Across the Globe, WPP Advertises Its Strengths

WPP’s Celia Ortiz examines the dynamics of the Latin America region for the world’s largest advertising company

Celia Ortiz, Regional Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, WPP. (Photo: Alain Martinez)

I was born in Brooklyn but my  mother moved us to Puerto Rico when I was nine. I returned to the States when I was twenty-one, obtaining degrees in computer programming and accounting/finance. My mother had little schooling herself, but she understood how important education could be for her daughters. She was the one who encouraged me to aim for the stars.

My career took off when I landed a position with Marvel Comics in the accounting department. I worked my way up to global licensing accounting director. Then, one of my former bosses at Marvel invited me to join advertising agency DMB&B [D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles] as a senior financial analyst—that was my introduction to the world of advertising.

I started as senior financial analyst and worked my way up to global controller. Though I had no experience in the advertising industry, I was able to find an amazing group of people who were willing to coach me and show me the ropes. In 2003, I was transferred to Miami to become regional CFO  for Latin America at Leo Burnett, which had merged with DMB&B. Publicis Groupe subsequently acquired Leo Burnett and I was offered by Publicis to deploy shared services for the region. We created shared services for fourteen countries—including the US, Canada, and Latin America—with a regional hub in Costa Rica. Two years ago, I moved to WPP, where I am now regional CFO for Hogarth Worldwide [the implementation agency for WPP] and regional COO for WPP.

WPP is the world’s largest marketing/communications company. The company offers an enormous number of services—creative, media, public relations, public affairs, digital branding and identity, healthcare communications, direct promotion, and relationship marketing, among others. A lot of multinational companies look to work with WPP because we have a suite of agencies and can provide what is known in the industry as “full service.”

My region is Latin America. That includes more than fifteen countries—from Mexico to Argentina, plus the Caribbean. As regional CFO of Hogarth Worldwide, I oversee the financial aspects of the agencies. As regional COO for WPP, I ensure that operations are adequately staffed and operating optimally.

Day-to-day, I focus on standardizing processes, internal controls, and reporting, as well as ensuring that we comply with company policies and Sarbanes-Oxley. I have eight direct reports and approximately 12,000 indirect reports.

I am not afraid to admit that I’m not an expert at everything. I see myself, instead, as a conductor, making sure that all parts of my operation are working correctly. I consider myself approachable, and I enjoy mentoring people to help them grow in their careers.

“Agencies often approach [Spanish-speaking countries] as if they were all the same. But you’re dealing with different governments, different economies, different tax laws, and different currencies.”

Right now, I’m balancing two roles—CFO and COO—and it’s manageable, but eventually I will transition to handling just the COO role for WPP. I generally travel three weeks out of every month. I’m blessed to have a supportive family—I call them my cheerleaders. I always make sure I’m home by Friday morning—and when I’m home, I’m focusing on home.

The Latin America region is complicated in terms of communication and marketing. Most of the countries speak Spanish, but the largest speaks Portuguese. And even in the Spanish-speaking countries, agencies often approach them as if they were all the same. But you’re dealing with different governments, different economies, different tax laws, and different currencies. And we’re often facing high inflation rates—in Venezuela, for example, it’s 200 percent. Those conditions present us with workforce and workplace challenges. We have to make sure ours is a workplace where people enjoy working and feel that their contributions are appreciated.

The advertising industry has changed a lot since I was first introduced to it. It used to be like Mad Men—one ad agency did everything for its clients. Now, there are companies that specialize in creative or media or implementation. One client may be working with ten different creative agencies, different implementation agencies, or different media agencies. Clients are very focused on cost. Because of the Internet, consumers today are more educated, have a lot of power—and want instant gratification. You have to be innovative to penetrate the consumer audience. Agencies have to provide solutions and effective campaigns at a lower cost.

I was born in New York and spoke English as my native language, even though my family is Puerto Rican. So, I didn’t realize there was a difference between Hispanics and Latinos. I have since realized that the two audiences may want the same products, but they don’t want to be spoken to in the same way. We sometimes use different talent in advertising campaigns for the same product to gear towards different audiences. I’m proud of the work we’ve created and solutions we’ve implemented in the Latin America region.

Throughout my career, I’ve had many good mentors. They coached me and gave me opportunities to grow—and saw things in me that I didn’t.

If I were to give career advice to a young Hispanic or Latino, it would be to embrace your failures—learn from mistakes and move on. I’d also say to work your way up the ladder. In my experience with the younger generation, kids get out of college and want to earn top money, but bypass all the steps. You’ve got to figure out how to walk before you can run.”