NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A few days before Christmas, Nizan Guanaes, chairman of Brazilian marketing-services company Grupo ABC, threw a party for Ariana Huffington with hundreds of guests at his Sao Paulo mansion to introduce the Huffington Post publisher to Brazil.
Such pursuits aren't at all uncommon for Mr. Guanaes, who has become an informal ambassador for fast-growing Brazil. He spent half his time outside the country promoting it in 2010, from a month in South Africa to study the World Cup, which Brazil will host in 2014, to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where Grupo ABC was named to the group's community of global growth companies.
During his U.S. trips, he bought a Manhattan apartment and is now remodeling a New York office he is opening on Madison Avenue for one of his big Brazilian ad agencies, Africa, initially to handle the agency's clients that are aspiring, and highly diverse, global brands -- Banco Itau, mining group Vale and Grendene plastic sandals.
On the West Coast, ABC-backed San Francisco agency Pereira & O' Dell is thriving, and will start a business called PodSport in early 2011 to serve as a marketing consultant to North American brands interested in investing in Brazil.
"They were always being asked 'Do you know anybody in Brazil?' and 'Can you help us with the World Cup?'" Mr. Guanaes said.
Two-year-old Pereira & O' Dell was Grupo ABC's first U.S. venture, but a logical and familiar step for the group; founder PJ Pereira worked for Mr. Guanaes years ago in Sao Paulo.
"The best thing in the world is to have partners," said Mr. Guanaes, referring to Pereira & O' Dell and the other 16 companies that make up Grupo ABC. "They run their business, and they have entrepreneurial spirit."
He sold his first agency, DM9, to DDB, then rescued the struggling shop a few years later and added DM9 DDB to the holding company he started in 2002 with several partners.
Ad Age ranks Sao Paulo-based Grupo ABC as the 20th largest advertising company in the world, with 2009 revenue of $277 million, almost all of it from Brazil.
The "A" in ABC stands for advertising, "B" is for branding services and "C" represents content, one of Mr. Guanaes' favorite areas. That ranges from producing fashion, Carnival and sports-related content to a Shakira concert coming up this year. On the Grupo ABC website, the company describes themselves as "globalized Brazilians."
Mr. Guanaes, 52, a former top copywriter, has always been bigger than the ad industry. Intrigued by the internet, he invested in one of Brazil's first internet-service providers, IG, and ran it for two years before selling it. Some ad execs dabble in politics; Mr. Guanaes masterminded election advertising for two-time president Fernando Henrique Cardoso's campaigns.
Now he sees endless opportunity and a huge market in Brazil as a growing economy lifts millions out of poverty. "There's enormous change -- 51% of Brazil is now middle class."
With Brazil headed toward becoming the world's fifth-biggest economy in the next few years -- and hosting the 2016 Olympic Games as well as the 2014 World Cup -- Mr. Guanaes thinks it's only reasonable that Grupo ABC will climb from the top 20 ad holding companies into the top 10 in the next decade.
"Brazil is a generous giant," he said. "We don't want to command the world, we just want to command our lives. We get along well with everyone -- except Argentina, and that's only when discussing soccer."