POV: Interview with Nacho Rufin, espluga+associates

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting

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nacho-ruffinNacho Rufin is an associate at espluga+associates, a design and branding firm in Barcelona, Spain.

Welcome to The Agency Post. Tell us about yourself.

My parents named me Ignacio, the name of a saint from Northern Spain. In English, it translates to “Ignathius,” but a friend of mine decided to use the nickname for Ignacio in my country: Nacho. So it has nothing to do with my passion for Mexican food…

I was lucky. I was born in my favorite city — Barcelona — and I’m still living here.

I’m 45+2 years old. Physically close to 50, but I feel as if I were 20. I’m married, and I have two children. I have 25 years of experience working in brand communication and marketing, while specializing in strategic communication planning.

During these years I’ve been working in advertising, public relations, sales promotions, direct marketing and branding for nearly 200 clients in all different sectors.

How did you get started in advertising?

I started working in PR at a local agency in Barcelona while I was DJing during the weekends. In 1990 I was tempted by Ogilvy Group, and I burned my brain there for 10 years. From account executive to managing director, it was a cool experience including the Barcelona ’92 Olympic Ceremonies.

In 2000 I founded my own agency, THE PARTNER and THE PARTNER HEALTH. We built a nice agency until I got divorced from my partner in 2010.

Tell us more about +associates. What differentiates it from other agencies in the branding space? What is your agency’s approach to your work?

+associates is an organization that was created by espluga+associates. It is not an agency. It is a brand consultancy, which creates customized teams for brands and clients. We work like a lawyer’s office. Each person is a partner who focuses his/her attention on a specific client and area.

Tell us a little bit about espluga. What was the process for you to begin this company? How does it help meet your business objectives? How does it differentiate from +associates?

espluga+associates is a 20-year-old branding studio founded by David Espluga. I decided to join him because of a new era of advertising and branding in Spain. We both decided to focus on branding design and work — working to create brands rather than promote brands.

David, a creative, is in charge of developing design and creative solutions for our clients, but he’s also a good strategist. I’m the “strategic guy,” but I also collaborate with our creative team.

What have been some of your favorite campaigns or projects you’ve worked on? Why?

The logotype for the football player Lionel Messi, packaging, naming and work for Mesostetic (one of the top brands in clinical cosmetics).

With what types of organizations do you personally, along with your agency, collaborate to ensure that you provide your clients with the most effective strategies and campaigns (i.e. research firms, translation consultants, freelancers)? How have these collaborative relationships benefitted your work in the past?

I could say that we’ve had very good experiences with a wide range of companies, from research firms to advertising agencies. The key is that we only work in a very small —but important — piece of the cake. One of the latest and most successful collaborations was with a worldwide advertising group.

espluga+associates also collaborates with three of the best branding agencies in Europe: Qua branding agency in Amsterdam and Dalziel and Pow in London and Saguez & Partners in Paris. Work is assigned depending on speciality and capacity of each member. This structure enables each of us to find the best experts in each field and to contribute in more projects.

Your organization has a book that physically displays your past work. Why did you create this?

In a digital era, contact and emotions need to be kept alive. We can show our work on our site and deliver keynotes, but senses will never disappear. Our book showcases the agency’s soul and connects us to past and prospective clients. You can touch it; you can smell it. You can see 10 pieces of work at the same time and “feel” the taste of our work. It is an “organoleptic” tool! It’s the same as when you try to explain a recipe or describe a new restaurant — it’s better to try it.

As new platforms and pixel sizes for various devices are created, how do you think branding will evolve?

The question is not about platforms or supports. There will always be different devices and new systems to communicate. The question is about what to communicate, why your logo should evolve and how your brand should be different from others. The use of color (or not using color) is more important than the size of the pixel. Branding should evolve inversely, going back to its roots — simple, nice and fresh.

Branding is oftentimes an arduous, deeply passionate process for everyone involved. How do you keep everyone, including both your team and clients, objective and working towards the optimal brand image?

Keeping the work simple and easy to manage. No complicated documents, avoiding keynotes and, above all, working together from the beginning. Understanding our client is the most important part of the process.

How does your agency try to incorporate Spanish culture into creative strategies and tactics (i.e., design, aesthetic, cultural norms)?

95 percent of our team is Spanish — that’s why we do not need to try to incorporate Spanish culture into our creative strategies. It forms part of our DNA. We’re Latin, and the Mediterranean inspires light and creativity that’s difficult to find in other countries; but we also keep an eye on trends coming from other cultures and develop our own view, adapting to the local culture of each client.

I think creativity is something natural for us because of our history and culture during the last 2,000 years: Barcelona is a place built through Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs, and it has been one of the most relevant ports of the Mediterranean.

In your opinion, what strategies have brands from abroad employed to win favor with Spanish consumers? Any that failed miserably?

I don’t like to focus on strategies that haven’t worked. There are a lot of issues, decisions and elements that go into a campaign that we aren’t aware of. I could say a brand that thinks it can export the same approach and communication it uses in other countries is failing. They’re saving money in production, creativity and agencies, but consumers are smart enough. Consumers will only buy these brands to save money — they will never love a brand they can’t connect with emotionally.

Describe the culture for advertising industry professionals in Spain.

Nowadays it is poor. Big agencies have incorporated managers instead of creative directors to improve budgets. Small agencies that are much more creative don’t have the chance to fight for their creative because they don’t want to lose the client.

Clients manage the business from the beginning. It’s like if you go to a restaurant and tell the chef to cook whatever you like, whenever you know, at the price you want. It will be OK, but forget about having a great meal.

Spain’s political and economic climates are enduring challenging times. How has this affected the marketing industry in your region, if at all?

Cutting prices, a lot of special offers, poor professionalism, few investments…typical.

But the good news is the crisis has become a filter. And clients only pay for good work and good people. There are still a significant number of marketing executives in Spain who understand the importance of branding and its impact on sales even more during a crisis.

One reason that you love what you do: We have fun at work and laugh every single day.

Mentor: David Ogilvy

Must read book: “The Art of Happiness” – Dalai Lama

Music that gets you in your zone: Jazz, guitar jazz, funky, house.

Follow Nacho on Twitter @NachoRufin.

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