Rock Star to Ad Star: An Interview with Carlos “Perk” Cervantes

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Carlos “Perk” Cervantes was once in a rock band.

These days, he’s helping to steer the ship at Ogilvy. He’s come a long way since studying copywriting here at the school.

How does that happen? To hear him tell it, the move sounds almost like a foregone conclusion—the natural extension of a lifetime spent honing his creativity.

Of course, we all know there’s a bit more to it than that. That’s why we sat down with him—to hear all the details about how he positioned himself as the creative leader he is today.

Along the way, he treated us to a fantastic dialogue on what it means to be a creative director today. He talked about leadership, about “glorified jokes”, and about the surprising differences between Spanish and English. To us, it’s all a perfect distillation of a creative mind.

Enjoy the read.


 

What’s the story behind your work at Ogilvy? How did you end up where you are now?

That’s a bit of a brain scratcher. I mean: how did I end up here? I ask myself that question every day…

I’m kidding. I guess there are many things that brought me here. I used to be a musician in a rock band. And now suddenly I’m in advertising. It was a change.

So, how I specifically got here at Ogilvy? It’s hard work. I decided to change careers, and I didn’t take it lightly. I mean I was giving up that life, with fans, and the “rock star” thing…I needed something exciting!

I mean, ever since I went into advertising I knew I wanted to be where things happen. Among the best. And in Mexico that was Ogilvy. It’s the same reason I went into M.AD. I wanted to be with the best and learn from the best.  And once I got there I worked hard to keep up. I worked my way up. I mean, I’m not the type of person to have like four amazing ideas while driving to work. I need to put in the hours. My bosses started noticing. My professors started noticing. People asked me to work with them. Then one of my teachers at the school connected me with a job in Miami, I moved. And then my former boss at Ogilvy called me and my partner to be CD at Ogilvy Miami. So we said, “of course!”. So that’s how I ended up here. Hard work!

 

What was that move like? From Mexico to Miami?

Well, I have a big family. Very stereotypical. And it was hard to leave all that to start a new career.

I met my girlfriend at M.AD in Mexico, actually, and she moved with me to Miami. That made it easier.

And career-wise, I always felt drawn to global advertising. To the US market. So I decided to take the opportunity, and see what I can get out of it. I like it! I like being here.

One thing I’ve noticed: English copywriting has always attracted me. You can use words that you cannot use in Spanish. People take too seriously what you say in Spanish. You say a curse word? You’re done. Now people are starting to be more accepting of writing and advertising the way people actually talk. And I think that in English, because you have a little more liberty, you can say a lot with less. Which is always a big thing for a copywriter. In Spanish sentences tend to be longer, you need to explain a little bit more.

I found my flow with English copywriting.

 

That’s so interesting. So you think it’s more conversational?

Yea exactly, more conversational. And I think it’s more playful. You can create words by just putting two words together. And you have a new noun! You have a new concept. That’s not as common in Spanish. It’s a bit more formal. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some amazing copywriters that write amazing copy in Spanish.

But I relate more to the way you speak in English. I grew up watching Friends. I grew up listening to bands singing in English. I have all these influences, and I find that I can use them in my writing better than I can in Spanish. I have to censor myself a bit more in Spanish.

In your mind, what does a Creative Director do?

You always think that “when I get to be a Creative Director, I’m going to be this way” or, “a Creative Director should be this way”…

Then you find yourself in the position that you actually have to play the role, and it’s like… “oh shit! All those expectations I’ve had for Creative Directors—now I actually have to live up to them!”

So the process in the past little while has been figuring out who I want to be as a Creative Director. But in my mind, a Creative Director needs to be able to identify what comes next. For your clients and your team and your brand. What comes next culturally, even. In the industry… what’s coming next? What are the next steps that you’re going to need to take to get where you want to go?

Because you need to know where you want to go before you can give clarity to your team, and lead them in the right direction. Your team is going to be swamped all the time…there’s always a lot of things to be working on. And when you’re engaging in battle, you can only see what’s in front of you. You see the fight in front of you. And you need someone to be outside that fight. Guiding you. I think that’s what a creative director should do. Providing clarity to your team, and confidence that you’re going in the right direction. Giving them what they need to feel motivated for success and to grow.

And let me tell you, knowing the way is the hardest part. No one is going to tell you like, “here is the next step”. You need to discover it. You need to be aware of what’s happening in the industry and in the world, you need to know your clients like they are your wife, you need to be agile, and you need to know how to trust your guts. Keeping that distance —that allows you to look outside the work each day—that’s a big part.

