Multicultural Agency

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The Vidal Partnership didn't even start entering creative competitions until a year and a half ago. But word travels fast. The week before Christmas, President-CEO Manny Vidal and Executive Creative Director Paco Olavarrieta flew to Mexico City to pitch Coca-Cola Co. business, after a Coke executive in Mexico heard about the agency from someone in Buenos Aires and tracked down Vidal in midtown Manhattan.

"To get a phone call all the way from Mexico from someone who heard of your work and took the time to find you and invite you to pitch, it's a real compliment," Mr. Vidal says.

He won't know the outcome until later this month, but the Coke pitch was the final touch in a breakout year. The Vidal Partnership is Advertising Age's Multicultural Agency of the Year for 2002 based on growth as an agency and creative work for clients like Heineken USA, which ups its investment in the U.S. Hispanic market every year, as well as the new advertisers Vidal is painstakingly introducing to the Latino population.

REVENUE JUMPS 20%

In 2002, Vidal's billings grew 19% to $85 million, and revenue was up 20% to $10 million. Staff numbers grew by 23% to 70, reflecting new business and top hires in areas like account planning and promotions. New York-based Vidal also opened offices in Atlanta and Dallas, and is talking with the William Morris Agency about Hispanic content and ideas in the hot advertainment area.

Creatively, Vidal raked in honors, from Best of Show at Ad Age's Hispanic Creative Advertising Awards in September to the Association of National Advertisers' Multicultural Excellence Award for Hispanic advertising in November.

In 2002, for Vidal and others, new business continued to come from companies new to the Hispanic market. Both Century 21 Real Estate Corp. and Enterprise Rent-a-Car chose Vidal to take that plunge with grassroots and print efforts. Both marketers are filming their first Hispanic TV spots in January. Another new client, Wendy's International, had tested the market before coming to Vidal but is way behind rivals McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Corp., with more restaurants and bigger Hispanic ad budgets.

"Wendy's went into [2002] with 8% unaided brand awareness [among Hispanics]," says Tony Ruiz, a managing partner at Vidal. "By fall, the total had gone up to 71%. A panel of stores in seven [heavily Hispanic neighborhoods] was compared to non-Hispanic stores, and the Hispanic ones outperformed every store."

The Vidal Partnership is 3 years old, but the agency's roots go back 11 years, when Mr. Vidal started an agency with two earlier partners. After parting ways, Mr. Vidal, now 39, re-formed his agency with three new managing partners. Tony Ruiz, 41, is in account management. Roberto Ruiz, 39, worked on the client side, and handles customer relationship marketing. Carlos Herranz, 45, Cuban-born like Mr. Vidal, kept trying to buy Mr. Vidal's previous agency when he was chief financial officer of McCann-Erickson Worldwide for North America.

Vidal's most-awarded creative work is for Heineken beer, a challenge given that two-thirds of U.S. Hispanics are of Mexican origin. Heineken isn't well-known in Mexico.

heineken varies accent

Heineken's radio campaign titled "Traducciones" ("Translations") achieved the same kind of status in Hispanic advertising in 2002 as Budweiser's award-winning "Great American Heroes" radio spots. Winner of the Best of Show at Ad Age's Hispanic awards, the campaign is based on ordinary guys telling stories involving Heineken, like a guy who breaks his car key trying to open a Heineken but is happy he got the bottle open and he can always walk home. In each Spanish-language spot, a different accent and slang are used-Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Argentinian, etc.-and an interpreter translates the beer drinker's story into standard Spanish.

Heineken also put into its international rotation a Vidal commercial that explains the origin of the popular dance La Macarena. During a party, the host's frantic search for a bottle opener is observed and interpreted by his guests as cool dance steps.

For now, the Vidal partners relish their freedom to build the agency without answering to a holding company.

"We've won accounts for being independent and lost accounts for being independent," Mr. Vidal says. "I think the time will come to be part of a network. Right now, there's still room for an independent. I'm surprised how many options there are: merge or create a Hispanic holding company or have financial partners as investors. And multinational networks are constantly knocking on our door."

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