José Antonio Llorente: Founding Partner & Chairman, LLORENTE & CUENCA

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José Antonio Llorente is Founding Partner and Chairman of LLORENTE & CUENCA. Over the course of a career spanning more than 25 years, he has provided consultancy services on numerous corporate transactions: mergers, acquisitions, divestments, joint ventures and stock market floatations. He is the author of El octavo sentido (The Eighth Sense), an essay about the relevance of communication in 21st century society. He lives in São Paulo, Brazil.

Mr. Llorente is one of the 15 People from the marketing and communications worlds to Watch in 2015, according to The Holmes Report’s editors. In 2014, he received the award to Outstanding Partner of the Year from the National Federation of Consultancy, Services and Office Associations (Spanish acronym: FENAC) in recognition of his professional and business career as leader of LLORENTE & CUENCA. Furthermore, he was the first Spanish professional to have received the SABRE Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement, a European award presented by The Holmes Report.

How did you get into the industry?

I have always been fascinated by communication and public affairs, and I initially got involved within the communication industry for more than 25 years ago. As a 22 year-old student, I graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and soon after I started my professional career as a journalist for the newswire international agency EFE. Right after that I worked for five years at the Communications Department of the Trade Association of Employers and Industries of Spain (CEOE) and for ten years I worked at the multinational PR agency Burson-Marsteller, where I ascended all stages within the company, from Account Executive to Managing Director. It was in 1995 when I decided to establish and co-found LLORENTE & CUENCA, a firm that, after 21 years of continuous growth, has become the leading reputation, communications and public affairs consultancy in Latin America, Spain and Portugal.

Any emerging industry trends?

I would stress that firms are opting decisively for digital transformation. Talking about digital transformation necessarily implies talking about business transformation. Goods and services will experience an authentic revolution, and there will be an emergence of new services with added value, which will draw on new technologies to generate a direct impact on the P&L account and on the customer relations model.

There is a need to optimize channels and processes, to look for new income models based on client requests, and, above all, there is a need for change within the firm´s internal culture, with the purpose of placing digital strategy at the core of business activity. Employee engagement will be a key instrument in safeguarding companies’ reputation thanks to the existing digital tools.

This new scenario involves new challenges for companies: mobility, big data, IoT, virtual reality, etc. That is why most organizations are resorting to new skills and leaderships, to bring about this transition successfully.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

As a recent event at the international level, we are witnessing a new era for Cuba, one that has generated a very positive outlook for the possibilities around Cuban trade and economic openness. This is a virtually untapped market, from which interesting business opportunities are arising for companies that know how to identify new business projects and investment opportunities that are profitable for both parties. And there is a great opportunity for consulting services associated with public affairs, communication and institutional relations. This is why Cuba is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

Our business culture has always been focused on client service. We are committed to offering our clients solutions and metrics that will help them to obtain tangible outcomes and solutions for their business and enhance their reputation. We seek to build relations with stakeholders based on mutual commitment and we aim to facilitate the decision-making process taking account of stakeholders’ opinions and addressing the consequences of implementing each decision. To fulfil this mission, we count on innovation and generation of knowledge, as well as the full commitment of all the professionals who are part of our Firm.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Right now we are embarked in an expansion process of resources with a focus on internationalizing the firm in U.S. territory, namely Miami, NYC and Washington DC. We want to consolidate a strong presence in the USA, acting as an interlocutor with multinational companies operating in Latin America, and with Miami as a regional HQ for the region.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

One of the most successful decisions we have taken from the very beginning of our Firm is to count on local talent and eyes on the ground. Internationalization has always been a vital component of our Firm´s DNA, and in this regard it is essential to create synergies with key local stakeholders in those countries where we start up new operations. We need to adapt to each country´s reality, including political, regulatory and economic issues. The “one size fits all” approach is not an option within our business strategy.

Furthermore, one of the fundamental principles of our Firm is to attract, retain and train the best talent in the market.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

One significant challenge was the economic recession that had a negative impact, particularly in Europe, and that impacted on the companies´ accounts of course. As a consequence, the companies reduced their budget devoted to communication, and this had an undoubted impact on our business activity. Be that as it may, this challenge made us particularly mindful of the importance of fostering talent within our Firm. This experience helped us not only to weather the storm, but also to keep on doing our job while giving the best of each one of the professionals that are part of our Firm, until reaching our current leadership: more than 490 employees in 13 countries, and with perspectives of further growth.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

What a recipient of our services would most appreciate is a relationship based on transparency. An ethic business code of conduct is not only a moral duty for companies, but it also contributes to strengthen their reputation in the long term, and to create bonds based on trust.

How do you motivate others?

(EXAMPLE: Tell us about your most effective techniques or strategies for inspiring and encouraging those that you work with)

I am convinced that employees are a company’s best brand ambassadors, and entities with committed and motivated professionals are able to multiply their results. Therefore, it is essential to build an employer brand in order to recruit and retain the best talent, under the premise that there should be a consistency between what is said and what is done.

It is also essential to make sure that Human Resources and Communication departments work together closely, and to involve senior management and middle management. Furthermore, it is advisable to implement a measurement system that identifies achievements and detects failures.

Career advice to those in your industry?

My advice is that companies have to be built based on what they want and promise to be, following the adage “Do what you say and say what you do.” Companies need to develop solid mechanisms of responsibility. Earning money and making a return for shareholders is no longer a sufficient, exclusive value to survive nowadays. Corporate Social Responsibility is now part of the core business management, and is steeped in the corporate culture. It is no longer enough to simply comply with legislation, but rather it is necessary to gain legitimacy.