From teenage graffiti artist to web developer and ad agency creative, Juan-Carlos Morales has not had a typical career trajectory for a professional services consultant. No matter. On July 1, the chief creative officer (CCO) of PwC became the first creative named partner.
Morales joined PwC when it acquired BGT, a digital marketing agency where he was executive creative director, nearly three years ago. Prior to that, he had been a creative at Miami ad agencies, including Crispin Porter + Bogusky. The move to PwC—and his most recent appointment as partner, “was definitely nontraditional to me,” Morales told CMO.com. “Being a partner at PwC was something that never crossed my mind.”
But he noted the move has let him satisfy a need to stretch his abilities beyond what’s possible in a traditional marketing agency, where he had “this feeling of not necessarily adding value as much as possible to our clients,” he said. Since joining PwC, Morales has expanded the firm’s creative practice into a global organization dedicated to mixing design and technology to help clients.
Morales said he keeps sharp by drawing digitally. “I don’t spray on walls anymore, though I do miss it,” he said, joking he will only paint commissions now.
Morales spoke to CMO.com about the rise of the marketing creative as a force for business growth, how graffiti artists are like brand managers, and the one quality that even the best creative leaders can’t teach their teams.
CMO.com: Does your partner appointment mean firms like PwC are recognizing the importance of creativity and design in business success?
Morales: The world today is incredibly complex. The problems that our clients want to solve cannot be solved with one perspective. You need to look at things from the business side, as far as financial impact, and from the technology side, as far as what’s feasible with existing and emerging tech.
The part where creatives really bring it to the table is understanding why humans are going to find this thing valuable: Why is it important to them? As creatives, we’re naturally empathetic and can speak on behalf of the user because that’s what we’ve been doing for all our careers.
Once you start bringing all those different perspectives to the table to collaborate, we’ve seen it really does produce disruptive, more innovative ideas for our clients than ever before. Our method for solving these complex challenges, born from the need to harness the power of diverse perspectives, is called BXT, which stands for business, experience, and technology. It is representative of the need to co-create and connect very different perspectives to drive a holistic transformation.
CMO.com: Many consulting firms have ventured into marketing agency-like relationships with clients. Is this why PwC acquired BGT and expanded areas such as the Experience Center?
Morales: I remember wanting to leave [an agency] and move to something like BGT—that is more a consulting organization—to use that creativity for more than marketing for solving clients’ problems.
PwC had made the strategic decision of moving to this space, of going all the way from strategy to execution and actually building things. Since the world is changing so much today, because it’s being so disruptive, the firm recognized it needed more diversity in the way it thinks—different types of folks who are going to look at these challenges differently than what they had previously. The Experience Center is a group of folks within the digital organization at PwC that are focused on bringing those elements of the firm together on any given a project.
CMO.com: Does the definition of “creative” need to expand to include areas such as technology and media planning?
Morales: I’ve always felt that technology is, in some form, creative. Technologists just use a different paintbrush than what I use as a visual designer. I think it is problem solving—that’s what creative is. It’s problem solving in visual output, or it’s problem solving in an output that’s made with code.
The really amazing work happens when you have these folks sitting together, working together, and asking questions about the other person’s work. A person coming in from design asking a technologist why something is impossible usually makes the technologist look a little differently about the problems that we’re facing.
There’s something to be said about how real, great innovation today is not coming from people who have tons of experience in a particular area. It’s coming from folks who are looking at things with fresh eyes and with a new perspective.
CMO.com: You haven’t had the usual career path. How did you get into marketing and advertising? Has that helped you bring a different point of view?
Morales: My parents told me I couldn’t be a graffiti artist and make money, so I had to find other alternatives. I got into the world of print at first. As soon as the web came around, I was fascinated by the way it kind of brought together all these different elements.
What was interesting about marketing is it reminded me about graffiti in many ways. In graffiti, your goal is to get that brand out there and recognized. There’s also competitive brands—you have other graffiti artists in your neighborhood who you’re competing with. There were a lot of similarities with the world of marketing, media placement, and branding.
CMO.com: As a creative, have you had to catch up on other aspects of marketing, such as data or media buying?
Morales: I definitely was lucky that I always worked with great people, especially in the things that I didn’t know. I’ve always been someone who’s highly collaborative. When I reach a subject matter where I need help, I’m always open to reach out and ask for help.
I remember having a situation with a developer who said, “Hey, this thing hasn’t been done before. I don’t know if we can do it.” My response to him was, “You can be the first person to figure it out, man. Let’s do it.”
That has really been my passion, especially as I moved up the ranks, to inspire people. I’ve been someone who’s lived a very inspired life; I get a lot of inspiration from my family, my peers, and some of the great mentors that I’ve had over the years. One of the things I love is seeing that inspiration in other folks and finding ways to bring out that inspiration so that I’m not asking them to do something. I’m inspiring them to do something.
CMO.com: You’ve built PwC’s creative practice. Where do you find talent, and how do you judge who will be a good fit?
Morales: Once you start talking to talent, the first thing I want to find out is: Why do they do what they do? What drives them? What motivates them? What makes them passionate? That is the one thing I’ve learned as a leader of creative people that I cannot teach. I cannot make someone hungry. I cannot make someone passionate. I cannot give someone drive. I can teach them tactical things, but that is the one thing that has come with the person.
I start by telling them about my drive, why I’m here, and what makes me passionate about this opportunity. I usually tell people the same story I told you earlier about coming to that point in my career where I wanted to be able to affect our clients’ businesses in a more profound way.
As a creative person, you maybe feel that you’ve been boxed into one category of marketing and could make a decent living. To know there are more opportunities—to know that people want to hear your opinion about the way an office should be designed or the way they should deliver products better to their clients—just opened up the possibilities for a person like myself.
Once we start having that conversation, creatives are very open about, “I’ve been wanting to change, too.” It’s indicative of the industry. The creatives are yearning for more opportunity, more responsibility. They’ve known all along they could add value; they’ve just never really been invited to the dance.
CMO.com: So where does creativity go from here—more multitasking teams or more specialized creatives?
Morales: I definitely come from the school of thought that there will be more hybridization of people. When I first got into digital very early on, everyone was a hybrid. There wasn’t a developer or a creative or a UX-er. You just did everything.
Fast forward into today, and what our clients want is faster delivery of projects where we have to be more nimble, more agile, more collaborative. I don’t think specialization leads to that. You need to have folks that work together, even outside their disciplines.
I think you will find folks that maybe have a deep set of expertise but are going to have secondary and tertiary levels of depth in other areas. I think that’s where the collaboration is going to come from. It’s not going to be this old-school, assembl- line model as much as a more organic, team-based model that is going to tackle these problems in a much more agile way.