The Player: Hidalgo brings his gifts to the U.S. Hispanic ad market

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Last year Tony Hidalgo joined Saatchi & Saatchi's agency in Mexico as president, the first time Mr. Hidalgo, one of Mexico's top creative directors, had run a major agency. He claims for 2003, Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi's billings will be up more than 30%.

Now Mr. Hidalgo is taking on a new challenge. In January he relocates from Mexico City to New York to become a partner and chief creative officer at The Vidal Partnership, an independent U.S. Hispanic ad agency trying to better an already outsize creative reputation.

As one of the highest-ranking admen to join the U.S. Hispanic market, Mr. Hidalgo's move reflects that market's rapidly changing status. A similar upgrading is happening on the client side. Earlier this month, the Association of National Advertisers' annual Multicultural Marketing Conference drew 215 attendees, up from 153 a year ago. Attending for the first time was Rodolfo Rodriguez, who started working earlier this year for General Mills as director of multicultural marketing, a higher level position than the company had before.

Although he has never lived before in his favorite city, New York, Mr. Hidalgo already speaks American-style English, learned initially from the Frank Sinatra records his father played during his childhood and later when he spent five years in Brazil at the American School, where his closest friends were American, he said.

He has spent most of his career until now at Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Worldwide, and was chief creative director for Mexico when Saatchi, also a Publicis shop, hired him away last year. "He's got a proven creative track record in Mexico and international award shows, and as a manager he was given the reins of a great agency to run [at Saatchi]," said Vidal's President-CEO Manny Vidal. "And he's a hell of a nice guy."

Mr. Hidalgo, who drives a Volkswagen Beetle, said that despite a career spent until now at big networks, the agencies he most admires are the likes of Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Wieden & Kennedy in their early days.

"They started small but were big in mentality and ambition," he said. "I've always wanted to be like that."

on the rise

The agency he's joining is a lot like that. Vidal's billings for 2003 soared by 33% to $113 million as the agency won some of the year's biggest Hispanic account reviews, including DirecTV, Old Navy and Six Flags, all valued at $15 million or more. Vidal does some of the best creative work in the U.S. Hispanic market, with stunning campaigns for clients like Heineken (Vidal was named Ad Age's Multicultural Agency of the Year in January 2003). Staff numbers grew this year by 40% to 98, including 30 creatives.

Luis Miguel Messianu, chief creative officer of del Rivero Messianu DDB, has watched the evolution of Hispanic advertising from the time he found it embarrassing to watch the commercials on Spanish-language TV.

"This is another step in the right direction," he said of Mr. Hidalgo's imminent arrival. "As a Hispanic creative, I would celebrate it."

Fast Facts

Name: Tony Hidalgo

Age: 36

Now: Partner-chief creative officer, The Vidal Partnership

Challenge: To keep raising the creative bar in the U.S. Hispanic market

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