From the Inside: The ICOM Talent Experience

Written by Fabian Miranda, Assemble Studio Manager | Web Dev & Production

One month ago, a select few of the top talent across ICOM’s global network met in Madrid with one very specific mission: producing a full creative proposal for a prestigious client expanding its presence in the LATAM market.

While the most experienced teams would require several days to perform this kind of task, the participating members were given less than 48 hours to tackle the challenge as a group of total strangers from different countries and cultures. In addition to doing so in record time, the campaign then had to be presented to an audience of top agency leaders from around the world — CEOs, CMOs, Owners, you name it. It was a monumental task for the chosen few...

And I was honored to be one of them.

The Calm Before the Storm

On Tuesday, May 21st, the night before all the real action started, I had a chance to meet the other ICOM attendees at a beautiful rooftop in the center of Madrid to break the ice. You could feel the excitement and spirit around the initiative, emitting an unspoken understanding that everyone was going to give their best to ensure its success.

Here’s all-star lineup:

  • Eleanor Reynolds and Michael Hall, experts in account management and media planning respectively from the UK
  • Joena Lütten and Sina Wester, two young German talents in client service and account management
  • Ernesta Ratkute, a real ace in marketing strategy from Malta
  • Fleur Berkel, a Dutchman and outstanding project manager of digital events
  • Elisabeth Juusu, a passionate graphic artist from Estonia
  • Tomás Cárdenas, a talented Chilean copywriter residing in Madrid, Spain
  • And me, Fabian Miranda, a creative technologist from Costa Rica

While most of my partners were from the European Union like our host city, Assemble was the only agency representing the Americas. But not even a 10+ hour flight across the Atlantic ocean could diminish my enthusiasm.

Day 1: Ready, Set, Create.

Wednesday, May 22nd: the day has come! At 9am, we met at this beautiful, old-world building that would be our headquarters for the next few days. Here, program kickoff led by a true eminence, Sr. Marketing Strategist and well-known speaker and writer of the “Become the Go-To Brand,” Barnaby Wynter, who served as our trainer/mentor, and Ivet Honorato, the hosting agency’s Brand Supervisor, who would assist with logistics and participants' needs throughout the program.

Before we could even finish our morning coffees, Barnaby pulls out a black box, which starts playing a terrifying audio that says, “In order to deactivate this device before detonation, you must solve a series of riddles.” I looked around to see everyone staring at one another with incredulity and confusion, but that quickly turned to action. Within a few seconds, we were out of our chairs, trying to figure out what challenges best suited each of our strengths in an attempt to shut it down.

One by one, we solved several problems (logical, mathematical, cryptographic… everything!!) that helped us “save the city” with only a few minutes to spare. It was like magic — you could feel a wave of confidence overcome everyone in the room. We knew we could handle anything.

And after the energy rush, it was back to the fundamentals.

Barnaby asked us to start with the basics. Before you can even build a creative proposal, you need agency, right? So that’s what we had to become — identifying how our specific roles and skills would come together to create a functional team and assign responsibilities. Eventually, our planners, strategists, and managers were shaping up to what would become the backbone of our proposal, while the creatives began visionary exploration.

But before we got started, we had a visitor who really set the stage for what was to come. Fernando Machado, a true Marketing legend, dropped in to share his wealth of experience. As the former Chief Marketing Officer at Activision Blizzard, driving strategies for major titles like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft (woot!), he not only provided insights that would inspire our upcoming campaign efforts but also practical tips that he used throughout his successful career to perfect it.

Invigorated by his discourse, we kicked off several brainstorming sessions to deeply understand our client’s brand, their value proposition, how their image was currently communicating to its audience, and what we needed to adjust to align the new image and strategy with the requirements and expectations. Then it was back to the basics as we embarked on the creative work, with things like logo propositions and key messaging ideas.

Getting things going creatively was probably the day’s most challenging task. And that’s because we weren’t simply trying to meet the task, but present a disruptive proposal that truly stood out; one that required extraordinary out-of-the-box thinking. After extensive deliberation, we landed on the core creative ideas that would become the main building blocks of our presentation.

But with a hard stop for dinner, we were all feeling behind schedule, eager to get back to work early the next day.

Day 2: The Moment of Truth.

Thursday, May 23: Coming into day two, the team had agreed on the best logo proposal for our strategy goals and the main messaging and slogan. So today’s task was building our presentation around it all, including creating a deck file and adding our reasoning for the direction we decided to take. But we only had a few hours to do it.

While the pressure at that moment was immense, the team’s reaction was simply amazing. Everyone was assigned specific portions of the presentation, simultaneously crafting the content and generating the visuals in a highly polished and imaginative presentation, leaving time to fine tune our final speeches. The synergy was incredible.

We left the deliberation room wearing the countless hours of work heavy on our shoulders but lifted by the adrenaline of what would come next. We took the stage with a mix of emotions, from excitement and accomplishment to fear of failure.

As the presentation began, all the doubts and fears transformed into unwavering confidence, as each of us eloquently communicated our ideas to the esteemed ICOM audience.

With every new reveal, we could feel the audience getting more engaged, while every fact, stat, and rationale that supported it was met with nodding heads. By the time we presented the new logo, the slogan, and some creative ideas around how to generate brand awareness, the crowd was in awe. You could feel the “wow” — just like placing the final piece of a puzzle in its rightful spot, everything made sense and everyone knew it.

A massive applause erupted from the audience. The client was thrilled with the proposal and our mission was accomplished beyond all expectations. There were tears of joy, laughter, and congratulatory embraces. In just two days, a group of strangers became an unstoppable team.

My Key Takeaways

When I look back at this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I’m grateful for everything I learned. But there are a few things that really stood out:

  • Promoting communion and collaboration between agencies is important

    Fostering alliances with other agencies around the world is invaluable. Not simply because of the potential business and partnerships that can come from it. But also the opportunity to expand and enrich your personal visions and perspectives in the areas that matter most. Being exposed to the unique ways in which different cultures approach certain aspects of the creative process can transform your way of seeing things and originate new solutions you’ve never imagined before.

  • Invest in your talent, it will be retributed

    As an agency, it’s key to identify and invest in your top talent to reinforce their commitment to your vision. Having the chance to work with this incredible group of professionals allowed me to see that we all shared a common, supportive work environment that trusts us with this mission. It was inspiring for all of us to be there.

  • Technology should materialize creativity, not limit it

    As someone working for an agency that produces and provides different types of digital solutions for other creative agencies, I know that designing a creative strategy from scratch means truly understanding why some creative decisions are made. As developers, that means having familiarity with a wide range of technologies — from their benefits to their limitations. This knowledge enables us to choose the right tools for a project, ensuring we can achieve the creative vision as accurately as possible. It’s our duty to not only stop thinking of technology as a constraint, but also find ways that it can facilitate something truly exceptional.


Lastly, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Emma Keenan, the mastermind behind ICOM's Talent program. Her constant support and encouragement were crucial throughout the event. Additionally, a huge thank you to her wonderful team, whose meticulous planning and hard work made the 2024 Madrid ICOM World Meeting an unforgettable experience. All of us in the Talent group were privileged to be part of this remarkable journey thanks to your vision and dedication.

The ICOM Talent crew