A Facebook post caught my attention this morning. Someone I once worked with many moons ago lost his father. “RIP Dad, thank you for making our lives unforgettable,” he wrote. And then it sunk in. This person’s dad was also my first boss in US Hispanic marketing over thirty years ago. This person’s dad was one of the early pioneers of US Latino marketing in this country and, among many colorful and memorable individuals, I will venture to say he was at the top of the list. This person’s dad was Pedro Font or Mr. Font to those who worked for him.
If you were part of the US Hispanic marketing community in the eighties and into the early nineties, you know of whom I speak. For others, Pedro Font was the founder of Font & Vaamonde, one of a handful of original US Hispanic marketing firms. In 1980, I was the agency’s first employee. Headquartered in New York, Font & Vaamonde rose to a leadership position, opening satellite offices in Los Angeles, Miami, and San Antonio. It was soon known as FoVa and ultimately became WingLatino. In 1987, it was partially owned by Grey Advertising before being bought out in full. From the time it opened its doors at 183 Madison Avenue, the agency was recognized as one of the industry’s most innovative and intriguing.
As I always understood it, Mr. Font had come to the US via Cuba with stops in Peru and Brazil, before opening an ad agency in Hawaii at the recommendation of the iconic automotive executive Lee Iacocca. I can personally vouch for the Hawaii part as I got to work on some of those accounts. To know Pedro Font was to never quite know what was fact or fiction or something created to live in between — so I’m not going to worry too much about the details. This is more of a tribute than an obit or bio – more of a story about a man who could be hard to understand but who made the important things perfectly clear. For those of us who worked with him, It could all feel a little surreal (which may have been sleep deprivation), but his relentless hard work, his creative instincts, and his love for advertising and sales drove him to cast a magic spell over an enviable client roster that started with brands like Mennen, Key Food Co-Op Stores, Marcal paper products, Faberge and grew to include multiple P&G brands, with an AOR media buying role across all brands, and General Foods (now Kraft), among many many others.
“Making our lives unforgettable” captures the very essence of the impact this pioneering force of nature had on us all – whether you knew him or not. It applies to an entire community of professionals at every stage of their careers – agency staff and agency vendors from aligned communities like media, research, production, talent and the list goes on. It also includes clients and industry colleagues. Yes, there are unforgettable stories and I’m the first to delight in doing an impression or two, acting out the ways in which Mr. Font mesmerized clients with his foot-long cigars, his beyond Spanglish speech patterns, and his penchant for lavish Christmas parties at The Pierre Hotel. But today’s not about imitations, because he truly was one of a kind. He broke down barriers, expanded budgets, valued the role of the sales force, knew that one-size-does-not-fit-all, rolled up his sleeves at street level, and commanded respect of CEO’s as he insisted that Hispanic marketing not be delegated to junior or even middle-management but be taken seriously by and receive commitments from those C-suite execs at the very top.
After he left the agency, Font went on to become President and CEO of Televisa’s novela division Protele before opening his own global media distribution company. I saw him a few times in the past few years. Once at the Smithsonian Museum at an event celebrating the inclusion of Hispanic advertising history to permanent exhibits. And most recently at an Association of Hispanic Ad Agencies (AHAA) event where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I was honored to introduce him. Just as I will always be appreciative of his introducing me to a world of inspiring colleagues and a community so vibrant it remains unacceptable that it gets such short shrift from Corporate America and from America at large. Perhaps that’s a subject for another day or perhaps it’s exactly right for today. Pedro Font leaves a legacy of getting influential executives to pay attention to the ways in which the Latino community can and do contribute to their bottom line – a legacy of investment – a legacy of making this industry’s culturally specialized work a priority. His playbook wasn’t traditional but he made an impact. Remembering him means being relentless, rebellious, and ready to get to yes.
Courtesy of Rochelle Newman-Carrasco