Looking for Hispanic Talent in All the Wrong Places

How Mainstream Agencies Can Do a Disservice to the Client, the Employee and Hispanic Shops

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Alberto Ferrer Alberto J. Ferrer
This is the story of María González and her meteoric rise to power in Hispanic marketing. Born in the U.S., María is the daughter of Latino parents (making her what we call a second-generation Hispanic). She was a good kid growing up, made good grades in high school, and graduated from college three years ago or so.

Although her Spanish wasn't perfect, María was always interested in working in the Hispanic Market, and so when she graduated with a degree in marketing, she applied for a job at a respected midsize Hispanic agency. Although she had a marketing internship under her belt, María's résumé consisted mostly of typical college part-time jobs.

María started working at an entry-level job in account management. She was a good employee -- neither a star nor a problem -- and in a couple of years she progressed to a junior-level position. She had good relationships with her clients, she was effective in getting her work done, and life was good for all.

As all this was happening in María's life, a large general-market agency was noticing that the client budgets that one were assigned to them in full were being divided between them and several multicultural agencies. As the management at this agency monitored the situation, they saw how multicultural budgets grew while theirs remained flat or shrunk.

A couple of years later, the folks at this mainstream agency decided they needed to get into multicultural marketing and chose to start with Hispanic. They scoured their agency phone list for Latino-sounding names and tried to cobble together something resembling a Hispanic team. They started including Hispanic in their pitches to existing and potential clients as they tried to position themselves as all-encompassing.

Some clients bought it, the more enlightened ones didn't. And as time passed, these general-market practitioners realized that they couldn't pull it off with their rag-tag team of pseudo-Hispanics. They realized they needed more credibility and more relevance. They realized they needed to hire.

This is where this large mainstream agency met María González and made her a bad offer she couldn't refuse: a big, shiny new job with a long title and lots of cred. She got more money than she was worth and a bigger title than she could pull off. This, therefore, is where María left the Hispanic agency that had taught her everything she knew about Hispanic marketing communications (about marketing communications in general).

María started working at her new job and was paraded in front of clients big and small as the new Hispanic marketing guru that the agency had acquired. "Here," they exclaimed with glee, "meet our new head of Hispanic, who brings the expertise in the market that you need for your brands. Now there is no need to have a separate Hispanic agency."

More clients than before bought it, and so the general-market agency managers felt proud about what they had done. The clients felt good about having everything under one roof and about the savings in agency fees they were enjoying. But not everything was right.

The Hispanic market work for these clients became less relevant, less impactful and less effective. It became more mainstream, more vanilla and more forgettable. As it connected with the consumer less and less, the brands suffered and business declined.

Clients: It's not a great idea to entrust your brands' connection to the Hispanic consumer to an agency to which Hispanic marketing is a hobby and who put "in charge of Hispanic" someone whose experience in the market can be called minimal at best. Look into it. Check who is really working on your business. Consider the source, I was told once. Good advice indeed.
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