First he rented five different Nissan models for a month each, to be familiar with whichever brand his agency was assigned as a project for Nissan North America's $50 million Hispanic review. He's reprogramming his cell phone after switching to Sprint from Verizon Wireless upon winning that $25 million account. Mr. Vidal tore down his New Jersey house around the time his agency won Home Depot's $30 million business-a coincidence, he says, but his new home contractors know where they have to shop.
After new-business wins totaling $115 million in 2004, the Vidal Partnership will overtake Zubi Advertising as the largest independent U.S. Hispanic shop. Billings rose 41% to $160 million in 2004 and revenue was up 46% to $13 million, the agency says. So much of the new business was won in late 2004, including Nissan in October, that the full-year impact in 2005 already ensures that billings this year will rise to $235 million and revenues to $22 million.
It's no coincidence that marketers flocked to Vidal in 2004. The agency's stellar creative reputation continued to grow, including winning Best of Show at Advertising Age's Hispanic Creative Advertising Awards for a Heineken commercial and the Association of National Advertisers' only Multicultural Excellence Award for Hispanic advertising.
In addition, Vidal is the only agency other than Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson Worldwide allowed to do original creative for MasterCard International's "Priceless" campaign. Vidal's "Priceless" Christmas spot was selected to run on general market TV. Other non-traditional tasks last year included creating a new spirits brand for Diageo. So it's no surprise that the Vidal Partnership is Ad Age's Multicultural Agency of the Year for the second time in three years.
RENTING NISSANS FOR PITCH
For the biggest Hispanic review of the year, Vidal planners lent rented Nissans to Hispanic consumers and drove with them, filming their reactions to gain insights for the pitch.
Nissan was impressed by the agency's knowledge of the Hispanic marketplace and ability to translate those perspectives to a creative approach, says Jed Connelly, senior VP-sales and marketing at Nissan North America. One finding that intrigued him was that bilingual Hispanics consider it important to negotiate in Spanish.
"Vidal came across as a very comprehensive agency," Mr. Connelly says. "The creative was very good, and they have a good solid base of talent and breadth in terms of a national footprint. They have a deep bench."
Other marketers echo that appraisal.
"We're very impressed with their high level of strategic thinking and creativity, as well as the talented team Manny has assembled," says John Costello, Home Depot's exec VP-merchandising and marketing.
Besides Mr. Vidal, 41, and his two partners, Chief Strategic Officer Tony Ruiz, 43, and Chief Financial Officer Carlos Hernandez, 49, the agency has seven VPs and grew from 98 to 150 staffers in the last year. Vidal grows in bold leaps and displays an ability to recover quickly and move on from the occasional mistake that might derail another agency. For instance, the agency recruited a big-name creative from Mexico as a fourth partner and exec creative director last year. Within four months, he was back in Mexico City. Without missing a beat, Vidal reorganized the creative department with four new creative directors enabling talented Mauricio Galvan to step up to the executive creative director role without relinquishing his hands-on creative work.
Although Vidal does clever Spanish-language advertising, the agency also understands the need to communicate with the Hispanic consumer rather than just target Spanish speakers. For "DirecTV Para Todos," Vidal broke through the ad clutter for cable and satellite TV services by broadening the previous target of Spanish-dominant viewers to include bilingual and bicultural Hispanics, recognizing that household members have varying language proficiencies and preferences. In a hilarious campaign, spots look just like real TV programs-such as a talk show on the theme "I eat because my husband cheats"-until someone breaks in with a pitch for DirecTV Para Todos and is hauled off by security guards. Of subscribers signed up since its launch five years ago, 20% came after Vidal's campaign started in July 2004.
"It's tough to find agencies that understand that more acculturated Hispanic consumer really well," says Manny Gonzalez, senior brand manager-scotch for Diageo North America. He recommended Vidal to Diageo's innovation group, and the agency was soon developing a liqueur with the popular caramel flavor of dulce de leche. In four months, Vidal helped invent the drink itself, name, packaging, positioning, sales and in-store materials and public relations for the November launch in Miami and Phoenix, where Caraluna Dulce de Leche liqueur flew off the shelves.
`OUR IDEA HAS TO BE BIGGER'
"We're here to generate big ideas," Mr. Vidal says. "Even if a client says in a [request for information] `I'm looking for X,' our idea has to be bigger than that."
Chief Financial Officer Hernandez likes to point out the advantages of being privately owned: "We're not worried about the quarter or Wall Street." But the partners know that as marketers spend more to reach Hispanics, their general market agencies aggressively push their holding companies' Hispanic shops in pitches against independents like Vidal.
"The pressure is on you to create a huge amount of daylight between yourself and the second best guy," Mr. Vidal says. "You can't win by a neck. That's the reality."
Despite all that competition, Vidal has no new-business department.
"We're fortunate," Mr. Ruiz says. "We've been on everybody's list."