Multicultural Agencies Quietly Weather the Storm

At a time when most West Coast shops are tightening their belts, a number of agencies that target ethnic groups are quietly picking up steam.

Fueled by bil lings from clients eager to market to African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans, these small shops have largely been immune to layoffs. And many say they have seen steady growth.

Crossover Creative Group in Richmond, Calif., for example, has kept the staff level at 10 and seen billings grow from $6 million in 2000 to $15 million this year, executives there said. Managers at Carol H. Williams Advertising in Oakland, Calif., said they now employ 60 people, up 10 from last year, as billings have grown modestly, to $70 million.

Crossover president Steve Cli mons said clients are simply realizing the need to branch out. “The dot-coms were a reality check,” said Climons, who recently finished some Hispanic radio spots for McDonald’s. “They were targeting a small part of the population, and the ads didn’t resonate with African Americans, Hispanics and Asians.”

“The growth in population is happening in multicultural areas,” said Marvin Winkfield, director of client services at Carol H. Williams, which has done work for Procter & Gamble and Frito-Lay. “If you don’t grow in those marketplaces, your shares are going to decline.”

Hispanic shop cruz/kravetz: Ideas in L.A. did cut four staffers in May (it now employs 16), but has added clients such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade, said agency president Maite Quilez D’Amico. The Mike’s business grew from a $1 million promotions account to a $3 million ad and branding account following research by the agency showing Mike’s was neg lecting a potentially valuable market.

“Companies that have been doing this for a long time have proven it does pay off,” D’Amico said.

Adds Jo Muse, chairman of Muse Cordero Chen, Los Angeles: “Many firms are just beginning to see that multicultural ad campaigns are working at a relatively low investment.”