Indeed, spending for advertising directed to Hispanics market grew to $1.7 billion last year, up a sharp 21% from 1997, according to Hispanic Business.
Importantly, however, the growth in ad spending has seen no corresponding rise in the number of Hispanic ad professionals entering the field, and the resulting fight for employees is bound to continue, says Alex Lopez Negrete, president of Lopez Negrete Communications, Houston.
General-market shops and marketers have seen the boom, and many are scurrying to establish a foothold in the segment, says Mr. Lopez Negrete. Invariably, they'll open a division or expand a department and staff it with executives hired away from Hispanic agencies, he says. The result: a further erosion of the industry's ranks.
SOUGHT BY HEADHUNTERS
Carolina Roig, manager of ethnic marketing at BellSouth Telecommunications, is an example of an industry professional eagerly sought by headhunters.
Ms. Roig was an account planner in 1992 at Chicago-based Unimar, a now-defunct shop, when headhunters called on her. She was offered good salary and prominent posts. Ultimately, she was recruited in 1995 to be marketing communications manager at the launch of the Hispanic unit of FNB, Chicago. A year later she took the same post at AT&T Corp.
In the five years since she left Unimar, she's tripled her salary, and found her place in Hispanic marketing on the client side.
"There was a time when I couldn't keep track of my career," says Ms. Roig.
She is not alone. Whether it's young talent getting hired away by a rival shop or a client, or a general-market agency staffing up to handle a Hispanic account, independent Hispanic agencies are having a hard time keeping employees.
"That one-person division is a real problem in our industry," says Mr. Lopez Negrete, who has lost three staffers in the last year to top New York general-market agencies -- against whom he couldn't compete in the bidding.
MUST FIGHT CHERRYPICKING
Meanwhile, Hispanic shops are left to combat cherrypicking any way they can.
IAC Advertising, Miami, offers "big-company benefits" such as paid healthcare, tuition reimbursement, profit sharing, 401(k) plans and performance-based bonuses to keep turnover low, says agency President-CEO Ana Maria Fernandez Haar.
"Every business is vulnerable in a tight labor market, so you do the best that you can," she says.
Finding the talent pool thin stateside, Cartel Creativo, San Antonio, recently hired two senior executives from Latin America, says President Victoria Varela Hudson.
It's all part of a cycle, says Mr. Lopez Negrete. An account coordinator with a year's experience at a Hispanic shop is hired away for more money and an account exec's title at a rival or general-market shop. With talent tight, he'll get another call a few months later from a recruiter who is looking for an account supervisor for a Hispanic shop. Another salary boost on the table, he bolts. His salary is up 60%, he's got the skills of an account exec with an account supervisor's title.
"Ultimately he will Peter Principle," says Mr. Lopez Negrete, refering to the theory that speaks of employees rising to their highest level of incompetence. "He will make mistakes and realize he has a lot to learn. At this point, you have clients and agencies being harmed, ownership getting frustrated. It's happening a lot in our industry."
Hispanic agency executives admit the thin management structure in the typical Hispanic shop is both boon and bane to young turks hoping to rise through agency ranks.
For an aspiring account exec or creative in a Hispanic shop, the chance to work closely with peers and clients in developing campaigns is an experience they won't likely receive in a larger agency.
But staying at a smaller shop often results in the fear of hitting a career plateau for young executives with ethnic shops, says Brett Robbs, associate professor and director of the undergraduate advertising program at the University of Colorado.
CAREERS CAN SUFFER
Young executives at ethnic shops feel if they wait around too long, their careers might suffer, he says.
"While you can grow up [at ethnic shops], you plateau out," he says. "If their career plateaus, will a general-market agency pick them up? Will they be niched and not get out?"
Dolores Kunda is not buffered from staff migration. Early on, the VP-director of Hispanic marketing with Chicago-based Leo Burnett Co.'s Hispanic unit, would see her bilingual and bicultural recruits stay at the division for a few years before heading to the general-market office.
After moving out, some returned, pointing out that they felt separated from the marketing development process.
"If you are a Hispanic person and advertising professional, why wouldn't you want to work in an area where your difference is celebrated?" Ms. Kunda asks.
Agency executives need to realize that being stripped of their talent -- by rival shops or marketers -- is part of the industry's cycle, says Jo Muse, chairman and executive creative director with Muse Cordero Chen & Partners, Los Angeles.
"We would be idiots if we didn't prepare for it," says Mr. Muse.
He has a standing rule in his office: If a staffer gets an offer, and money is the lure, he wants a chance to beat it. If advancement is what the employee seeks, Mr. Muse welcomes their departure.
"Their talent was on loan in the first place," says Mr. Muse. "The door swings open from the backside. We've always perceived ourselves as a porthole [into advertising] for people of color. This is a good thing. The ethnic agencies have to get over it."
Ultimately, staff migration is good for the industry, concludes Daisy Exposito, president at Young & Rubicam's Bravo Group, New York.
"Opportunities are growing from outside," says Ms. Exposito. "While it's bad