NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Agencies are trampling the traditional boundaries between general-market and multicultural accounts to win business in a tough economy. Enough, in fact, that seven of the shops in Ad Age's ranking of the top 50 U.S. Hispanic agencies this year aren't primarily Latino shops.
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Independent GlobalHue, originally an African-American shop, now gets 50% of its revenue from a GlobalHue Latino unit that recently restructured with a number of high-level Hispanic execs. It now ranks as the fourth-biggest Hispanic shop, up from No. 7 last year.
In one anomaly in the U.S. Hispanic market, full-service Hispanic agencies with hefty media departments -- which have all but disappeared from the largest general-market agencies -- are competing with big media agencies that are trying to capture their clients' multicultural business by growing and packaging their own expertise in units such as Omnicom Group's OMD Latino and WPP's Mindshare Multicultural.
Just two years ago, WPP's Mediaedge:cia opened a unit called MEC Bravo, based in Mediaedge's New York office and run by the media agency's former CEO in Argentina, Gonzalo Del Fa. MEC Bravo is now tied for third-largest Hispanic media shop, according to Ad Age's Hispanic Fact Pack ranking. Last year two Hispanic creative agencies, Omnicom-backed LatinWorks and independent Republica, started their own media departments, a move that has helped LatinWorks grow its business with clients such as Pizza Hut.
The new normal
Blurring the lines between who handles what business isn't new. Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, for instance, has such a lock on MasterCard's "Priceless" ad franchise that the agency produces Spanish-language work, too. But it's increasingly the new normal. When Volkswagen's U.S. Hispanic agency, Creative on Demand, does a Spanish-language ad for Volkswagen of America, it usually does an English-language one, too. And at Omnicom-owned Hispanic shop Alma DDB, Chief Creative Officer Luis Miguel Messianu troubleshoots for biggest client McDonald's Corp. as far away as Romania, as well as handling Hispanic, urban and general market assignments in the U.S.
Hispanics themselves often live in two worlds, going back and forth between English and Spanish, even as demographic patterns are being reversed. In today's America, 61% of Hispanic adults were born outside the U.S. -- but 88% of Hispanic children were born in this country.
Marketers short on time and money appreciate go-anywhere agencies. In a microcosm of the U.S. market, small agency Walton Isaacson handles African-American work for Toyota's Lexus, has pitched in on general-market projects and recently hired Rochelle Newman-Carrasco as chief Hispanic strategist after Lexus inquired about Hispanic capabilities. This summer the agency organized Lexus events in two cities that were planned as general-market events for affluent attendees drawn from dealers' mailing lists. As it turned out, the general market was mainly African-Americans in Atlanta and Hispanics in Miami.
Some agencies are positioning themselves as being more about cultural convergence than ethnic labels. Project 2050, a small New York shop that says it helps marketers reach diverse consumers, just hired as chief creative Bobbito Garcia, described as "a curator of underground culture." CEO Phil Colon compares the move to the agency's 2005 hiring of then-underground street artist Shepard Fairey as founding creative director. Mr. Fairey went on to create the iconic Obama image plastered everywhere during the last presidential campaign.