's certainly got a diverse perspective. And it's real, it's tangible, if you visit, most people rate it as one of their favourite places in the world. And that extends to other places in Spain as well. It's not just unique to Barcelona, in my experience.

LBB> In general, how do you characterise the Spanish advertising scene?

Toby> I think the Spanish advertising scene is very proud. One thing I love about this country is how passionate people are. The craft, the love for the work and the love of storytelling is inherently part of the culture of this country, beyond Catalonia. As Nic pointed out it's not just here. I was in Madrid last week. It's a fabulous city and it has its own thing. I think the agencies here, the work that they do and the craft that they put in, you can tell there's a lot of pride that goes into the work and I think that comes very much from the people. This country is very proud of its cultural roots and it wants to push the envelope. If you look at all forms of culture from Pedro Almodóvar and his films. I think the Spanish art scene is buoyant, the Spanish music scene is really interesting. It's a very creative country and I'm very proud to be here.

Nicole> In contrast to Australia, the scene is the lifestyle of the people here, as opposed to the industry. And I think that's fundamentally different. Creativity is a part of life. It's not unique to the advertising people, or the musos or whatever. It just lives and breathes in every aspect of culture and that's energising, that's different. Coming from Australia, certainly. 

It’s something I read about and wanted to be a part of. Again, it's tangible, it kind of pops up. Walking down the street, going to the supermarket, taking my daughter to school, creativity is blended in, which is wonderful. We’re influenced by creativity in the contemporary sense of the word. 

That just means agencies have to be even better at doing it right. Creativity is alive and well in all sorts of places and spaces now in Barcelona, in its characters, in its intergenerational culture of connectedness - the humanity of the place is beautiful. I think that is reflected in the work, in the sorts of stories that are told, the sorts of expectations of the people who work here. It's nice.

LBB> Talking about the people who work with you, it'd be great to talk about the talent aspect of things. There’s clearly a willingness in people to come, like you both did, from other countries to work in cities like Barcelona and Madrid at the moment. That must be linked to what you've just been talking about. But, is there more to it than that?

Toby> Barcelona itself is so unique. In one office we have about 30 different nationalities. There's nothing unusual about it - a lot of agencies are like that - but I think there's something special about here because I believe people who move to Barcelona have a certain mindset. As well as being diverse and creative, it's also the outgoing people. We're a global agency in Barcelona. There's a lovely tension between those two things. You've got that buzz of Barcelona and that humanity as Nic said but also you've got people who are here who have a different worldview, who look out of this window who might be from Turkey, and find themselves here in Barcelona, with a particular point of view on life. And we love that. 

We're kind of the opposite of battery-chicken agencies; we are a bunch of free range people who come from all over the world, who happen to be on two floors of a very tall building overlooking the sea, and that's a good place to be. Every day I get into the bizarrest conversations with my co-workers, but we have this thing that brings us together, which is Barcelona. 

Nicole> It's magnetic as a place. And because there's global ambition associated with the agency it's super attractive. In Covid times there's a bit of resistance, lots of international people I know are going home to be close to families and friends, which I respect and understand. But Barcelona life, even in Covid times, is far from terrible. We've managed pretty well to still enjoy life here in a safe way. It’s a beautiful melting pot of people. I think free range is a nice expression.

LBB> Nic, you worked in Barcelona before Covid. Have you felt the change in terms of how it's affected the city, and how it's affected the creative industries?

Nicole> The city became a ghost town in comparison to what it was, with all the tourists and activities. And we’ve just come out of curfew. That's existed for well over 12 months. I think a lot of offices shut down and we did for a short period of time. But we opened up fairly quickly. That was through a production we did where there was on-site Covid testing daily. Toby was like “why can't we do that for our people?” We made some calls and of course we could. So we test people before they come into the office, we've got a huge office and space so we can come to work safely, we have the masks, we have the social distancing. And we've been successful in keeping our people safe to date. We had 80% of our staff back in the office since June last year, which is super unusual. 

In some cases this was the only place some of these young people could go. They lived on their own, or in shared flats where it was impossible for them to be productive. So I love that we can provide that opportunity for people. It wasn't a have-to kind of thing at all but it was somewhere people come and interact with their co-workers. We're really proud of making that happen.

Toby> It became arguably one of the safest spaces to be in Barcelona. There were some people who felt uncomfortable, and we’ve said they can just come in when they feel like they want to and in the meantime work from home. 

