When other advertising and public relations firms were pulling back, Miami’s MGSCOMM was acquiring other companies. Since 2004, it has absorbed three independent, Hispanic-owned agencies: first Miami’s IAC (in 2004), then New York-based Reynardus + Moya (2009) and most recently, Revolucion NYC (2011). Today the decade-old firm is still co-owned by founders Manuel E. Machado, CEO/co-chairman, and Al Garcia-Serra, COO/co-chairman. With offices in Miami, New York and Mexico City, the company offers advertising and PR services including account management, creative, media planning, social and digital media, broadcast production, events and grassroots marketing.
Success has brought recognition. Recently, Machado was named Hispanic Agency Executive of the Year by HispanicAd.com.
Business Monday found that award, along with the firm’s many others, in the bottom of a clear Plexiglass box at the entrance of MGSCOMM’s Miami office on Coral Way — an indicator that while awards are valued, they’re less important than campaigns that deliver on the client’s bottom line.
Another notable office feature: An exhibition of sorts called Objectivity, featuring photos of an object chosen by each team member and an explanation of why it is important.
Garcia-Serra chose a small statue of Kermit the Frog (“a visionary individual with an almost-impossible dream’’).
Machado chose his baby shoes, writing, “I got these old shoes as a gift from my youthful mother. She got away with giving me the same present twice — at birth, and on my birthday many years later. To be honest, I couldn’t think of a better present — they serve as a constant reminder of how ephemeral life is, and how lucky I am to have had shoes on my feet my whole life. I am grateful for everything life gives me, and to still have my mother’s shoulder to lean on.’’
Q. How did you and your business partner, Al Garcia-Serra, get started?
Al is well known in the business community as a Hispanic market industry trailblazer. It turned out that his daughter had worked for me but under her married name, so I wasn’t even aware. A project brought us together and, inevitably, our shared vision coupled with complementary assets solidified the deal. The only asset we lacked was startup funding, but we got through that thanks to a client partner that really believed in us. So along with Gloria, our assistant and the backbone of our startup, who has unfortunately since passed, and two additional associates, we began building MGSCOMM from the ground up.
Q. What was your vision in the beginning, and how has that shifted over time?
Our vision was simple really, to connect U.S. brands and services with multi-ethnic consumers. The vision hasn’t changed but the opportunities are much more broad.
Q. When other agencies were cutting back, you were expanding and purchasing other agencies. Why did you take those risks, and how did you manage that?
In times of cutbacks, companies can often find strength in each other. In our case, these former agencies were either previous colleagues or industry friends. In each instance they added to our ideal combination of talent, results-driven management, competence and a clear vision of the future. Although there were risks, we were able to maintain individual client rosters within a unified corporate culture.
Q. Who are your top clients? Have any been with you since the beginning? Why do you think they have stayed with you?
All our client partners are tops — of course I would say that, right? Because of our integrated mix of communication service offerings, a smaller client may have a big impact on one of our service offerings while a bigger client may have an impact agency-wide. It’s all relative and keeps us flexible.
We really do take pride in long-term client partnerships. Tiffany & Co., Southeast Toyota Distributors, LLC and EXTENDA (Trade Promotion Agency of Andalusia, Spain) have been with us since our founding. We also have client partners that have been with us through our mergers and acquisitions including: ITT Technical Institute, HBO Latino and Hyundai Motor America.
Q. Your mom is an important part of your life, and you told us she still helps you out with your work. How does she do that?
She takes good care of all of us here, from decorating the office with fresh orchids to making fabulous, home cooked meals for our meetings and other activities. She makes delicious picadillo, ropa vieja, chicken fricassee; I can go on and on…
Q. Other than language, how is marketing to Hispanic audiences different from marketing the same product to an Anglo audience? Can you give us an example?
