Hispanic Agency of the Year

Austin, Texas-based LatinWorks has cause to celebrate, with multiple account wins, buzzworthy creative and awards at Cannes

“We started with what everyone had—the Census results—and then made an unprecedented investment to go deeper into that data for richer insights,” Filli says. “The Census numbers only tell part of the story.”

Agency CCO Alcocer concurs: “The U.S. Hispanic marketplace requires that our agency have a very definite point of view. There’s nowhere else in the world, no benchmark like the U.S. in terms of relevant thought leadership. Seventy-five percent of third graders in Texas are Hispanic. What will things be like in 10 years?”

Those insights were a major draw for Javier Farfan, senior director of cultural branding at PepsiCo. Last year, Farfan led a Hispanic agency review that led to LatinWorks’ hire on brands including Sierra Mist, SoBe, Aquafina and the soda Manzanita Sol.

“LatinWorks had the most forward-thinking approach to the Hispanic marketplace, and they had very good strategic thinking about branding and creating [consumer] archetypes,” Farfan says.

The agency just introduced its first work for Manzanita Sol, a black-and-white TV spot picturing two men in a café arguing the merits of boxers versus briefs. Another young man—shot in color—walks in with a bottle of the soda, at first appearing to be nude. Only after the other men shift their menus does it become clear the third guy prefers neither boxers nor briefs but sumo garb. The tagline: “Not everything is black or white.”

Last year, LatinWorks also hired Todd Widell, a veteran of general market agencies such as TBWAChiatDay, Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Team One, to head its new creative initiatives unit. The group is not tied to a particular client budget, thus allowing the agency to explore ideas beyond a marketer’s scope of work, which can often skew toward more traditional media.

One of the group’s first efforts was for client Livestrong Foundation, promoting a 100-kilometer fundraising bike ride in Marfa, Texas, that benefits Livestrong and Marfa Public Radio. The campaign featured posters personalized by 100 cancer survivors, Livestrong employees and volunteers who also rode stationary bikes for one kilometer in support of the event.

LatinWorks’ creative initiatives group “gives us the opportunity to come up with ideas that are more than what we are typically asked to do,” Widell says. “We can explore digital, social, tactical, experiential, guerrilla. It’s changing the way others perceive us and the way our people think about the way we approach our work.”

That way of thinking has expanded the agency’s client relationships beyond just creative partners.

“With clients like Marshalls and Domino’s, we handle everything from the communications strategy to creative to experiential to media planning and buying,” says Christy Kranik, managing director at LatinWorks.

Last year, for example, Lowe’s asked the agency to improve Hispanic customers’ experience with the retailer. The agency became involved with everything from the recruitment of employees to in-store interaction with shoppers regarding issues such as how they are offered assistance and how to deal with language differences.

That deep involvement in client business hints at the backgrounds of senior management at the agency. LatinWorks was founded by chief executive Flores, former vp, marketing development at Anheuser-Busch, and CMO Alejandro Ruelas, former head of ethnic marketing at the brewing company. Before joining LatinWorks, Kranik worked in marketing at Dell, where she was responsible for consumer and global brand strategies. Filli is a former marketing communications director at Reebok.

Ruelas says that while at A-B, he felt that many of the agencies he worked with weren’t meeting the brewer’s needs. As a result, he ended up doing a lot of the work on strategy and creative idea generation himself. He decided to leave the client side to set up LatinWorks with Flores and, later, Alcocer.

Ruelas says that more than ever, agencies working in the Hispanic marketplace cannot afford to be complacent.

“Today, Hispanic clients are becoming more sophisticated and savvy, and they can express their expectations better than ever,” he says. “They are much more demanding. One of the reasons you see agencies in our space becoming smaller and disappearing, in some cases, is because general market agencies are becoming smarter about the Hispanic marketplace.”

Alcocer, who earlier worked at Leo Burnett and Y&R, says while he has no interest in becoming a general market shop, he believes the future of LatinWorks depends upon its being as good as the bigger agencies.

“We’re not trying to validate our existence by showing the Hispanic consumer is different,” he says. “Judge us by how good an ad agency we are first and foremost. We want to be known as a great agency that has a very keen expertise in Hispanic consumers and be judged by the standards of any agency. We want to be known for world-class creative and world-class expertise in a market segment that is booming.

“The objective,” he adds, “is to bring multicultural sensitivities to Main Street.” 

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