Catarino Lopez

Lopez, the son of Mexican immigrants who grew up in San Antonio, landed a job in the mailroom of a local ad agency as a college student. Thirteen years later that shop, Bromley Communications, is one of the largest Hispanic agencies in the U.S., and Lopez, 35, is its chief creative officer. After Publicis merged Bromley with Publicis Sanchez & Levitan in February, the agency grew to an estimated $260 million in billings, adding outposts in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Dallas. Lopez, the father of two, is an avid hunter and fisherman in his spare time. What inspired you to get into advertising?

For some reason, growing up, I always thought I was going to be a dentist. One semester of biology [at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio] proved I was never going to be a dentist. The only thing I was good at were writing classes. I was working at St. Mary’s in the mailroom, making $2 an hour. There was an advertisement to work in the mailroom at an ad agency, making $5 an hour. Once I was there [at Sosa and Associates, a precursor to Bromley], I was very intrigued. I realized, I like to write, this is something I can do and have fun. That’s how I fell into the business.

What was your first ad?

Motel 6—it was a radio spot in Spanish. I was not yet a creative. Every day after I checked out at 5:30, I’d go to the creatives and ask them for work. And I created some scripts for Motel 6. Out of the three that were produced, two of them were actually mine.

Who had the greatest influence on your career?

Mostly my father. My father’s a blue-collar guy, he’s in the air-conditioning business, and he’s probably the hardest-working man I know. As stressed out as I get or as bad as things ever get around here, I have to remember how hard he worked, and it makes my day a lot easier. Another person was, when I was an intern, a guy named Jesus Ramirez. He had a very humble background from south Texas. He was a creative all-star in his own right. I saw a guy who was very similar to me in terms of upbringing, and he gave me that ray of hope—I can succeed in this world because he was doing it.

What creative challenges do you face that are unique to the Hispanic market?

This is our cross to bear: the age-old question, “What’s Hispanic about that?” If you’re creating advertising in Mexico or in your own country, nobody asks you that. All the ideas, to a certain degree, have to have a certain insight to them. At Bromley, we pride ourselves on mining those insights, but as a whole, sometimes it can be very limiting.

What creative changes have you seen in the business over the years?

A lot of new players started coming in, creating competition not only for clients but also for talent. Then you started seeing the huge influx of talent from South America. Due to that competition and the growth of the market, the creative has gotten better every year. Before, I would look at things that used to win awards within Hispanic advertising, and it if it had good production value, it would do well. Now, that’s just the price of entry.

What work are you the most proud of?

This batch of Coors work we’re doing. In the [latest] spot, it’s a bunch of guys using the word guey [“dude” in Spanish] to express themselves. By saying that, they’re saying a million things, from “Chicks at 3 o’clock” to “Thanks for the beer.” It’s our second round of creative. We did an outdoor campaign that was gutsy on the part of Coors. We took Spanish slang terms and translated them literally. We put the English up for a couple of weeks, and two weeks later we’d put the Spanish snipe on it. I’m starting to hear [Spanish-radio] DJs talking like this. We’ve almost created a language for Coors Light. It was a really hard sell. But it’s taken off.

What’s the most overrated campaign that’s out now?

That Quizno’s stuff. Seeing those rats and those teeth, it’s very unappetizing to me. I stopped eating there.

What’s the most disappointing creative trend you’ve seen lately?

Doing a lot of production in South America. It’s disappointing in the sense that we’re missing an opportunity to create our own reality and our own look, tone and feel from a U.S. Hispanic point of view.

How do you get past a creative block?

I start cleaning out my office.

What’s the dumbest business decision you ever made?

You get to a point in your career where you almost get on autopilot, and I didn’t prepare for a new-business pitch, thinking I could wing it. I’ve always had a very rigorous preparation process. It was a good reminder.

What advice would you give someone just starting out?

Don’t get into advertising if you don’t have a passion for it. Every once in a while, you come across a kid, his book might not show a lot of talent, but he has this gleam in his eye that advertising turns him on. Make sure you want to do this, because if not, you’ll be the most miserable person on the planet. Almost 90 percent of the people who come through my door looking to get into the business are getting into it for the wrong reasons.

Do you ever think about joining a general-market agency?

Facing some of the challenges we do in the Hispanic market, and growing up speaking English, it’s always been something that interested me. But I can’t turn my back on the market or Bromley—it’s part of who I am.