Capitol Communicator is running “Up Close and Personal” profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic. In this profile we feature Alfonso Cuesta, Creative Director & Co-Founder at Salta With Us, in Silver Spring , MD. Photography for the series is by award-winning Cade Martin, wardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire and Sybil Street for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup by Patti D Nelson, Janice Kinigopoulos  and Lori Pressman for THE Artist Agency.

Alfonso, please provide us a short bio.

As a kid, I was an tireless doodler, so the school counselor recommended I look into a school of design. After getting into the agency world and experiencing how much research, strategy and intention goes into creating an advertising campaign, or something as seemingly simple as a logo, I became hooked. After 20 years in the business, I’ve reached a point where I need a briefing and audience insight for everything I do. When my kids or little niece ask me to draw something it’s very hard for me not to say: “Ok, Lola, who is five-years-old, what is the creative brief here?, Who are we trying to reach? and how much ice cream do we want them to give us?” The agency process is part of me now!

I consider myself an unlikely entrepreneur since I’ve always enjoyed working in agencies.
Once I became a creative director in my early thirties, back in Spain, I felt like it was the best gig in the world. It’s a perfect mix of being responsible for the ideation process, with a considerable amount of team management and exposure to clients yet removed enough from the corporate politics – what I consider my weakest point.

My amazing wife – love you Amaya! – talked me into starting our own shop and now I absolutely love it! We are an “idea first” agency that punches above our weight and we enjoy the hard work that goes into making those punches happen.

Are you involved in any other organizations?

Being called a tree hugger is the highest form of praise for Amaya and myself. We love getting involved with any cause that promotes or protects the environment. We, well mostly I, can become annoying during social gatherings about wastefulness or preservation I’m happy to have those hard discussions.

One aspect I love about running our own agency is that we can put our talent behind organizations trying to do the right thing. We do a fair amount of pro-bono work for the Race for Hope / Advanced Brain Cancer Cure and recently engaged with Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, a local non-profit trying to stop the expansion of the 495. We also offer a deeply reduced rate for progressive organizations fighting for racial justice or affordable housing.

From a professional standpoint, I’m co-chair of the ADDYs committee for AAF DC and Salta has been leading the creative efforts to promote the ADDY competition for the last couple of years.

What are the things you are most proud of?

My family. Both my kids say “I love you dad” when they hang up the phone. They are teenagers, 12 and 16. My wife and I miss each other insanely when the other one is away on a trip. We’ve been a couple for over 20 years.

Another thing I’m proud of is Salta, our agency. It’s still a young business – and, at the moment it’s the smallest international ad agency in the world – but it has a soul and is exactly what we wanted every company we’ve worked in to be when we were in Spain. Salta is creative, strategic, diverse, driven and passionate about producing bold creative work.

Who are your personal role models?

Although I never tell them, there’s a lot I got from my parents. My dad engrained a ‘hard work, no shortcuts’ mentality with a layer of radical honesty on top. My mom always found ways to talk  about finding something you’re good at and pouring your heart into it, knowing that when you love what you do, you become good at it and eventually find a way to earn a living. Despite my rebellious attitude, she always supported me.

My first creative directors were amazing professionals. They put people first and created a fun, safe environment where creatives felt empowered to think big and push for ambitious ideas. Working hard is easy when you enjoy what you do. To this day we still are close friends and continue to collaborate as often as we can.

Did your role models offer professional advice that helped you in your career?

During my time with them, there were pearls of wisdom dropped every week in the agency. Eventually, I decided to capture some of these pearls and call them “The Salta Way: Words to Work by.” My Instagram feed features many of them and we often use them in client presentations.

What professional advice do you have for others?

For creatives: Become an art director that reads and writes, or a copywriter who has an eye for design.

For everyone: Be curious; always keep learning.

What’s on your Spotify and Pandora playlists?

I love and listen to music all the time, however, I’m not a music nerd. The soundtrack of my life includes a lot of 70s, 90s and early 2000 rock – sorry 80s!: Led Zeppelin, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, etc.  There’s also a Latin music streak that resurfaces every now and then in the form of Compay Segundo, Paco de Lucia or Gipsy Kings. The team at Salta has labeled it “Spanish cafe” for the days where we really need to focus.

I’m a big believer in music blasting in the agency as much as possible. It keeps the energy level up and provides an opportunity to keep an open environment that exposes the team to new things.
Fun fact: whenever I exit the office, I ask Alexa to play “Killing in the name of” or any other song that needs to be played LOUD. It scares the shit out of one of our designers!

What’s your favorite restaurant?

I come from a country that has many shortcomings, but nailed this food thing, so my favorite restaurants are Spanish. My top choice is Maceiras, in Calle Huertas, Madrid. Their Galician food is insanely good.  In D.C., we really like La Boqueria; some of my best times there have actually been with clients. There’s something about their food and gin and tonics!

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

How thankful I am for being featured in this profile. Muchas gracias!

 

 

 

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