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LatinWorks Is No. 9 on the Ad Age Agency A-List

Backed by a Strong Understanding of the Market, Shop Earns Points for Its Creative Work -- and Creative Intuition

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LatinWorks heads (left to right): managing partner Manny Flores, president-CCO Sergio Alcocer, and managing partner Alejandro Ruelas
LatinWorks heads (left to right): managing partner Manny Flores, president-CCO Sergio Alcocer, and managing partner Alejandro Ruelas
NEW YORK (Adage.com) -- Injecting a creative spirit even into its focus groups, LatinWorks pitted a dozen Chevy and Ford truck owners against one another to defend their passion for their chosen brands as the agency pitched for Chevrolet's U.S. Hispanic account last summer. The big, prestigious Chevy win from General Motors Corp. helped LatinWorks, which reliably posts double-digit growth, to boost revenue by 37% in 2010.

"Being a creative agency doesn't necessarily just mean you do creative advertising," said Managing Partner Alejandro Ruelas. "It means you're creative in the way you behave as an organization."

For Chevy, that meant racing to create a launch campaign for the Cruze, a compact car that LatinWorks found surprisingly "uncompact" for its price range. While the general-market launch focused on favorable reviews of the new Cruze, the LatinWorks team, which included a former professional racing car driver, "let the car speak for itself," said Sergio Alcocer, president and chief creative officer. In launch spot "Please Don't Go" the car demos its own alluring interior features to tempt its female owner back into the vehicle.

As the year ended, the agency had four Chevy spots in test for a possible Super Bowl slot.

LatinWorks is known for highly creative work that is meticulously planned and strategically grounded, helping marketers understand and win over increasingly diverse Hispanic consumers while avoiding stereotypes. Bicultural Hispanics, for instance, are often portrayed as having a foot in each of two worlds that speak different languages. LatinWorks is delving into what the agency calls the "Third Space," where it believes bicultural Hispanics, not fully understood by either Latino or mainstream communities, actually reside. Finding that attitudinal Third Space is a sweet spot for brands.

Creativity
See work from LatinWorks on Creativity.

LatinWorks was founded in 1998 in Austin, Texas, by two Anheuser-Busch marketing veterans, Manny Flores, Mr. Ruelas and Mr. Alcocer. Relationships are crucial -- A-B is a big client and the agency was already on Chevy's radar thanks to memorable Hispanic work for Hyundai when GM's Global CMO Joel Ewanick headed marketing there.

The U.S. Hispanic market poses particular challenges. For instance, Domino's Pizza did an aggressive sales-boosting campaign last year based on a general-market perception that the pizza sucked and that a new recipe was much better. The problem: Hispanic consumers liked the original taste. So LatinWorks steered Domino's toward positioning the brand as an integral part of the community -- with a great taste at the same price.

"The trust level [with LatinWorks] is incredibly high," said J. Patrick Doyle, Domino's president-CEO. "When they say we have to go in a different direction, our ears are wide open. We saw the same level of lift in our Hispanic business and are still communicating our core message, but we needed to take a different approach. They started shifting us to focus on being part of the neighborhood."

Last year's biggest blow was the loss of Burger King's Hispanic business when an all-new management team at the chain decided general-market agency CP&B should handle the multicultural business, too.

Emotions have been running high in the Hispanic market over clients moving Hispanic business from specialist agencies to general-market shops. After Burger King dismissed its ethnic agencies, there was talk of Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition marching on Burger King's headquarters in protest. Instead of fanning the flames, LatinWorks took the high road, in public comments on the issue and a private call to its former client.

"I called Burger King and said, 'No one is speaking on our behalf,'" Mr. Ruelas said. "Our point of view is we don't think you made a good decision, but we defend your right to make the decision."

Meanwhile, LatinWorks is stepping up its game.

New accounts Chevy, Marshalls and Post Foods brought in $7.5 million in new revenue, and existing clients added another $2.5 million in incremental revenue, but Mr. Ruelas said, "We live in a state of healthy paranoia about the idea that we must differentiate, evolve, and change the way we solve client business issues. Precisely because we are riding a wave of success, there is no more important time to invest in more knowledge and ideas."

To that end, LatinWorks is plucking talent from outside the U.S. Hispanic market, stealing Eric Lefton, a DraftFCB VP-strategic planning director, in December. This month, Christian Filli, a Swiss-Cuban former Reebok exec who grew up in Brazil and is managing director of WPP's Landor Associates in Mexico City, joins the agency as head of planning.

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