A few years ago while attending a Hispanic marketing conference, I stated during a Q&A session that a brand manager or director should never relinquish his or her stewardship of the brand to the brand's Hispanic media agency. Later that day at the same conference, a prominent Hispanic media executive (from a well-known Hispanic agency that has recently seen some hard times) responded by saying that "that brand manager should look for a new Hispanic agency."
Now, a little bit of context. Back then I was on the client side, working as a Senior Brand Manager. Today, I work at an agency. My role has changed but not my opinion.
My comment was in response to a media panel discussion on the challenges faced by English-language, Hispanic content media (think NY Post Tempo, mun2, MTV3, Tu Ciudad, etc.). The conference was organized by the New Generation Latino Consortium so you knew the power of Spanish-language media was going to generate plenty of debate. The panelists who represented non-Spanish language media were expressing their frustrations and my point was to put the focus back on clients and brands and away from Hispanic media agencies. I believe now as I did then that, when it comes to Hispanic media planning, many brands (and their companies) have relinquished their responsibility for brand strategy to their Hispanic media buyers, to a greater degree than what you have seen on the general market side.
So, is this really the fault of Hispanic agencies? No, I think Hispanic media planners and buyers over time just reacted to the multicultural marketing leadership void found at many corporations, and simply became Spanish-language media buyers. They provided minimal strategic thinking. It's not surprising to see so much consolidation of media buying (and sometimes planning) between multicultural and General Market because the discipline has been commoditized--the media discipline has been reduced to simple number crunching, and hell, anyone can do it. But where are the forward-thinkers on media? Where are those who anticipate trends instead of dwelling on and using flawed data of PAST media consumption? It was actually quite gratifying to read a few weeks ago about a media firm looking to develop a media "buzz" quotient to supplement the standard fare of Nielsen, etc. The thought there is not to dwell on the number of eyeballs but to also factor in the IMPACT and resonance of these captured eyeballs.
To be sure, the commoditization of media planning & buying has been driven largely by clients, and by their short-sightedness and zeal for margins, and Hispanic media agencies and divisions have simply responded in kind. But these agencies may have given up more than just a role in the strategic process. Hispanic media planners may be missing out on a great opportunity to identify for their clients the true "media connection moments" for their Hispanic consumer prospects, regardless of language. We all know that in many great urban centers, there is a growing blur between "general market" and multicultural media landscapes, but again, who's providing the right insights, and the leadership?
When I had the privilege of managing the Johnnie Walker brand, I sought out NY Post Tempo before the first issue ever published. I knew that since at the end of the day I was responsible for the brand's growth strategy, we needed to leverage the brand's essence in the right environments. I could seek and obtain direction from our Hispanic agency partner and media planners, but I could not relinquish my strategic responsibility. A typical agency has plenty of ammunition in terms of past consumption data (i.e. Nielsen, MRI, Arbitron, Simmons), but strategy stems from a solid understanding of your brand, of your consumer, and frankly, from doing what you get paid to do. Today's brand managers of growth brands have never adhered to the philosophy of that Hispanic media exec who questioned me a few years ago--they actually take their job seriously.
It's been about two years since I worked on Johnnie Walker but it's nice to see the brand still buys NY Post Tempo. As brand managers, we get paid to grow brand awareness and sales. Tempo appears to be delivering. There is an important role for Spanish-language media in the strategic development of many brands, but we've learned that the media landscape has grown in complexity. Future growth usually comes from anticipating trends, not from studying stale data. There are important roles for the Hispanic media planner and the Hispanic brand manager in the development of brands, but a clear delineation of responsibilties is a good first step.