Talent Search: Hispanic agencies hire hot creatives

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As they gain a higher profile, U.S. Hispanic agencies are signing on higher-caliber creative directors. Two hitherto unexciting shops owned by major holding companies are adding noted creative directors while a hot independent is rebuilding its creative department.

WPP Group's MD&A, Newport Beach, Calif., named Carlos Mendez, 43, to lead what the agency calls a "creative renaissance" for the agency. This marks the first post at a U.S. Hispanic shop for Mr. Mendez, a veteran of many Latin American and European creative departments.

Montemayor & Asociados, San Antonio, meanwhile, is turning over its creative department to Pablo Buffagni, 32, as its owner, Don Coleman & Associates, looks to build a multicultural holding company within Interpublic Group of Cos. Mr. Buffagni, who becomes creative director, is an Argentine who moved to the U.S. in June 2000 as executive creative director of Bcom3 Group's Bromley Communications, San Antonio.

Meanwhile, another former Bromley creative star, Associate Creative Director Hector Prado, 33, who left the agency in late 2001 after five years, starts this week with the same title at Zubi Advertising, a creatively lauded, independent Miami-based agency.

Messrs. Prado and Buffagni are known particularly for their clever and often irreverent work at Bromley for clients including Procter & Gamble Co., including a commercial for Charmin toilet tissue that featured a transvestite.

RAISING THE BAR

The shifts are significant because U.S. Hispanic work has long been well below the standards of the U.S. general market and Latin American countries. That is slowly changing, as more creative agencies emerge and thrive-this year, for example, Advertising Age named for the first time a Multicultural Agency of the Year, Dieste Harmel & Partners, Dallas (see story on S-8). Multicultural agencies are also in the spotlight because so far, unlike earlier recessions, advertisers have not rushed to cut Hispanic budgets. That's given some agencies the luxury of bulking up their creative resources rather than issuing pink slips like many general market shops.

Neither MD&A, the fifth largest Hispanic agency with billings just over $100 million, or Montemayor, ranked ninth with about $80 |million in billings, is known for its creative work.

Both have solid client bases-MD&A works with Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb, while Montemayor shares Kmart Corp. with the Don Coleman agency and has been Chrysler Group's Hispanic agency of record since 1987.

At the former Mendoza Dillon & Asociados, renamed MD&A as part of the agency's makeover, Mr. Mendez said, "I'll help reengineer the creative department and the way we go about doing better work, more idea-based, and hopefully bring in more additional talent. The Hispanic market is growing like no other ethnic group."

Mr. Mendez's background is unusual. During a multi-country tour of duty with Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide, he helped open and was executive creative director at McCann's Dublin agency. He also held creative directors' jobs in Norway and Puerto Rico, and art director posts in Toronto and Milan. MD&A found him in San Juan, where he was VP-executive creative director at Bcom3's Leo Burnett, responsible for regional work for clients such as Kellogg Co. from Mexico to Argentina.

At Zubi, which numbers among its clients Ford Motor Co. and Masterfoods USA, Mr. Prado joins Emmie Vazquez, 38, who moves to VP-creative director. Zubi's previous creative director, Ricky Soler, left in early September. "He likes our attitude of erasing stereotypes," said Ms. Vazquez. "He's a brilliant creative and very strategic."

Mr. Prado is the third executive to recently leave Bromley-Daniel Bruno has also left and is still job-seeking-which has raised questions about possible changes ahead as the Bcom3 shop develops its new multicultural holding company, Pangea, formed late last year.

Ernest Bromley, the agency's chairman-CEO, said that the three creatives are not being replaced and that four remaining associate creative directors at Bromley will report to him for now.

`Creative powerhouse'

Other Hispanic creative executives have speculated that one of the creative directors at another Bcom3-owned multicultural agency will take on a bigger role, probably Danny Robinson, the chief creative officer at Vigilante, an African-American and urban marketing agency started by Burnett three years ago in New York.

"He's a creative powerhouse," said Larry Woodard, Vigilante's president-CEO, of Mr. Robinson. "When we do shared work [with other Pangea agencies] or try to do something in a greater sense like pitch a piece of business across different brands, Danny would be the senior creative."

Vigilante and Bromley are already working together on Western Union, a client that has dropped its former general market agency and split its account between Bromley and Vigilante, making them responsible for Spanish-language and English work, respectively.

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