March 17, 2008

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.

Comments

Hi Manny, great write up......I'm on the same page and makes total sense to me.....:) Hope all is well, Lupe

I have worked on both the agency and media sides, and I find the matter more complicated. In the Hispanic advertising industry you find tier 1 media and agencies working in unison to increase billings, education and awareness on the market. Whether the education the Brand Managers receive is accurate or self-serving to a mostly Spanish advertising industry is another issue. But what is true is that the Brand Managers all too often leave, forcing the education dance to start all over again. With this sort of history repeating itself across the nation you may see why the agencies wrest control away from the Brand Managers. Additionally, a Brand Manager's lifespan on a product is limited, they will gladly delegate certain areas to the "experts" and focus on what they know and can understand. The result is the perception that Mun2, MTV3, Tu Ciudad, and other English language Hispanic media are not necessary nor as important. Perceptions that are obviously wrong headed.

Rest assured if the agencies have control of the brand it should be because the brand manager is giving it to them for some reasons already stated. However, hopefully with a short leash and good reporting mechanisms in place. The ultimate Brand responsibility always lies with the brand manager as they are managing the entire marketing mix: distribution, packaging, pricing and promotions. the P&L responsibility. As a former marketing exectutive at a Fortune 50 company, I would want my agency to act as they were one part of a larger Brand plan and act /plan accordingly. i would venture to say that an agency would have a lot of blind spots if they lull themselves into thinking that they have the control of the brand. If they want to do best for their clients, they would proactively engage the brand manager on a regular basis.

Your position is very forward thinking, actually, it's right very "now" and has been for a while. It comes from someone who knows and undertands the market. Glad you are in la mezcla. All the best, Charles

A little off-topic, but a response to the mention of English-language media...One challenge that we face when considering English language media for our clients (and my agency does consider it, by the way), is the cost of waste, and perceived crossover from the general market... Unfortunately, many of our clients have had the opinion that their "General Market" schedules reach the English-speaking Hispanic perfectly well, and that Hispanic agencies should focus on Spanish. As a result, when we propose outlets like Mun2, SiTV, Open Your Eyes, LATV, etc, we're not always approved.

Hi, Manny - I was at this same conference and your comments then were a breathe of fresh air (especially for me "en la lucha" trying to get the word out on TEMPO). I remember this panel discussion very well, because it got ‘heated’ and it was the first time that a shift in the way we approach the Hispanic consumer segment was openly discussed in front of all the hot-shots of major Hispanic agencies. Your comments made me think that I had to perhaps change MY approach altogether and focus solely on talking to clients and Brand Managers directly. I also thought “Geez, Manny has some major cojones!” Up until that moment I had been reaching out mainly to Hispanic agencies, first, when pitching TEMPO, out of courtesy to my peers…you know, the “respeto” thing. Soon I realized that there was no “respeto” for what I had to say at that moment because it wasn’t in line with the Spanish-only approach most Hispanic agencies had at the time. It’s nice to see them all slowly evolve from a safe distance. I’m amused by all the conference invites I get that look to discuss alternate mediums, how to target the young English-dominant Latino, online marketing, etc. I haven’t attended any conferences since…too many infomercials (you wrote a blog recently about this as well). Anyway, fast-forward 3 years and here we are, alive and well. I thank you again for sharing and respecting the vision we had with TEMPO, and especially for acknowledging from the get-go our place in Hispanic print, our value to the marketplace. We are in our 5th year, and Johnnie Walker is indeed still part of the fam, and many others have transcended the realm of Spanish-only, deciding to focus on targeting their optimal Hispanic audiences regardless of language. A smart strategy…you were (are) ahead of the game, man! Cuidate!

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