Hispanic-owned marketing agencies grow in size, scope

Hispanic-owned marketing agencies in South Florida are growing in size and scope as brands increasingly target the U.S. Hispanic population.

By Mike Seemuth (Miami Herald)

Alma DDB is a Hispanic advertising agency in Miami helping Americans see Latin culture in a new light.

Consider an English-language TV commercial called Disfruta that Alma produced for McDonald’s to promote the restaurant chain’s fruit smoothie beverages: The 30-second spot shows a crowd of young Latinos and Latinas throwing paint-filled balloons at each other in a frenzy set to rock music.

“I like to say we’re Hispanic professionals as opposed to professional Hispanics,” said Luis Miguel Messianu, president and chief creative officer of Alma. “We are a Hispanic agency; that’s our core. But we handle general market accounts, too.”

HOT MARKET

Alma isn’t an isolated success story in Miami’s multilingual marketing world. As the CNC’s 16th Biennial National Conference puts a spotlight on “Hispanics in America’s Future” on May 17 and 18 in Miami, Alma and other leading Hispanic-owned marketing agencies in South Florida rank among the nation’s largest. They have grown in size and scope as corporate and institutional brands increasingly target the growing U.S. Hispanic population.

Their creative output is far from monolingual. Many of the largest Hispanic-owned agencies in South Florida reflect the area’s multilingual character by helping advertisers connect with prospective customers in English and Spanish and other languages as well.

Culture can speak louder than words in any language. Nielsen, the TV-audience measurement company, said in a report last month that “Hispanics are the largest immigrant group to exhibit significant culture sustainability and are not disappearing into the American melting pot.”

But as the Disfruta commercial for McDonald’s demonstrates, some ads aimed at Hispanics are not much different than ads meant for the general market. “The biggest trend is there’s a blurring of the lines,” Messianu said. “Hispanic advertising is starting to look more mainstream, and general market advertising needs to become more multicultural.”

Language clearly is an important component of advertising, but “the new language is culture. That’s what we’ve been preaching,” he said. “It’s not only about language. Cultural affinity is the new language.”

Lisette Hoyo, president of Accentmarketing in Coral Gables, agrees: “Hispanic marketing is more about connecting culturally, and the language is not so much the big thing.” Accentmarketing has produced content on the U.S. Navy’s website that conveys such culturally salient messages as the importance of parental involvement in a young Hispanic adult’s decision to join the military.

MAJOR ADVERTISERS

Founded in 1994, Accentmarketing has become more bilingual in its creative output. It handles advertising and marketing communications for such major advertisers as Dunkin’ Donuts and Farmers Insurance as well as the Navy. “Most of it is still in Spanish, but we have been doing a lot more work in English,” Hoyo said. For example, “what we do for the Navy is in English.”

Diana Brooks and Vivian Santos, both Cuban American, have taken a similarly multicultural approach at their Coral Gables agency, VSBrooks Advertising, which they started in 1996. “I don’t like to pigeon-hole us as being a Hispanic agency,” Brooks said. The agency’s clients typically require work with “a large Hispanic component. But we also do help them with the general market.”

Like other nimble agencies, VSBrooks has changed with the times. “We had about a good 10-year run when real estate was booming here. We had a lot of work there, and we were really going after the Latin-American market,” Brooks said. Now, “primarily, we work in the healthcare industry.” Her agency’s advertising billings were a bit more than $14 million last year. “When the economy crashed in ’07, we were only at about $5 million,” she said. “We’ve had significant growth.”

CREOLE CONNECTION

Among VSBrooks’ biggest clients are CarePlus Health Plans, a managed care program with more than 67,000 members in Florida, and CAC-Florida Medical Centers, a provider of non-emergency health care services at locations in Miami-Dade County. Both operate in markets that are “predominately Hispanic,” Brooks said. “We also do work for the Cleveland Clinic and help them with the Hispanic market.” Non-medical clients of VSBrooks include the business school at Florida International University. “We’ve been helping them with a lot of their rebranding,” she said.

More ad agencies are reflecting the cultural complexity of Hispanic society in their creative output, relying less on such traditional images as “the Latina grandmother with the apron, serving Cuban coffee and cookies,” Brooks said. Her agency also has done work not only in Spanish but also in Creole to help clients connect with Haitian-Americans. “Fundamentally, I think you have to look at these markets the same way you would look at a general market,” she said, “not as just kind of an afterthought.”

Many Hispanic-owned ad agencies have diversified not only their portrayals of Hispanic life but also their ability to deliver them digitally, not just traditionally through print and broadcast media. Few have embraced the Internet age as fully as República LLC in Miami, an advertising and public relations agency that has offered digital marketing services since its inception six years ago. “We made it a fabric of the agency since the beginning. We didn’t have to find a way to add it to the equation,” said Jorge Plasencia, the agency’s chairman and chief executive officer. “We build websites. We build mobile apps. We create content for social media. We do that all in-house at República. We don’t farm that out.”

República is “a Hispanic-owned agency, but we’re not an agency that does only Hispanic marketing,” Plasencia said. “Since day one, we have positioned ourselves as a fantastic agency that does great work in English and in Spanish.” Its major clients include the Univisión television network, food producer Goya and Miami Lakes-based BankUnited.

