She notes that independent agencies such as Zubi enjoy a side benefit of their status. "It has advantages when you look at the push in large corporate diversity programs to hire minority firms. It would affect us if we sold 51 percent of who we are," Ms. Zubizarreta says.
Hispanic agencies compete for pieces of a small pie. Marketers spent more than $4 billion on Hispanic media in 2006, compared to more than $150 billion on all media, according to TNS Media Intelligence. The $4 billion for Hispanic media represents about 3 percent of the $150 billion total, although Hispanics make up 15 percent of the U.S. population.
Another critical outcome: Hispanic agencies handle a shrinking portion of clients' media buying budgets. More corporate clients are consolidating their media planning and buying duties. Earlier this year, Wal-Mart shifted its $60 million in media planning and buying responsibilities to Starcom MediaVest Group's 42 Degrees, which is based in New York. The agency took charge of duties previously handled by Wal-Mart's multicultural advertising agencies, including Houston-based Lopez Negrete Communications, which remains the retailer's creative agency of record for the Hispanic market.
Corporations claim that such consolidation makes their advertising and marketing efforts less expensive and more efficient. While consolidation may make good business sense for corporations, it leaves Hispanic agencies to execute only creative duties and less able to become full-service shops.
"The division of media from the creative and strategic has hurt even general market agencies," Ms. Exposito says. "So, imagine doing this in the Hispanic segment when we are still in the process of building the industry ... [and] educating corporate America about this consumer segment."
As the Hispanic advertising industry matures, it is recruiting more talent from Latin America and Mexico to work in the United States, or to work from their home countries on U.S. accounts.Agency executives say they must hire from abroad for two major practical reasons: Nearly all of their advertising campaigns are in Spanish, and there is a shortage of U.S. Hispanics with the right combination of marketing talent and Spanish language skills.
Agency executives say that the U.S. Hispanic advertising industry, for most of its existence, hasn't been large enough to attract and train enough domestic talent to go around. "The Hispanic advertising talent base hasn't matured in this country," says Bryan Garcia, president of Plastilina, a Los Angeles-based independent agency that was founded this year and specializes in targeting Hispanic youth.
Mr. Garcia's partner was recruited from Mexico two years ago by another agency. "There is a premium on creative talent from Mexico because they represent the largest portion of the Hispanic population," Mr. Garcia explains.
At alPunto, which has more than 45 employees, most of the agency's U.S.-based copywriters are from Mexico and Latin America. "We hire foreign-born copywriters because we want their first language to be Spanish," Mr. Bottger says. "Most Hispanic copywriters have English as their first language."
The agency also has six employees that work from Argentina, Mexico and Peru.
"Most of them have worked in the Hispanic market but for different reasons are back in their home countries," Mr. Bottger explains.
Tony Ruiz, partner and chief strategic officer at The Vidal Partnership, says his New York-based independent agency has recruited 10 to 15 percent of its creative people from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and other countries.
Zubi Advertising has hired a copywriter from Mexico and a member of the creative staff from Argentina. "It's difficult to find them in the U.S. The best talent already works at competitors," Ms. Zubizarreta explains.
Some agencies recruit Latin American talent only for certain positions.
"In the case of a designer, it's not crucial for the person to have lots of U.S. advertising experience," says Ms. Ruano of PlanetWoot, who hired a designer from Chile. "However, for creative people, I would feel more comfortable with somebody who has been around the U.S. and knows this market."
Hispanic media pioneer Eduardo Caballero has noted the hiring trend.
"We see more educated and well-prepared talent coming from Latin America and becoming involved with creative positions in Hispanic advertising than Hispanics who are educated in this country," says Mr. Caballero, a founder of AHAA and former owner of MasMusica TeVe Network, which was sold to Viacom Inc. in 2005.
Mr. Caballero believes the trend is impacting Hispanic consumers.
"They are bombarded with commercials that often aren't culturally relevant," whether they are in Spanish or English, he says. "A creative person might be Argentinean and the marketing director might be a Mexican-American Hispanic. Maybe the Argentinean doesn't speak English and perhaps the Mexican American doesn't speak Spanish. They come from different cultures and may have different visions for advertising that don't reflect Hispanic consumers."
Ms. Exposito agrees: "The globalization of marketing to Hispanics can create a one size fits all attitude that sometimes fails to make that emotional connection with consumers that can make a difference in purchasing decisions," she says.
Executives at Hispanic agencies say that the influx of Latin Americans doesn't make it more difficult to produce culturally relevant advertising for Hispanics. The executives say that the industry is growing because agencies create ads that get results for clients using talent from Latin America along with Hispanic talent. "Not too long ago, corporations gave Hispanic agencies the perfunctory million-dollar budget," says Alex Lopez Negrete, CEO of Houston-based independent Lopez Negrete. "The budgets are much bigger now because clients are getting good returns on their investments."
Nobody believes the shortage of Hispanic advertising talent will last.
"Now that the Hispanic market is approaching critical mass, there are more Hispanics clamoring to get into the industry and they are of high quality," Mr. Lopez Negrete says.
Ms. Exposito adds, "There is more Hispanic talent in universities these days that can be trained and groomed to fill positions in the advertising industry."
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