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Why Miami is the US’s new hotbed of marketing creativity and innovation

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By Kendra Clark | Senior Reporter

February 10, 2022 | 8 min read

Magic City is booming. No longer is Miami simply the capital of beachfront nightclubs and cocaine cowboys — it’s a hub of creativity and technology that’s rendering the city a formidable challenger to adland heavyweights like New York, London and Tokyo.

It’s no mystery why advertising has, since the 1920s, been colloquially associated with Madison Avenue – the adland of yesteryear was densely concentrated in New York. If not New York, ad industry folks coalesced in the bustling metropolises of Chicago, London, Tokyo, Paris or Los Angeles.

Miami Art Basel art show display

Art Basel Miami sees A-listers and creatives from around the globe descend on Miami Beach each December

Today, however, the picture is different. Cities like San Francisco and Atlanta have seen their marketing sectors blossom in recent years, witnessing an influx of creative activity and attracting investment from major agencies around the world.

Perhaps no city has seen such a boom in creative output in the past few years as Miami. The city’s creative industries are witnessing a heyday, the crown jewel of which is the über-hyped, for-profit art fair Art Basel, which every December attracts swaths of big brands, A-listers and global creatives. The Financial Times earlier this month dubbed Miami “the most important city in America,” calling it a “paradise of freedom”.

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Adland’s next frontier

Outside of a few pioneers who put Miami on the map for advertising – chief among them being MDC Partners-owned Crispin Porter + Bogusky, which opened its doors in Miami in the late 80s (but has since shuttered its Miami headquarters) – the city for many years lacked a major advertising presence. Today, a burgeoning scene is cementing Miami’s position as a global center for advertising and marketing.

The most widely lauded player is David Miami. The WPP-owned agency, named for ad magnate David Ogilvy, counts Budweiser, Heinz and Burger King among its clients. David Miami was crowned Agency of the Year at the 2020 D&AD Awards, while the company’s global chief creative officer Pancho Cassis was ranked as the third-most awarded chief creative officer of 2021 in The Drum’s recently released World Creative Rankings. Its 2021 ‘Moldy Whopper’ campaign for Burger King snagged major awards from the World Advertising Research Center, the Clio Awards and the D&AD Awards.

Rafael Donato, who last year came from the agency’s São Paulo office to take his post as chief creative officer at David Miami, says Miami offers something its colder counterpart on the Eastern seaboard can’t. “Miami is unique because it’s exactly where the two Americas meet. It’s a thriving Latin American city like Bogota or São Paulo, but with all the perks of being part of America.

“For creatives, it’s a playground full of people trying to make it and is where all this creative energy finds a stage. And if the pandemic taught us anything, it is that it’s better to be stuck at a beach or in a house with a yard than to be stuck inside a building. So take that, New York and London.”

And as for the reasons behind the agency’s success, Donato says David has created a feeling of intimacy – in the client-agency relationship, across departments and even between agency offices. He says this sense of close collaboration – plus “a special serum extracted from Latin DNA, bull testicles and rosé that is proven to increase creativity tenfold” – invariably leads to excellent work.

Becoming a part of The Community

It’s not just David Miami that’s shaking things up in Magic City. Another heavy hitter is found in The Community, a fast-growing agency with a focus on multicultural marketing. Its clients include Porsche, TikTok, Samsung, Mondelez and Volkswagen. Its founder, the Argentinian brothers José and Joaquín Mollá (former creative directors for Wieden+Kennedy and Ratto/BBDO, respectively), found themselves in Miami due to their shared love of the ocean. In 2001, the company opened offices in Miami and Buenos Aires simultaneously; it has since set up shop in London, New York and San Francisco.

Marci Miller, president of The Community US, tells The Drum that Miami offers marketers and creatives a unique and nourishing environment. “It is inherently a cultural melting pot and with that mix of cultures comes an array of creativity – the arts, music and entertainment. That’s all part of the creative spirit that helps feed into the souls of creative thinkers. And it doesn’t hurt that the weather is beautiful year-round.”

The Community has made it a point to get involved in, well, the local community. The agency has offered employees tickets and time off to “get inspired” at Art Basel, says Miller, and it has hosted art shows of its own in partnership with local artists including its own chief creative officer, Joaquin Molla, and executive creative director Ricky Vior. The company has also donated to and worked with local non-profits including food pantry the Village Free(dge), The Little Haiti Community Center and women and children’s shelter Lotus House.

Like The Community’s Mollá brothers, Jonathan Bell, founder and chief executive officer at brand consultancy Want Branding, moved to Miami from New York seeking “a different quality of life” – and “fantastic weather”. He opened up shop in the city’s chic Coconut Grove neighborhood.

In the decade-plus since, Bell says he’s seen the city transform. “Miami has changed dramatically; I can tell you that without a shadow of a doubt. There are lots of restaurants, lots of cool stuff going on in the art scene here. Then there is obviously Art Basel – during the month of December, Miami’s a critical place to be. And that’s a big reason why I think a lot of young people, a lot of creatives and a lot of agencies are coming down here – it is a creative hotbed. Miami is constantly changing and it’s getting better and better.”

To Bell, it makes perfect sense for marketers and creatives to be flocking to the Florida coast. The city is exploding with startups and independent agencies, which attract lots of young, hungry talent. Plus, says Bell, “people are sick of being in the big cities – they’re expensive.” Miami, he argues, entices transplants with its rich culture, warm climate and exciting lifestyle.

He points out that the city’s tech and crypto boom are well underway, too, which is further propelling the city’s growth. One of the biggest industry conferences, The North American Bitcoin Conference, is returning to Miami this year for its eighth annual event, headlined by billionaire investor Mark Cuban. Last year, thousands of Bitcoin fanatics, including rapper Fetty Wap, came together in Miami for a similar conference, Bitcoin 2021.

At present, Miami is growing at a rate of almost 1.1% annually; since the last census count in 2010, it’s estimated that the city’s population has ballooned by more than 21%. And things may be picking up yet – Robert Passikoff, founder and president of market research firm Brand Keys, says that relaxed Covid regulations in Florida “make personal interactions easier,” which may be a major draw for some people. Plus, he says, “you can’t discount low taxes and no state income taxes.” He points out that, as history evidences, every city’s reputation sees upturns and downturns. Right now? “It’s Miami’s turn.”

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