But I think Nic's right. Some of the younger people in this agency rely on the office. It's somewhere where they can have a coffee, have some space. And I think for the creative industries, people talk about adapting and we all have to change; I still think there's no substitute for the chemistry of people together in a room. That's generally speaking how magic happens. Not all the time. I think creative teams can adapt beautifully. Some creatives have enjoyed actually not sitting next to their partner, for various reasons! But I think that they're more the exception. I find the rule here is that when we get together, good things happen.

Nicole> And so many people have moved here for this experience, so it's not easy for them to just disconnect from the workplace. Combine that with the isolation and other things that we know have had a negative affect on people's wellbeing.

LBB> Do you have any recent work that you’re particularly proud of, or is the good stuff still to come this year for 14?

Toby> Yeah, there's a lot of stuff happening right now. Three very big campaigns for car brands. The last six months have been head down on these projects. We're very keen to share when that happens, and they're all happening very fast.

This is a fantastic opportunity to look at this brand. It's all about living bolder and living better and the manifestation of that is the work that we're doing, working with some really exciting people. Sorry, I have to remain reasonably ambiguous about the work of the moment! But it's pretty exciting.

Nic> It's nice to be making, yeah.

LBB> The agency also rebranded from C14TORCE to 14 and got a fresh look. Can you tell us about that?

Nicole> The refresh of the agency, we've done through the challenges of Covid. We really revived the agency, set some new values, redid our website and updated the story. We transitioned operationally into a more socially-charged and capable agency as opposed to a traditional one, which was always a bit in our DNA because we're a fairly new agency model, so we don't have a legacy to overcome. But you've always got to be moving forward. 

We're outputting work every single day on these clients and it's worked. It has an impact in the market. I think I think Toby's right in saying that the next pieces could possibly be more defining because they've got some scale.

LBB> The work that you do is very international. But I know that there's some brilliant local work being created in Barcelona and Madrid as well. Are there any things that might need to happen for the world to appreciate Spanish creativity a bit more?

Toby> One thing I've noticed is that there's a lot of local advertising in Spain and you've got incredibly proud regions. So I found myself last week in Madrid looking at certain work and, in my terrible Spanish, trying to work out what the meaning was. Then when you ask somebody they go, “You'll never understand that. There's wordplay going on there, there's this history about this brand”. There's a lot of that in-jokey stuff here that I find, as a foreigner, very opaque because I can't understand it.

Then you've got agencies like DAVID Madrid who are global like us, doing big work. Nic and I were just talking about a Burger King spot, which is global and could have come from anywhere. 

LBB> What positive changes are you seeing as a result of the tumultuous year we’ve just had?

Toby> One observation I'd make as somebody who's in this time that’s obsessed about awards is one of the good things about the pandemic for me is that people have calmed down a little bit about that kind of awards fever. I think there's a sense here in Spain that a reset within advertising that needed to happen has happened. It's the agencies that do it for brands for the right reason, as opposed to those chasing awards.

I heard this horrific story from someone the other day in Madrid. He said he was standing with a good friend of his on the Croisette one day in Cannes a few years ago, with his client, who shall remain nameless. And he had to tell his client that a campaign that the agency had done for said client had won a Grand Prix. You'd think that would be a really good conversation, except for one fact: the client never bought that campaign. It was a complete scam. 

That's advertising people entertaining advertising people with advertising. It's like going to a plumbers' convention and trying to talk about anything other than taps. It's just ridiculous. That's universal, not necessarily Spanish. But there's something certainly in that reset button for me, about an opportunity for us to concentrate on our clients' business as opposed to the rather narcissistic side of advertising that in the last 10 years has got out of control.

LBB> Apart from those big campaigns coming out soon, what are you most excited by?

Toby> A big attraction for me of being here with one client is you get to live and breathe it. You understand it. So much of advertising is like spinning plates, you have so many projects at the same time, you flit in and out of different clients. We have one client.

Nicole> There's ambition here and I think the brands have that ambition as much as the agencies. There are impressive people that I've learnt from being trained in Australia, which by all accounts punches above its weight in the world of advertising. But I've learned some things here, not least of which are all the different perspectives that we're lucky enough to have day in and day out. I think that's the magic. I've preached for a few years: diversity = a great culture = creativity. And I think we're in the position to capitalise on all those different perspectives. It's got to show up in the work now. So that's the plan.

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