Culture Is Our Currency: Juan Camilo Romero, MullenLowe SSP3

by Jamel D. Nelson , AdForum

MullenLowe Group
Full Service
London, United Kingdom
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Juan Camilo Romero
Senior Planner MullenLowe SSP3

Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role? 

I got into advertising for the same reason I’ve gotten into everything in my life: sheer curiosity. Since I was a kid, I’ve been an information hoarder – books, films, comics, video games, chess, etc. – and I think we strategists share that trait. We love to accumulate cultural knowledge in the hope that it comes in handy someday as a creative solution to a human problem. 

Luckily, that same curiosity still keeps me going at MullenLowe SSP3, where I’ve had the pleasure of growing and settling my career in the company of the most creative and inspiring people.

 

How did you get your start as a strategist? What led you to pursue it as a career? 

I was fortunate to go to VCU Brandcenter for Graduate School, a place to where I owe much of my strategic knowledge and greatest memories. That also meant I started my career in the US before going back to Colombia.  

Starting as an international student / strategist taught me the value of being an outsider, seeing information with new eyes, and asking the ‘stupid’ questions. That’s a perspective I try to keep to this day when doing regional work for Latin America or even trying to look at my country with a new perspective.

 

What set of skills do you believe it takes for a strategist to thrive in the current advertising landscape?

Going back to information hoarding. Strategists today need to be constantly expanding their skillset and be on the lookout for new knowledge and inspiration, wherever that may come from. 

I think today’s strategists need to be more generalists than specialists, and we should all aspire to be “full-stack strategists” (shoutout to Faris Yakob for the concept) in the making.

 

What’s the most challenging aspect of the job? What helps keep the work interesting for you? 

The most challenging aspect of strategy today is planning for a fragmented landscape, and I’m talking beyond media touchpoints. Culture is changing at rapid speeds, and we as societies are becoming more fragmented (not polarized) around the world.

However, I think that same fragmentation is what’s most interesting for strategists right now. There have never been more subcultures, displaying their uniqueness publicly and online, in the history of the world, and that should be an exciting thing for us all.

 

Is there a part of the role that you feel is often misunderstood? 

Strategy is one of the many overused words in advertising, and I think many times it gets misrepresented as a logical argumentation preceding exciting ideas. Strategy should always be the first creative step (leap) at any agency, and our work should always prompt a surprise from the client, not just nods of approval.

 

Do you have any advice for those looking to work in a similar role?  

As strategists, culture is our currency, so I think the best mindset to have at any point of our careers is to always be curious. Wherever our own personal “cultural intake” is at, we should always aspire to double or triple that amount. We think for a living, not much else, so we better be putting something in, if we expect good work to come out.

 

How do you keep your finger on the pulse of culture? Where do you look for inspiration?

Strategy can easily be a lonely job at many agencies, so I think our best resource is finding support in the community of other strategists. I’m constantly inspired and challenged by my team at MullenLowe SSP3, but there are also many places on social media to find inspiration from curious strategists around the world, with similar challenges as yourself.