Toni Segarra

“Spanish talent smells like beer”

03/13/2020 · By Lala Llorens
toni segarra openning

There are few vantage points as privileged to get a feel for the talent of a country than being the creative director of an advertising agency. Toni Segarra, an indisputable guru within the sector, believes that we’re at a critical juncture, where new structures capable of releasing and setting talent free are needed. In Spain, we have a certain advantage: “No one improvises like us”.

Despite being selected in 2000 by Anuncios magazine as the best creative of the 20th Century, José Antonio Segarra Alegre (Barcelona, 1962) was not sure that he would work in advertising until he’d been doing it for three or four years. “I had built up this idea about myself and thought that I’d become a writer, and that advertising would only be a temporary job”, he tells us.

This “temporary” work turned him into one of the 25 most influential people from Spain in 2016, according to Forbes, and has warranted him a long list of awards at Cannes International Festival of Creativity (no less than 39 lions) and San Sebastián Festival (more than 100 suns).

Nevertheless, in all this time, Toni Segarra’s passion for words has remained intact. Brought to life in his Philology studies and his constant reading (“I love Borges and Hispanic writers in general”), he admits that literature has given him the capacity to analyse and summarise, which is fundamental in his work: “Creativity is connecting apparently disconnected, distant things, and the wide angle that general culture gives you helps a lot throughout this process”.

Nonetheless, he concedes that he wouldn’t have been able to make a living writing: “If anything, you could say that I’m an advert writer”. In fact, he asserts that “advertising, when done properly, looks like popular poetry, like graffiti on the wall, because of its ability to go straight to the heart. An emotional shortcut which lets you skim over things, because we often don't have time”.

Nobody would question the effectiveness of his poetry; some would say that his emotional shortcuts are already part of Spanish history: Slogans like “Redecora tu vida” [Redecorate your life], “¿A qué huelen las nubes?” [What do clouds smell like?], “¿Te gusta conducir? [Do you enjoy driving?], “Tu otro banco y cada día el de más gente” [Your other bank, and the bank of more and more people] and many others.

In that permanent search for creative formulas, Segarra defines himself as truly constantly pursuing inspiration: a work of art, a conversation on the underground, a meme... Anything goes. “Creative advertising professionals are fundamentally vampires or thieves thirsty for any kind of language or artistic discipline that allows us to connect with people”, he assures us. “Advertising uses artistic language. And we respond to the art of the assignment”, he continues.

“Creative advertising professionals are vampires or thieves thirsty for any kind of language or artistic discipline that allows us to connect with people”

Segarra also finds great sources of inspiration in gastronomy: “I’m a big fan of chefs, of this revolution created by Ferran Adrià which has turned Spanish cuisine into the trendiest in the world. His enthusiasm, willingness to learn and innovate bring me a lot of strength and energy, something that we’ve lost in advertising”.

We’re not sure what clouds smell like to him, but Spanish talent precisely smells like beer “and creativity, in my case, often smells like food, good food. I meet the teams for lunch often, and I get feedback and inspiration from meals”.

Releasing talent to recover it

After working at several advertising agencies, Segarra founded his own agency, SCPF, where he worked for more than two decades, until he decided to leave it all behind in 2017 and launch a new venture, Alegre Roca, with Luis Cuesta. “Talent is probably the main reason why I left the agency three years ago: I was very happy, but I needed more”, he confesses.

He admits that we’re going through a tumultuous period, and that current structures don’t promote talent. “We have many vertical structures with little cross-sectional vision regarding brand, the long term, strategy. Today, solutions are based on minimum risk, data and the short term. The 2030 revolution should be a structural revolution, on how to create structures capable of setting talent free. Most of the time, the people who have managed to lead these revolutions have been talented people”.

Segarra faces the present with optimism: “This is a country of fantastic improvisers, and that’s something good in the present, because you have to adapt, move quickly to and fro. This gives us a certain advantage. “No one improvises like Spanish people”, he asserts with confidence.

“This is a country of fantastic improvisers, and that’s something good in the present, because you have to adapt, move quickly to and fro”

He suggests his own recipe, which he’s put more thought into than improvised: “Creative talent should be part of business management boards”. And he’s the first to practice what he preaches: “Being close to talent makes me happy: you have to surround yourself with talent, to have good people by your side”. Also, for him, talent is an effective antidote against artistic blocks: “We work as a team: when you lack inspiration, when you feel like you’re not moving forward, there’s always someone close by. That’s one of the blessing of this job”.

Today, this genius capable of seeing things that others can’t, of finding shortcuts to solve problems and connections that people don’t usually find (this is precisely his definition of creativity), enjoys the freedom of not having an office or a schedule: “I’m free to work from home, on the move or from a hotel”, he assures us. And that’s where inspiration hides: within reach of those who see things with fresh eyes.

Segarra bids us farewell with a big smile and the humble manner of someone who’s one step ahead but who always waits for others to catch up. We feel his absence, but also energised.