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Austin ad agency LatinWorks entering new era

Austin ad agency LatinWorks is ready to take the next step.

Already one of Central Texas’ best-known and most influential ad firms, LatinWorks is ready for new growth as it expands its reach into more digital and social media aspects of advertising, company officials say.

Leading the firm into the future will be a revamped leadership team, as longtime LatinWorks executive Christy Kranik will take over as executive vice president and general manager and Gabriel Garcia, previously the agency’s group creative director, will take over as executive creative director.

The moves come after longtime LatinWorks executive Sergio Alcocer left his post as president and executive director last month. Alcocer was with the agency for 16 years.

“Having Christy (Kranik) at the helm to stay ahead of this whole digital consumer environment is going to serve us very, very well,” Manny Flores, CEO and co-founder of the agency, told the American-Statesman. “We are excited about that and look forward to having her lead that effort with all of their direct reports, who happen to be a whole host of talented people.”

Executives say they are confident that their creative product will be even more progressive and effective under Garcia’s leadership.

Garcia is an “exceptionally talented creative leader,” LatinWorks co-founder and chief marketing officer Alejandro Ruelas said in a written statement.

Since its 1998 founding, LatinWorks has made a business of connecting the worlds of traditional advertising with Hispanic and multicultural consumers.

Today, the agency has reached $30 million in revenue and 150 employees. It counts major brands Target, Domino’s, Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo among its clients.

“All the accolades, the industry awards on behalf of the clients, is really a bold statement to the industry that LatinWorks has done some things rather right,” Flores said.

Chasing a new idea

LatinWorks’ story began 17 years ago. That was when Flores, then vice president of marketing development at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, joined forces with colleague Ruelas to take on a new idea. Ruelas was director of ethnic marketing for the beer industry giant.

The two saw an opportunity to target an often ignored, but growing demographic of consumers: Hispanics.

“From the onset, the industry landscape in the late 1980s and 1990s was cluttered and littered with a whole host of agencies that weren’t very strategic,” Flores said. “We thought we could surround ourselves with people that could turn the agency on its side.”

Flores and Ruelas arrived in Austin in the fall of 1998 and began working out of a downtown office at Congress Avenue and Fourth Street. Soon after, Alcocer joined as executive director.

Miller beer, Purina dog food and Beechnut baby food were among the new firm’s earliest clients, and LatinWorks was bringing in $1.8 million in revenue. With that, the team thought they were in a good position to add staff, Flores said.

The growth continued, and in 2006, major ad shop Omnicom Group bought a minority stake in LatinWorks.

“It gave us access to work with the big Omnicom-type shops,” Flores said.

Soon after, LatinWorks released a Bud Light ad feartuing comedian Carlos Mencia during the 2007 Super Bowl. The spot featured Mencia teaching a group of immigrants how to order the beer and was considered a top commercial during the big game.

In 2008, the agency extended its reach when it acquired a small Dallas shop called Cultura, where Garcia worked previously.

LatinWorks has won multiple agency of the year designations, becoming the most awarded shop in its space and by 2014, the largest Hispanic ad agency, according to Ad Age.

Today, its client list includes Lowe’s, Kimberly Clark, Heinz, Mars, Major League Baseball and the Texas Lottery. And many have long tenures with the agency.

“Throughout our 10-year partnership with LatinWorks, we’ve accomplished great things,” said Karen Kaiser, Domino’s vice president of national advertising. “Together we’ve been able to continuously optimize our advertising to ensure we’re engaging with our Hispanic consumers in the most meaningful way possible. ….I’m excited for consumers to see what we’ll unveil next.”

More recently, LatinWorks is working to help Starbucks debut its Frappuccino and Double Shot Espresso products in Latin America. The effort grew from LatinWorks existing relationship with PepsiCo Inc., which will help launch the products in ten Latin American countries in 2016.

“That’s a really big project for us,” said Charles Neugebauer, senior vice president of account management for the agency. New potential accounts like Starbucks show “our business continues to expand with our existing client base.”

The next step

The appointment of Kranik as executive vice president and general manager, and Garcia as executive creative director, will speed up the agency’s evolution in a dynamic multicultural space, executives say.

Kranik, who has been with the agency 12 years, says she sees plenty of challenges ahead as more brands shift advertising dollars from traditional media to digital and social media. Maintaining the agency’s philosophy will be key during this time of potential growth, she said.

“I think there is going to be a renewed focus that we ensure that from a philosophical standpoint we are in the same place in terms of how we view the multicultural consumer,” Kranik said. “We have a very progressive view and we want to ensure that we are becoming partners with like-minded brands.”

Garcia, who joined the agency after the Cultura acquisition in 2008, said as executive creative director the agency’s philosophy will continue to drive work with clients.

“Our philosophy stems from believing that brands live by the connection of culture today. We are going through this historic population shift and it gives us an opportunity to be a part of that change,” he says. “Brands are much more aware of that and looking for us to create these emotional connections. That is something that was in its infancy from a Hispanic perspective ten years ago and now it’s become mainstream.”

For example, in a recent Target campaign, LatinWorks put a focus on Spanish words that aren’t necessarily translatable. A centerpiece to that campaign was the theme of “Sobremesa,” the Spanish term for discussion and time spent at the table before, during and after a meal.

The campaign had “a lot of value on television, online and from a digital standpoint. On Facebook posts, Instagram, Tweets, we saw that immediately people latched onto it,” Garcia says. “It was something extremely engaging that people felt that Target was now speaking to them.”

With a recent Marriott campaign, LatinWorks featured various Latin American celebrities who straddled two worlds, as Hispanics here often do as Americans and Latinos.

“They were 100 percent American and 100 percent Latino,” Garcia said of the target audience. “They feel they belong to two cultures. We identified celebrity talent that lives in this world of ‘ands’ and we developed a series of online videos.”

‘Gives us energy’

LatinWorks recently left its downtown Austin offices on 9th Street for new digs off Bee Cave Road. The new offices feature picturesque downtown views, “writeable” walls for on-the-fly brainstorming sessions and an open desk layout mixing workers of various disciplines to help fuel creative efforts, said Scott Radigk, LatinWorks’ senior vice president of financial operations.

The agency leased 50,000 square feet at the new Rollingwood Center at 2500 Bee Caves Road and in August moved into 35,000 square feet of that space. The new home will let the agency accommodate another 50 or so workers as business grows.

“It has an amazing amount of light, it gives us energy,” Radigk said. “We are using about 35,000 square feet of it and subletting the rest with the anticipation of growth. Now, we have room to grow.”

The agency’s new open layout means it has gone from having more than 20 enclosed offices at its former downtown digs to four or five today, Kranik said. The change will fuel new levels of collaboration for her team, she said.

“We also do not sit in departments. In order to breed collaboration and integration, you have to get out of treating departments as silos,” she says. “So by physically sitting people in multidisciplinary teams, rather than one discipline together, you are physically showing we need to integrate the work flow. It should not be a hand-off. It should be where everyone is working together in order to get the best work possible.”

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