When do you say ¿Hasta Cuando?

To paraphrase a line from a great movie, build it and they will come. Well, we did build it. More than 20 years ago we worked hard to build up the metrics, the insights, and the knowledge to make the Hispanic marketplace into a viable entity. We just didn’t depend on the “numbers” — the size of the population and how it was projected to grow. No, we put time, effort and know-how behind it. We parsed out the demographics and put it in terms that marketers understood and valued.

And they came. Some came to the table quickly, others trickled in, but they came. They came to hear what we had to say because we were the experts. We gave them our insights, our creative thinking, the metrics they needed to show ROI. They said thank you very much, we will work with you, Hispanic agencies because you are the experts, you live and breathe this demographic and we trust you. You think beyond the usual mix, factor in all the variables and know how to communicate effectively with this market. We will work with you, but we don’t have a lot of money to put behind the effort.

Our response: give us what you have and we will grow your business. And they did and we did. The budgets increased, and more companies came into the marketplace. This did not go unnoticed, especially by the general market agencies. They sat up and said: how can we get a piece of this pie. So the general market agencies started buying up the independent, Hispanic owned agencies or started Hispanic shops of their own. And then they went to corporate America and said “here we are — you know us because we work on other of your businesses, we’re trusted partners and you can trust us to perform just as well or better on your Hispanic side of the business.”

Over the past decade some advertising decision makers have slowly but surely been making the move to consolidate all of their individual media buys, whether total U.S. or global within one, usually general market, firm in the name of efficiencies. The resulting effect has been the exponential growth of large, general market media buying firms and the slow, painful decline of Hispanic advertising agencies’ clout. As continued consolidation seems almost inevitable I have to ask: what’s next? So far, the Hispanic advertising agency response: silencio. In the past year, we having been experiencing a trend — loosing business in a marketplace that we made viable.

One would perceive that some advertisers are inclined towards the belief that general market firms are at the vanguard of innovation and the rapid pace of new technology. Is the perception that Hispanic full-service shops are dinosaurs, incapable of keeping the pace with innovation and the ability to truly engage consumers? The fact is entirely different — we have the expertise, the superior insights and the knowledge that should propel us to the front of any strategic thinking that needs to be done in this marketplace–better said — we are the market. But still we’d rather not stir the waters, not wanting to loose the business we do have by standing up and shouting: our expertise and knowledge continues to evolve as does this market; we live and breathe it every day; who can do the job better in engaging this audience than we can with our unique insights across disciplines? Some blame the trend on the consolidation of media outlets, and therefore oversimplify our market — the rationale is that now any media planner can buy those outlets. But can they really compete or get the bang for the buck that Hispanic media planners and buyers do? Hispanic shops build relationships that throughout the years they have passed along to their clients; and they have the know-how of the right mix of media to reach all the segments of the Hispanic population. Something that has been “lost in translation” with these media purchasing conglomerates. But media is but one example of this trend. Other areas impacted are public relations, direct and other disciplines by the creation of internal Hispanic departments within larger general market firms handling these duties.

So my challenge to you is when do we stand up and say: Ya Basta! A defender lo nuestro. Hopefully, we will not have to wait until more and more of the business trickles away before we as a collective start making some noise. We need to once again reclaim the forum to showcase our experience and our know-how. “Es tiempo de ponerse las pilas” to reclaim our rightful place and grow our businesses on par with the size and scope of the Hispanic market? I don’t have all the answers but I do know that we need to act now to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs — extinct but remembered briefly as the giants who once ruled this earth. That is not the legacy we should leave, and together we have the time and the talent to reverse this trend and write our own bright ending.

Carmen A. Sepúlveda is president and CEO of Act-é Marketing Solutions, Inc., a full-service, Hispanic- and women-owned marketing communications agency based in New York.


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