In Miami in particular, immigration from South America has impacted the Hispanic landscape and how we communicate to diverse audiences. This is an opportunity for our client partner Tiffany & Co. Understanding that Hispanics from different countries celebrate occasions and milestones specific to their unique culture — along with traditional U.S. celebrations — affords more reasons for gift giving. With this insight we ensure communications activities during these milestones and other relevant celebratory events.
Q. You don’t use the word Latino. Why not?
I find Latino groups us into one homogenous group. I refer to myself as Cuban-American and friends of mine are Argentinian, Spanish, American, Venezuelan, Colombian, Mexican, Irish, German, etc. When we look at marketing in Spanish we do use the term Hispanic Marketing towards a Latino or Hispanic audience.
Q. In Miami, and nationwide, many Hispanics have transitioned from Spanish-language consumers to second generation English-preferred. Does a company still need a Hispanic agency to reach that demographic? Why?
Hispanic-owned agencies like ours bring living knowledge of the culture, going beyond language. As consumers we represent a very unique blend of two identities, balancing our own Hispanic traditions with a U.S. lifestyle. Bilingual marketing communications will drive much of the Hispanic marketing growth across all industry sectors. It’s also worth noting that while we [Hispanics] are acculturating more, assimilation has slowed.
Q. Media formats have broadened, and it seems like everyone is throwing all their resources now at social media. What’s your firm’s approach to these various platforms?
It’s really about an integrated mix of media afforded through broadcast, print and online. They each have their role in different consumers’ lives and at different times. Many of these mediums are consumed simultaneously, making compelling messaging that much more important. We find ways to broaden a brand’s voice by leveraging the right social media platforms and how this relates to the rest of the marketing mix.
Q. There’s also a consolidation trend among media agencies, the idea of hiring one agency to handle all audiences. How are you handling that?
We are lucky to have client partners that value the expertise of a Hispanic market agency. While you have volume negotiations as part of an all-audience consolidated buy, you don’t get the customized, Hispanic insight- driven results. Multilingual media negotiations don’t necessarily afford efficiencies as many times these media companies operate separately. The true benefit is in customizing the messaging to fit the all-market approach, as we have been able to do for some of our clients where we’ve parlayed our Hispanic market work to include all market.
Q. How do big companies approach Hispanic marketing? Do they have smaller budgets, or use more events? What is their rationale?
As the market has evolved to new heights, so has the media. Based on a client partners’ target audience, overall goals and budget, we are able to customize a cost-efficient, results-oriented integrated plan that may range from network television and grand-scale PR programs to localized print efforts and hyper-targeted digital overlays. It’s really about being focused and effective regardless of size.
Q. You recently were named HispanicAd.com Executive of the Year. Is that more important to you than other awards? Why?
This particular award is very special to me personally. Not only does it put me alongside previous winners whom I respect and admire, but it coincides with our agency’s 10 years of service to Hispanic marketing. To be recognized at this important time when Hispanics are truly impacting pop culture is such an honor for me.
Q. Your Miami offices are all white and cream, with only a few splashes of color mostly from orchids. What’s the idea? How do you make that friendly versus sterile? Do the New York offices look the same? And... how do you keep it clean?
That’s a great point, but we see the white and neutral environment as a blank canvas for idea generation. Our ‘creatives’ are ultimately responsible for campaign development but ideas come across all departments and disciplines. We thrive to maintain creativity in everything we do. Although our cosmetics may seem neutral, we bring a lot of color and spice to our work.
Q. With offices in two cities, and on different floors of the same building, how do you create and maintain a company culture? What is that culture?
Transparency is key to our corporate culture in all our offices, from the workstation set-up to the common areas and to the executive offices where the door is always open. The latest technology is a great asset in keeping us connected and integrated too!
We also encourage an environment of fun that also builds team interaction. One of our favorites is PL@RK, Play At Work. The associate led program offers activities outside of the normal work schedule such as: sports game viewing parties, happy hours, movie Fridays and even exercise programs.
Q. What’s the best advice you ever got?
When I was 20, someone I admired told me, “Always stay true to yourself.” These simple words are what have always kept me on my path.