Isobar Veteran Ricardo Salema Becomes the Agency’s First U.S. Chief Creative Officer

This follows the appointment of Ronald Ng as global CCO

Ricardo Salema, a 12-year veteran of Isobar, moves into U.S. CCO role from ecd. - Credit by Isobar

Isobar, the self-proclaimed experience-led transformation agency in the Dentsu Aegis Network, announced the promotion of Ricardo Salema to be its first U.S. chief creative officer. He previously was executive creative director.

The appointment follows the hire of Digitas veteran Ronald Ng as global CCO last November.

Salema first joined Isobar 12 years ago as a creative director. Throughout his time at the agency, he’s worked with clients including Adidas, HBO, Royal Caribbean and NBCUniversal. Salema was also part of the team that built the Cannes Lions Grand Prix-winning Aeronaut Music Experience, an immersive experience created to promote Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan’s 2017 solo album Ogilala.

In his new role, Salema will work closer with Isobar’s other officers and directors on growth and development plans while continuing to oversee the agency’s day-to-day U.S. creative operations. The agency said he will work alongside Ng to raise awareness to the fact that they have “creative capabilities and prowess” and are not just a strict digital shop, as many think while continuing to report to Isobar U.S. CEO Deb Boyda.

“Innovative solutions don’t happen without top-notch creative,” Boyda said in a statement. “While many of our competitors focus on the ‘digital’ part of the transformation, they often let the creative go by the wayside. We understand that without exceptional creative ideas, transformations will fall short of their potential. Elevating Ricardo to chief creative officer empowers him to further perpetuate this mindset across the agency.”

Ng described Salema in a statement as “a rarity in this industry.”

“He’s a true team player with a natural flair for bringing the best out of people,” Ng said. “Our clients and teams love him, and this promotion establishes the pivotal role Ricardo plays at Isobar.”

There are no plans at this time to replace Salema in his previous role. His promotion also follows those of Tonya Bakritzes to chief marketing officer, Dave Meeker to chief innovation officer and Sean Shelby to chief technology officer.

"Without a broadened view, agencies are unable to give clients the complete and full manifestation of creative ideas, in all the ways consumers are interacting with brands."

Here’s a bit more about Salema from a Q&A with Adweek:

Adweek: Where and how do you think traditional agencies are falling short in creativity?
Ricardo Salema: Modern creativity requires more than just people who are labeled as creative, in the traditional agency sense. Modern creativity requires people who bring creative thinking from every discipline—be it, technology, strategy, business or even optimization. Traditional agencies still find themselves saddled with old definitions of creativity, and this limited definition is what has them falling short. Without a broadened view, agencies are unable to give clients the complete and full manifestation of creative ideas, in all the ways consumers are interacting with brands. We have a long history of believing that brands aren’t just what they say, but what they do. The industry as a whole seems to have finally come to this realization.

Who would you say are your creative influences, either within the industry or outside of it?
Right now I’d have to say Virgil Abloh, founder of fashion label Off-White, DJ, music producer and artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection, to name a few of his roles. What most impresses me about him is how no rules seem to apply; he truly forges his own path, finding ways to push creative boundaries in every medium he touches. If modern creativity requires 100 different skills to come together to make something, he seems to encapsulate all of those skills in one person. …

Living in New York is another huge creative influence for me. … And it’s not just the pulse of the city, but also the people you come across, whether they are deep in the creative industry or just working along its edges. There is something really inspiring about the environment. …

You’ve been at one agency for while, … why is longevity at the same place important, in your opinion?
Though I’ve been at Isobar as long as I have, it’s really been a different place every two to three years. Having been part of those transitions is one of the most rewarding parts of my career, being able to evolve and shape our agency as the industry has changed over the past 12 years.

The reason I’ve been so compelled to remain at Isobar is because of the things we make. In fact, one of the reasons I originally came here was because of work we were doing with Adidas. It was product design, development, UX, creative and branding. It was innovative and exciting, and I wanted to be a part of it.  That process ended up lasting three and a half years and was followed up with another multi-year sub-brand. You’re talking about client relationships that are years and years long, opposed to some campaigns that may only last a couple of months. Longevity in that sense doesn’t seem surprising and, in fact, has been a strength.

Isobar, though it does strong creative work, is still considered a “digital shop” by some. How do you respond to that thinking?
It’s time to finally flip the script on that way of thinking. We are a digital shop, true, but that doesn’t mean we’re not creative. They are not mutually exclusive, and any agency that finds themselves thinking that is going to get left behind. Since our inception, we’ve believed that the future was digital, and now we find ourselves in a situation where consumers that are currently coming of age have never known anything else. So, what are we really saying when we talk about creativity and creativity going forward? If digital isn’t central to that thought, you’re doing something wrong. Separating the human or consumer experience from digital is a non-starter. We’ve always been there in our creative approach, and now we’re here to welcome everyone else to it.

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.
@kitten_mouse Lindsay Rittenhouse is a staff writer at Adweek, where she specializes in covering the world of agencies and their clients.