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Minority Shops Gaining Edge

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Despite the sluggish economy, many of New England's minority-owned agencies have begun to come into their own, breaking widely seen campaigns and challenging established shops for mainstream accounts.

"Corporate clients in Boston are starting to realize there is a multicultural market out there," said Zamawa Arenas, account services director and principal of Argus Communications. "It's an important market and a lucrative market" that minority agencies can help advertisers reach, she said.

Argus and Geovision, both in Boston, and Causemedia, Watertown, Mass., are among the local minority-owned agencies that have enjoyed recent success.

Argus, trading on its multicultural expertise and track record with healthcare clients, recently added the estimated $1 million ad business of Boston-based HMO Neighborhood Health Plan. The client had long used Wallwork & Curry, Boston, an established mid-sized shop. It switched to Argus several weeks ago following a review. Argus was hired based largely on its desire to better communicate with an increasingly diverse, frequently multilingual urban client base, company officials said.

Both Geovision and Causemedia have re-cently launched high-profile TV efforts for the Massachusetts Office of Public Health Tobacco Control Program. Geovision's spots feature Puerto Rican actor Renaldo Martinez, who developed smoking-related throat cancer at age 39. In a series of ads, he explains how his permanent tracheotomy rendered him unable to swim, play baseball, or even conduct simple activities such as bathing without difficulty.

Causemedia in April unveiled a spot encouraging minority women to stop or avoid smoking. TV spots feature JoAnn Hawkesworth, an African American woman who recently quit smoking after 30 years.

Catering to a specific niche, however, can often be a challenge, said Juan Mandelbaum, founder of Geovision. "In the Latino market, there are a number of issues you have to deal with," he said.

For example, not all Latino teens watch or read Spanish-language media, he said. On the flip side, there are few media designed to reach Portuguese speakers, especially those from Brazil or Cape Verde, where language and culture is very different from continental Portugal, even though they may watch Portuguese media, he said.

Arenas agreed, citing a recent campaign her shop created for Casa Myrna Vasquez, a multicultural organization that hired Argus to promote its domestic violence hotline. Because the word "hotline" has no direct translation in either Spanish or Portuguese, the shop came up with the name "Domestic Violence Safelink."