And you won’t always be right of course, but at least you can always act how you believe it’s right.

It sounds a bit like being an explorer—leading an expedition. You’ve got people looking to you because you have the map…but you’re also making the map as you go.

Yea, I love that. Because yes, if you get lost too many times…people are going to be like “this guy has no idea”. And they’re going to lose faith. And when you say, “hey guys, we have to come work the weekend”, they’re not going to do anything. They won’t put their 100% effort into the projects or the pitches…because they don’t have faith in you.

So it’s not always as easy as I wish it would be.

 

OK, next question: what’s the joy of it? What’s your favorite thing about the job, day-to-day?

To be honest, I love the little things. I even have a tattoo of Rule #32 from the movie Zombieland that means exactly that. Enjoy the little things.

And I think in our day-to-day, we have so many little joys, that some other people really don’t. Like talking with amazing, fun, and creative people. I mean we have some interns that are super interesting, and they know that they’re not even going to land in advertising! But they’re a super cool designer, and it’s just so cool to see how their mind works.

And also, to be honest, I love how I can make jokes and be serious about it. Glorified jokes. I mean, that’s what many of our campaigns end up being: you have a joke that is the main idea of a campaign. And you get to film it, and make a whole 360 around these glorified jokes. Not many people get to do that.

Finally, I love that I get to make a living of this. It’s what keeps me sane. It’s what keeps me going.

 

You’re right, not many people get to do that…

No. And I like humor. And the brands that I work with allow me to use jokes a lot. Like sometimes I’ll be doing a presentation, and I’ll add a joke at the end…it’s not even part of the idea. I’ll ask the art guys, “can you please put this on the last page?”. And sometimes they’ll just laugh in my face, like, “I can’t believe this is your job!”

 

Do you have a dream project? Or a dream collaborator?

You know what once I was talking with a guy I really respect in the industry. And you know he’s very high up…one of these legends of advertising. I was talking with him and he told me “you know, it feels like it’s been 6 years since I had a good idea”. Because he’s so high up, that he’s supervising, he’s giving direction…he’s more into the business side. So when you ask this question…I don’t think I’d like to work with, or collaborate with, the legends right now. Maybe back when they were in the hustle, the bullpens, the creative stuff.

Right now I’d love to collaborate with someone like Andrew Goldberg. This is the guy who writes for Family Guy and Big Mouth. I just love the humor. I just love that he also gets to do that for a living. I love watching the episodes [of those shows], and every 5 seconds there’s some brilliant insight. I mean we sometimes spend two months trying to find one cool insight…and this guy has like 20 per episode.

So I’d love to work with this guy. Maybe not even on an ad. I’d just love to work with him. I’d love to write a show with him. And who knows, maybe it’s a show that’s also an ad, I mean what are you gonna do?

 

Has MAD influenced your creative process? How so?

Only entirely. I used to be a musician, a drummer. So I guess I’ve always been in touch with my creative side. I always wanted to make a living from my creative talents. But it felt very naive and even insane sometimes. M.AD definitely helped me shape it and turn it into an actual process. And it helped me understand how to ground my creativity and make it a reality.

I think it completely influenced the way I work in advertising. And I’m very thankful. Because it’s all opportunities. I mean they say like, “oh hey, you could go to Germany! Or intern at Google. And don’t worry what people think!” And you just go and do it. And you find the limitations you thought you had are all in your mind. That really shaped the way I come up with ideas.

 

If you had to describe the school in just 3 words, what would you say?

In a sentence? For me, it was mind-blowing. It was learning that the world was open. That the world needs your ideas.

 

What’s some advice you’d give to your younger self?

Oh, I’d definitely tell my younger self to relax. Like chill, dude. You are on the right path. Keep up with the hard work, but stress less, your allergies will thank you. You’re doing the right thing, you’re on the right path…just enjoy it. I think sometimes we’re so ambitious…and we don’t see what the future has for us, so we make everything complicated.

So I’d make more time for my family. Because I miss them now. So relax. And in ten years, I’ll be saying the same thing to myself, “just relax!”

 

That’s very zen, I love it. One last question: what’s next? What’s in store?

My short career has been very unexpected. And it’s all been driven by the need (maybe it’s not a need), a passion to continue learning and growing. So maybe I don’t know what the next thing is. Right now, I just need to be present and focus on doing a great job at Ogilvy Miami. It’s a relatively new agency, so I want to make the most out of the present. And then maybe see what doors it opens and take those opportunities.

So, ask me again in 2 years.

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