Creative rep rebuilding plus

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[Buenos Aires] Ramiro Agulla saw business at his ad agency in Argentina plummet last year as clients slashed spending during the country's economic collapse. Now, though, he's busy again, handling assignments from Brazil, France and as far afield as China.

Mr. Agulla, the agency's president, and his partner, Carlos Baccetti, are working hard to extend the reach of Agulla & Baccetti beyond Argentina, where ad spending fell a painful 50% in 2002 and is expected to be depressed for years. Luckily, the agency has a creative reputation that appeals to multinational marketers.

And Latin pop star Shakira is so fond of Mr. Agulla, himself a music fanatic who has sung jingles for commercials, that she insisted he handle a Reebok International commercial that she will appear in.

Coca-Cola Co. turned to Agulla & Baccetti for Sprite campaigns in Chile and Mexico, and Coke in China. Renault tapped the agency to create ads to launch the French carmaker's Megane model in Europe.

Messrs. Agulla, 39, and Baccetti, 38, started their agency in 1994. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe & Partners Worldwide now owns 40%, and just named Mr. Agulla to the new post of Latin American executive creative director, even though the network owns only a minority stake in his agency.

One of the most-awarded spots last year from Argentina was Agulla & Baccetti's "Yawn" for Telecom Argentina, showing the power of communication through a contagious yawn that passes from person to person.

While the agency's creative awards open doors to foreign assignments, they also create headaches for Mr. Agulla. Argentina's ongoing economic crisis and a 70% slump in the peso's value against the U.S. dollar have made his Buenos Aires shop "a factory for creating talent," he says. Agencies with deeper pockets lure away some of his best people with higher salaries for jobs in London, Chicago, Amsterdam and elsewhere.

"Everybody looks at this agency to hire away talent," he says.

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