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Top Latinx & Hispanic execs on overcoming hurdles in adland

The Drum celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with top Hispanic and Latinx agency execs

Hispanic and Latinx leaders at top agencies open up about combating biases in the industry, bringing young talent into the fold, connecting with Hispanic and Latinx audiences, the value of authenticity and more. This is part one of The Drum’s two-part series in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month.

On overcoming hurdles in the advertising industry and in the workplace

“First-gen Latinas are conditioned to be thankful to have a job, to work twice as hard to prove they belong there and to be humble about their successes. It’s a five-star recipe for being undervalued, overworked and underpaid. Everything changed for me the moment I realized no one was as invested in seeing me win as much as I am. Why would they be? No one else is going to ensure you get everything you deserve. Go out and get it.” – Vanessa Toro, vice-president and group director of creative strategy at Digitas

“I struggled for many years with my accent. When you move to a different country and the language is different, you don’t want to make mistakes, because you feel embarrassed. At some point, I embraced the fact that I would make mistakes, and I knew that I would be fine. That change of mindset opened me up to [the idea of] making mistakes [in general]. That was the moment that I really got better at dealing with the unpredictable. Embrace the fact that you’re going to make mistakes and become better.” – Carla Eboli, executive vice-president and diversity, equity and inclusion lead at Energy BBDO

“Know that not everyone can and will help you, and more importantly, understand you. I’m a white Hispanic who’s been doing multicultural media and marketing my entire professional life. There were many times where my insights and way of thinking did not resonate and fell on deaf ears. However, that doesn’t mean that you should stop asking for help and trying to find ways to create relevance. Also, some of the answers you are looking for are not in the places and people you expect.” – Jennifer Garcia, senior vice-president of multicultural data science and research lead at Publicis Media’s Cultural Quotient practice

“One of the biggest challenges I always encounter is breaking stereotypes that have been established for decades around the lifestyle of Hispanic people. I always start any presentation with fresh and factual data so we can immediately address and eliminate any type of bias that can misrepresent what’s being discussed.” – Sergio Barrientos, chief strategy officer at M8, a Dentsu company

“Coming up as a young student and professional through this industry, I was told ‘no’ repeatedly. No, you will fail college. No, you will not make it in advertising unless you do Hispanic advertising. No, you cannot get married and stay in advertising. No, you are too Latina. No, you are not Latina enough. For me, every ‘no’ was an opportunity to get to the root cause of bias and reinvent myself and bring others along with me. This is a learning I share with my mentees consistently: I got to where I am today because I turned every ‘no’ into a ‘why not?’ There’s power in that.” – Ana Ceppi, senior advisor, Hispanic at Edelman

"During the first half of my career in multicultural marketing, the biggest challenge I had was being seen as equal to those in the general market. I remember going to interviews, and the feedback I’d receive was that the work I did wasn’t as sophisticated or challenging or as hard as the work that I was expected to do at a general market shop. They hadn’t heard of the campaigns I had worked on, which therefore meant that work wasn’t any good. As a young professional, that stuff messes with your head. You begin to think you’re not good enough. But I quickly learned that my upbringing, my cultural background and my professional experience are a superpower. My insight and how I look at business challenges, is, frankly, more holistic than many of my counterparts. I can see how matters of race and ethnicity can influence the success of our clients’ business." -Giovanni Villamar, executive group account director at Droga5

On marketing to and supporting Hispanic and Latinx audiences

“You don’t need to wait for ‘statistical relevance’ to connect with Hispanic and Latinx audiences. An engaged, loyal audience is good in any size. Amplify the voices of Latinos and Hispanics as much as you can – you’ll be surprised at what can come from it. Create spaces on your table for people from all over. You’ll be able to see the spaces that we care about more clearly and find ways your brand can exist in them. But, if you do need statistical relevance, let me give you this little piece of data: gen Z is officially majority multicultural. That means that non-Hispanic whites are the minority. And it’s only going to get more mixed as we go. I’d start finding extra seats if I were you.” – Mingthoy Sanjur, senior strategic partner at VMLY&R

“Brands need to be consistent with Hispanic-Latinx marketing and support the consumer journey of this community from beginning to end. For example, offering a web page in Spanish is effective, but only if the landing page is in Spanish too. The same is true for phone orders and support – pressing #2 for Spanish is helpful only if there is a Spanish-speaking representative on the other end.” – Jaqueline Najera, senior manager of marketing performance at Deloitte Digital

“Burn the playbook. Stay away from stereotypes. Don’t fall too in love with that first idea that seems just perfect. Learn to dig. Know your consumer inside out. It’s hard work but so worth it.” – Javier Bonilla, executive creative director at Grey New York

