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Agency Profile: La Comunidad

Posted on September 22, 2008 and read 5,268 times

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It seems like everyone who works in advertising has at one time or another thought about opening their own agency. I know I have. For me the dream included the standard overflowing trophy cases and big name clients, but the hook was that it wouldn’t be in fancy high-rise building – instead it would operate out of a house. More specifically a brownstone. And the key would be to leave the traditional rooms in tact. The boardroom table would be in the dining room, and the living room would be the agency lounge. However on a recent trip to Miami I learned that the agency I just described already exists, but it also includes a swimming pool, a yacht parked out back and a second house in Buenos Aires.

Back in 2001 the Molla brothers, Jose and Joaquin, left their big agency jobs to start La Comunidad. At the time Jose was Creative Director at Wieden + Kennedy, while Joaquin was doing the same at Ratto/BBDO in Argentina. From day one, operations were set up in Miami and Buenos Aires. And with a name that translates into “The Community” it was clear from beginning Jose and Joaquin were determined to create an agency that looked at and treated its employees, clients and the general population differently than any agency has before.

Their US office operates out of a large single story house in Miami Beach. In the early days the house was divided up – part office and part living quarters for Jose, but company growth forced him out. Now everything, both inside the house and out, serves the agency. The swimming pool plays host to meetings and Jose often takes his creative department out on the yacht to brainstorm.

Agencies often like to refer to themselves as ‘one big family’ but it seems to me that La Comu deserves that distinction more than most. The feeling is only perpetuated by the family style meals provided three times a week. There’s a large kitchen table that can accommodate most of the agency, but on my visit we elected to take our lunch in the backyard gazebo. The mealtime conversation, although peppered with work talk, mostly resembled that of a family meal. “What are we doing later tonight?” and “When are you going to quit smoking?”.

A lot of thought is put into who is added to the family. From the get go Jose and Joaquin where determined to create an agency that followed through on its vision. And to do that they needed to carefully select employees who where not only talented, but also good people. After spending only a few hours in the house I can honestly say they’ve achieved that. The work speaks for itself and the positive vibe from every person I passed was almost overwhelming. If someone like me, a reporter, can get such a warm reception from the entire agency, I can only imagine that open arms are extended to new members of the team.

As we sit next to the large back lawn, which is often converted into a makeshift theatre for agency movie nights, Jose talks about growth. And while a headcount of 65 between the two offices is impressive, along with a client list that includes MTV, Rolling Stone and Virgin Mobile, he specifically mentions personal growth. La Comu is a place that fosters and encourages employee growth, not just in their craft, but also in themselves. Jose talks about a high standard he holds for himself and everyone around him. And when that is combined with the opportunity and responsibility extended to each employee, goals and achievements are realized both personally and professionally. And what’s reaffirming is that employees candidly echoed this sentiment to me later on that same day.

No one is micromanaged here. Jose prides himself in filling the house with people that are both talented and mature in equal measure – individuals who can get the job done to the highest standards, on their own terms and schedule. With freedom comes responsibility he says, but giving people the autonomy to work how they want and when they want often leads to some of the best work.

Just beyond the swimming pool is The Normandy Waterway. As Jose shows me the agency yacht and points out the area of a recent dolphin sighting the conversation turns towards La Comu’s two office configuration. Having a presence in two different markets affords them increased new business opportunities and the flexibility to shift employees on a project basis, but it also supports and fulfills the company philosophy to combine the sensibilities and logic of US business methods with the passion Latin American is known for.

So with offices in Miami and Buenos Aires one might think that a fluency in Spanish is a pre-requisite. While quite a few employees are bilingual, it’s not at all mandatory. The best ideas, Jose states, will overcome language barriers.

It’s no surprise though, that La Comu became one of the 20 most awarded agencies in the world (according to the Gunn Report) – advertising runs in the family. In fact it goes back two generations. Jose and Joaquin’s Father and Grandfather both ran agencies in Latin America. And if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed through the generations it’s the strong focus on the craft. He shared stories about his Grandfather who used to spend months in Europe seeking out the best and most innovative artists and bringing them back to Argentina to illustrate his ads. There aren’t too many ads these days that are hand drawn, but the painstaking attention to detail in their creations, such as the work done for The Katrina Foundation for Recovery confirm that Jose and Joaquin share the Molla family passion for the craft.

As I packed up my stuff and drove away from the house that was built before they knew drugs were bad (Jose’s words) I started to think back to the agency I’ve always wanted to build and began to wonder if there is such a thing as a brownstone with a swimming pool. And a yacht parked out back.


Brendan Watson
Director of Educational Resources

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