When you're first starting out, says Sandra Alfaro, VP-director of account management at the Vidal Partnership, there's a perception that Hispanic ad agencies are the minor league and general-market agencies are the majors.
"That's not the reality," says Ms. Alfaro, 32, who did a stint at JWT earlier in her career before joining the independent New York-based Latino agency that's emerged as a creative and new-business powerhouse. "General-market account people are so siloed. They don't get the full exposure of seeing something through from start to execution. I quickly realized it was the Hispanic market I was passionate about."
Especially at Vidal, where Ms. Alfaro was a key player in last year's $115 million new-business binge-including Nissan North America, Home Depot and Sprint Corp.-and now must manage all these new accounts and more. New business pushed the agency's revenue up by 46% in 2004 to a total of $13 million, and it should rise sharply again this year as the new accounts have a full-year impact.
"In account management, we're the conductor," says Ms. Alfaro, the only woman on the agency's seven-person management team. "[We determine] who plays when and how loud, getting the best and most of everyone at the appropriate time."
Heading a fast-growing account management team of 40 people and working with other departments, Ms. Alfaro calmly coordinates a lot of excitable individuals at this passionate, savvy agency.
"We have very open, candid, strong personalities with a lot of conviction," she says diplomatically. "We like to be ourselves."
Ms. Alfaro herself is the first in her family of Peruvian immigrants to be born in the U.S. Since her father was the oldest of eight, there were always cousins, aunts and grandparents living in the Spanish-speaking household she grew up in, as family members kept arriving in the U.S., she says. Besides living the Hispanic market herself, Ms. Alfaro honed her skills with an MBA she completed in 2002 while working full time at Vidal.
"She's added invaluable insight to our Hispanic marketing efforts over the past two years," says Susan Wayne, exec VP-marketing at Old Navy, a Vidal client. "Sandra understands the personality of the brand and how to build a strategy that connects to our Hispanic customers."
Ms. Alfaro says too many agencies are about client service, not account management, and give clients what they ask for without challenging them.
"It's not about being a Spanish speaker or not speaking Spanish; it's about passion for the market," she says. "We're educating clients to feel comfortable taking a risk."