“The best way to know that we’re reaching people in these groups is to have people inside our own walls. We need to make sure that we welcome people of color and people in underrepresented groups – and also make sure that they succeed in our own organization. You have to start inside. Then [you’re] in a better position to reach these groups that are so essential to the economy into the future. And then it’s easier when I’m working with partners to say, ‘Are they doing what I need them to do inside their own organizations?’ You want to work with companies where diversity, equity and inclusion is part of their business objectives, not a Band-Aid, not a thing you do after you do everything else.” – Nancy Reyes, chief executive officer at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York

“We are not a monolith – seek to understand our ethnic, racial and geographical diversity. We are a growing, diverse and dynamic community. Also, representation matters. We want to be seen, heard and respected by brands and media. [Brands should] celebrate Hispanic heritage and contributions to the US every day – not just during Hispanic Heritage Month. [More broadly,] multicultural consumers are not only growing in population size but also in economic power and influence. Brands with multicultural targeted efforts have long understood that these consumers fuel growth for their business. Those who engage with them reap the rewards, and those who do not risk leaving dollars on the table.” – Karina Dobarro, executive vice-president and managing partner, multicultural at Horizon Media

“Audiences now are much more in tune with authenticity and can see a phony from a mile away. You can thank social media and user-generated content for that. The statistics show that multicultural audiences, including Hispanic audiences, will become the majority in less than 20 years. Think about how you can create better strategies that are multiculturally-led and that factor in ... cultural relevance for the rest of the population. This way you are not only communicating to your growth targets but the rest of the population as well. Diversity of mind can help bring a diversity of outcomes, but only if put into practice.” – Jennifer Garcia, senior vice-president of multicultural data science and research lead at Publicis Media’s Cultural Quotient practice

“Marketers should continue to invest in researching the Hispanic and Latinx markets – we’re so different and so broad; we’re more than Spanish speakers. Our cultures and interests are way beyond limes on an ad and we don’t all grow up making and eating guacamole (no shade on guac). They should also invest in hiring Hispanic and Latinx individuals from different markets – Caribbean Latinxs are different from Spanish Hispanics, who are different from South American Latinxs – our cultures, our food, our music, what’s impacting us right now is all different. One of our most common denominators, language, even has a broad spectrum of dialects. Get people in the room who can tell you the difference!” – Angie Santiago, vice-president of people North America at Wunderman Thompson

Advice to young Hispanic and Latinx talent trying to break into the industry

“A few things. Ser quien eres: ‘be who you are.’ For me, that means things like using phrases in Spanish and introducing them to my colleagues and talking to my mother every day in Spanish – at every job I’ve ever had, every coworker and boss knew my mother’s name: Elvida. Also, don’t shy away from roles that embrace your strength. There is a fear of being pigeon-holed in a certain niche (such as Hispanic market, Latinx strategists), but don’t shy away from those opportunities that embrace your unique strengths – for me, it was a role that required a Spanish-speaking person. Think about what comes next and what you might learn in that role. Finally, habla con todo el vivo! Speak to everyone with a pulse. My mother taught me that everyone is the same really early on. Don’t be afraid to speak to people, because empathy, vulnerability and relatability [aren’t restricted to] a race, gender, age or career stage. Your story is valuable and it can have an impact.” – Angie Santiago, vice-president of people North America at Wunderman Thompson

“Don’t spend your time seeking mentorship, despite the prevalence of that advice. Mentors are plentiful. What you really need is sponsorship and championing. One genuine champion speaking your name in a room you don’t inhabit can change your entire career.” – Vanessa Toro, vice-president and group director of creative strategy at Digitas

“Understand that the cultures you carry on your back are not a burden, but a cape. Life has given us the gift of understanding different points of view basically since the get-go. There’s nothing more valuable in this industry than learning how to grab something and transform it into something that can be understood, into something that can move people. [Latin America is] the birthplace of magical realism. If that’s not what it takes to make good advertising, I don’t know what does.” – Mingthoy Sanjur, senior strategic partner at VMLY&R

“Once you are in [the door], staying in can be just as hard. My advice is be humble and pay attention very closely to your surroundings and conversations, even if they are not directed to you. Then utilize and put into practice what will make you function at your best. Being humble doesn’t mean being less confident, but quite the opposite. Being humble allows you to listen to and respect others, while at the same time you are giving yourself more insight to make sound decisions.” – Jennifer Garcia, senior vice-president of multicultural data science and research lead at Publicis Media’s Cultural Quotient practice

Next week, The Drum speaks with Hispanic and Latinx agency talent about what it takes to be a great marketer, what defines career success and the value of staying true to oneself. For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here.

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