Media Mavens; Demystifying The Hispanic Media World Is An Every Day Effort; Laura Marella

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To some, Hispanic media are all Greek. To Laura Marella, it's become her native tongue.

As VP-media director at Hispanic shop Casanova Pendrill Publicidad, Irvine, Calif., Ms. Marella has seen the agency grow from a $3 million upstart when she joined in 1985 to more than $43 million today. Though it's the fifth-largest U.S. Hispanic shop, it's the only agency among the top five with no general-market agency affiliation.

BIG GROWTH

The Hispanic media industry has grown to $1 billion in 1995, but few claim it's fully matured. Hence, Ms. Marella's job each day is to work with Anglo companies that have embraced the segment, as well as preach to those who haven't, she says.

It boils down to research and improving what's available, she says. The industry slowly is benefiting from better research and viewer data, but it still needs to improve the design of research models, she says.

"Much of what we do is educational for people, trying to get people who have very little to no exposure to the marketplace to understand either the basics or perhaps to demystify it to a certain degree," says Ms. Marella. "We are still educating and reeducating recent MBA grads from the Midwest who have no exposure to the Hispanic market. It's really not that difficult."

Rick Kowalski, VP-marketing at Sizzler International, recognizes Ms. Marella's acumen in Hispanic media. She understands the subtle nuances of varied Spanish programming-for example, the viewer differences between novelas and varieties, he says. She knows his brand and what media will perform well for it.

A current campaign from Casanova Pendrill has resulted in restaurants serving Hispanic consumers scoring more than 30 percentage points higher than similar non-Hispanic shops, he says. Those are exactly the thinking and results he sought when Mr. Kowalski brought the agency in as first Hispanic agency of record in 1994, he says.

DIFFERENT PROGRAMMING

"The programming is very different than in the general market," he says. "She does the best job of integrating that intimate knowledge of programming, and then relates it to the numbers."

"That's why to a large degree they're so responsive and we can have the payout that's so much greater than a general-market campaign," she says.

Truth be told, Spanish is not Ms. Marella's native tongue (though she is fluent) and Hispanic is not her heritage. But she's well entrenched in the market. Her husband is Jorge Daboub, local sales manager with Univision's KMEX-TV in Los Angeles, and fellow executives at other agencies speak highly of her knowledge of the emerging Hispanic media market.

When she first arrived at Casanova Pendrill, from non-Hispanic media work with J. Walter Thompson USA, Washington, "I truly did not understand the dimensions of this opportunity," she adds. But times have changed.

"Eleven years ago, we weren't carving media plans out of stone, but it was awfully close to that," she says. "I've truly been able to watch the industry go from its infancy to, I wouldn't say maturity, but it's late puberty."

Maturity will come with time-and education.

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