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Ricardo Wolff on transitioning from Copywriter to Creative Director

Innocean Berlin’s Executive Creative Director shares his career journey from copywriter to creative leadership

Illustration by Alysa Browne

As soon as Ricardo Wolff discovered what advertising was he was hooked. Seeing something creative which spoke directly to people sparked inspiration in him and after this realisation he dropped out of marketing school and enrolled in the Miami Ad School in São Paulo.  

 “It was like that classic Pulp Fiction scene, when Travolta opens the bag,” he explains. “I immediately felt – this is what I would like to do, because I loved films, I loved comics, I liked short stories, and it felt like, wow, this is one profession that gives you the opportunity to put all of that together.”

Wolff worked for DDB Berlin, and AlmapBBDO in Brazil, before starting at BBDO Berlin and moving back to DDB. It was shortly after this that he got the call to start the Berlin Innocean office where he is now Executive Creative Director. In these roles, Wolff has won numerous awards and worked on many campaigns you’ll recognise, including Billboard Magazine, Smart, Volkswagen and IKEA. Wolff spoke to D&AD  about his journey from a Copywriter to Creative Director, leading the team that won four Pencils at the D&AD Awards 2022, including a Yellow Pencil for The Bookcase for Tolerance, an AR ap that transforms Anne Frank's bookcase into an interactive experience. 

Here, Wolff shares some insights into developing an impressive career and leading award-winning teams.

An adaptable approach to your own life can make you a better leader

Wolff applied for an internship in Hamburg at an agency with an international nucleus, where he could communicate in English. His grandparents both emigrated from Germany to Brazil, so this was a chance for him to learn about where they had come from and…watch the World Cup. “I was young enough and stupid and courageous enough to say, I'm going but I'm not coming back, even though it was an internship,” he says. 

He then found a job at DDB Berlin working under Amir Kassaei and alongside his lifelong creative partner, Gabriel Mattar, where they had the opportunity to work on landmark campaigns for Volkswagen and IKEA. Wolff fell in love with Berlin, a village-y contrast to the huge metropolis of São Paulo, and felt this is where he belonged. His career had taken off and the path his life would lead had become a bit clearer. It is this adaptability and ability to take a leap of faith that Wolff takes into the way he leads as ECD at Innocean where he prides himself on a nurturing work environment that can operate at the cutting edge and deliver impactful work.

Push for the work you want for yourself and for your team

Wolff returned to Brazil for a time working under Marcello Serpa at AlmapBBDO, which would take him into what became the leading agency in Brazil.

AlmapBBDO was recognised in Brazil as a cutting edge agency and Wolff wanted to push for new and innovative practices. He was a creative director in a team which was doing things differently and it fed his ambition for them and for himself. 

“I was part of the first non-traditional team there,” says Wolff. “We were trying to do things inside the company, almost like we were cracking the system a bit and we started to win awards in different categories than the company was used to.”

This was between 2010 and 2013, when things were changing in advertising in Brazil, Wolff says. He saw these innovations and made it his mission to bring methods like activations and new media marketing into his team. 

Wolff’s career went from strength to strength in Brazil, and although he missed Berlin, his work there allowed him to return to Berlin in a stronger position, as a creative director.

Commercial changes can push creative leadership to innovate

Industries shift and change and creative can guide these changes. It is a creative leader's job to navigate these waters and sometimes this is through looking at the commercial landscape and adapting your craft. As print moved online it changed work for writers and changed the way we use language, slogan and straplines. You can see this in Wolff’s industry leading copy. 

There is a wit to Wolff’s words which belies his economy in his ingenious combing of image and text. You can see this in the AlmapBBDO campaign for Getty images that combines an iconic image of Muhammad Ali with the slogan “We have 7,267 photos of Muhammad Ali. Please stop using this one.”

Reading industry changes and taking the initiative is what took Wolff from copywriter to creative director to being asked to set up the Berlin office for Innocean and his role as ECD there. 

Being a leader can mean pitching in

Wolff likes to lead by example, he doesn’t think anyone should have to follow someone who can’t deliver themselves. 

Taking pride in his role as ECD he leads by example, taking a hands-on approach, pitching in at all levels and showing what he can do to inspire his team. Having returned for the life he missed he has found a company where he can combine his work ethic with his values. 

Working with clients like  Kia and Hyundai and on the multi-pencil winning passion projects like Bookcase for Tolerance is the fulfilling  professional mix that Wolff wants in his work life which feeds into his leadership style. The company is building an international and diverse workplace; it is succeeding commercially and ethically.

“We have won a couple of very interesting accounts recently, gaining attention from unexpected places for our work and we intend to go the extra mile to make an impact in the world with ideas that are close to our hearts.”

Interview by Amah-Rose Abrams

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