Brazilian born, Erick Rosa is Chief Creative Officer at Publicis Groupe in Japan, where he oversees Beacon, Saatchi & Saatchi and MSL. Rosa has lived in Rio, Boston, New York, Lisbon, São Paulo, Singapore and now Tokyo, and wherever he goes, he carries his trusted pocket camera with him.
Rosa spoke with Campaign Brief Asia about why photography is such an important part of his creative process, how Publicis Japan has fared during a pandemic and a state of emergency, and his ambitions for the year ahead.
Like many creatives, you’ve been quite nomadic: Sao Paulo, US, Lisbon, Singapore, Tokyo. Do you think this wandering life has impacted your creativity and successes?
Definitely. I am 1000% sure that living in all these places and more importantly, meeting so many people from diverse backgrounds, has massively impacted my career, my life, everything.
The life we live, the people we meet, the food we eat, the miles we travel, getting lost and found several times over – this all fuels the work we do. And I feel very privileged and thankful to have lived and worked in these cities. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be writing this very sentence had I not wandered through the world.
You moved from Singapore to join Publicis Japan in 2018. What were your first impressions of Tokyo: any lost-in-translation moments?
I knew the city pretty well as a tourist, but nothing comes close to living and breathing this city as living here.
There are so many moments that come to mind. A treasured camera that was lost for three weeks and found after I crisscrossed the city showing a post-it note to dozens of convenience stores — until one had it safely in a drawer. A scene at a restaurant when a couple gifted their own bottle of wine to me and a friend because they said (through the waiter) that we sounded like we needed more wine to keep our conversation going and our glasses were empty. A sushi man that doesn’t speak English (I don’t speak Japanese) and every time serves me in silence whatever dish comes to his mind. And every time is perfect. An old lady who put her umbrella over my head and walked with me for a full block so I wouldn’t get wet (no words were exchanged, just a smile). And so many more.
How has Beacon/Publicis evolved since then? What sets you apart in the market?
It is really the Power of One at Publicis Groupe Japan. Over the last few years, the agencies of the Groupe have come under one roof, of course, with a few walls where need be—but as integrated as possible.
Just last year, Digitas was launched in the country, PublicisQ was created to work with INFINITI, Prodigious now has an in-house studio with every possible capability and so much more. I really believe (and I promise that it is not because I work here) that the Groupe in Japan offers a very unique combination of UX, data, design, media, digital and creative across every discipline that has helped us navigate these very challenging recent years like few in the market.
In spite of the pandemic, has it been a good year? What’s been most challenging? What are you proudest of?
Just this week, we found that we were named Integrated Agency of the Year by Campaign Asia for Japan/Korea. And not only that, but the office has also gone through a period of unprecedented growth at a time when the industry has plateaued, to say the least. All in all, with all things considered, I think the year has been very positive. With new clients (INFINITI, Disney + and so many others) and with creative and effective work to match. I am most proud of the resilience and optimism that this agency and Groupe has had in the face of adversity.
The growth and results are a testament to the goodwill and hard work of a group of people who – in one the hardest times of our recent history (if not the hardest) – helped us have a great year.
Is it true that you carry your trusted pocket camera with you wherever you go? What sorts of things catch your eye?
I love to photograph people’s routines, my routine, and find in the mundane, the detail in the detail that makes it anything but mundane. The light, the shadows, the neon, trains, the zigzagging in the morning and the walk home in the evening. Smoky hidden bars, cafes and teahouses that have been in the same corners for decades. Tokyo is one of the most photogenic cities there is, sometimes it is less of what my eye catches but how much it can catch.
Sometimes, you write imaginary bios for the people you encounter. When did you begin doing this, and why?
The first time I did that was in Brazil. It was an exercise I started doing after reading the profile of a consumer on a brief – you know when the consumer is given a name, a profession, and some details to help us create a campaign? So, one day I tried to take this a few steps further. I had hundreds of photos of anonymous people from all sides and I started imagining who they were but in detail, almost as if I really knew them.
In Japan, it was during the pandemic that I started doing this again. I was at home during the ‘State of Emergency’, itching to find a project to keep myself sane—and I remembered how much fun I had imagining these and started doing it again.
You’ve taken over 50,000 photographs and counting. Is your photography part of your creative process; or entirely separate from your day job?
It is something that is entirely separate but as with any creative process, it has helped me immensely on how I look at things at work. One thing that I love is to go through the memory card at the end of a week and find something that just hits me differently and stands out. I guess that memory muscle transcends (and comes from) the day to day; I love those moments when we are going through ideas and instantly know which one feels different, fresher, new.
Have you been taking more, or less, photos this year?
I have taken so many more, three times or more than before. I think it reflects the fact that the days and nights have looked (mostly the same) for the last two years. At some point, photographing became a diary to make sure things were actually happening, days were going by. I hope that one day I can look back and be able to see these two last years with the proper distance and understand better what was (and still is) happening.
What is your focus for 2022, personally or professionally?
If anything, the last two years have taught us to treasure every moment, every single minute and not take anything for granted. My focus is to embrace and enjoy life. And as lofty and ‘self-help’ as it may sound, I think the pandemic has showed me how important it is to celebrate and soak in everything as much as we can. I hope to travel more (when that is possible), meet people I love and miss (I just saw my parents after almost 5 years!) and when we are creating a campaign, do that with the foresight that this market and industry has never needed creativity like now.