PUBLIC SERVICE

The agency’s work on behalf of clients encompasses public-spirited educational campaigns. República has created a major public-service marketing campaign called Es El Momento, featuring TV commercials on the Univisión network “that are creating a college-bound culture in the Latino community nationally,” Plasencia said. The public service announcements air on Univisión and were created with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. República also is the agency behind an edgy series of BankUnited ads featuring a woolly minotaur in the role of banker who spouts “B.S.,” or “Bankspeak,” a campaign intended to distinguish BankUnited from uncaring competitors. Plasencia said the English-language campaign, aimed mainly at non-Hispanics, has made an impression on bilingual Hispanics, too. Its efforts have earned it a spot as one of three finalists in the “Emerging’’ category of the 2012 Ernst & Young Florida Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

República’s creative output is mostly in Spanish and English — and occasionally in Spanglish — an approach that can grab the attention of U.S. Hispanics who are comfortable in either language. “I think we’re going to see a lot more of that,” Plasencia said. “The Hispanic community is more and more bilingual and living in both of those worlds.”

The trade publication, Advertising Age, reported last year that 15 of the 50 largest Hispanic-owned advertising agencies in the nation, including República, Alma and Accentmarketing, are based in South Florida.

Not included in the publication’s list are major public relations firms in the Hispanic market. One is the JeffreyGroup in Miami Beach. Mike Valdés-Fauli, the public relations agency’s president, said Jeffrey’s revenues totaled $7.2 million last year, “and we’re expecting $8 million this year.”

Most of Jeffrey’s revenue comes from foreign operations in Latin America, “particularly for Johnson & Johnson and Nestle,” Valdés-Fauli said. The agency has satellite offices in New York City as well as Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. But much of its recent growth has come from helping companies target U.S. Hispanics, which now account for 40 percent of JeffreyGroup’s revenue. One of its newest clients is Minneapolis-based retailer Target, which recently named JeffreyGroup its Hispanic public relation agency of record in the U.S.

“We have been around 19 years and launched our U.S. Hispanic practice a little more than five years ago, and it’s a pretty impressive growth trajectory that we’ve been on,” Valdés-Fauli said. “I see no slowing down in that regard.”

Advertising Age compiled data showing that the combined annual revenue of South Florida’s top 15 Hispanic-owned ad agencies grew to $137 million in 2010, up 8.7 percent from 2009.

That growth was uneven, though. Many Hispanic-owned ad agencies suffered setbacks in the 2007-2009 recession and the sluggish recovery since.

Tough economic times have led some companies to consolidate their advertising and marketing businesses with a single general agency. For example, MGSCOMM in Miami lost the Hispanic advertising account for Publix Super Markets in late 2010 after the grocery retailer consolidated its advertising work with a general market ad agency.

But MGSCOMM is set to return to revenue growth this year with help from such major clients as Southeast Toyota, Florida Power & Light and BB&T. The agency’s chief executive officer and co-chairman Manny Machado said he expects revenue to top $11 million this year after dropping to $8.9 million last year from $10.8 million in 2010, due to the loss of the Publix business.

MGSCOMM, which Machado co-founded in 2003 with co-chairman Al García-Serra, owes part of its success in the last five years to acquisitions. In 2004, it acquired a Miami-based Hispanic marketing agency called IAC, which had the Publix account. In 2009, MGSCOMM merged with a New York City agency, Reynardus & Moya, whose name partners, Jorge Reynardus and Jorge Moya, are now in the top management of MGSCOMM.

The agency’s creative output has been bilingual since its startup. “I would say 70 percent of our work in advertising is in Spanish,” Machado said. In its public relations practice, the agency’s body of work is closer to half Spanish, half English. “We grew up in the Hispanic sandbox,” Machado said. But as the agency matured, “our overall business model changed to incorporate general market clients.”

Like the principals at MGSCOMM, those at Zubi Advertising, the nation’s ninth-largest Hispanic ad agency according to Advertising Age, also are anticipating a business upturn. Almost all of Zubi’s ads are produced in Spanish for clients including American Airlines, Ford Motor, Walgreens and JPMorgan Chase. Many other Hispanic-owned ad agencies in South Florida do a substantial amount of work in English as well as Spanish.

“Business activity was very slow in ’10 and ’11,” said Joe Zubizarreta, chief operating officer of Zubi Advertising in Miami. “But we’re starting to see some signs of life, and we’re projecting that by 2013, we should see substantial growth.”

He and his sister Michelle Zubizarreta, chief administrative officer, have run Zubi Advertising since the 2007 death of their mother and the agency’s founder, Tere Zubizarreta, whom the Advertising Association of America inducted into its Advertising Hall of Fame in March.

“There’s a large portrait of her in the lobby. Everybody remembers and knows the way she did business, and we fashion ourselves after that every day,” Joe Zubizarreta said.

“Our philosophy is to erase stereotypes … We still believe that in mainstream media, there’s a lot of misrepresentation of Hispanics,” he said. “In TV shows, in movies, we’re always the drug dealers or the criminals. We want to show what our reality really is.”

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