'A HUGE ROLLERCOASTER OR A GIANT GAME OF SNAKES AND LADDERS'
The most exciting thing about doing business in Latin America is that
the region is a huge rollercoaster or a giant game of snakes and
ladders, depending on which way you look at it. Budgeting to deliver
business targets in dollars is a hairy business and not for those of a
Cricket is not a popular sport in Latin America and its rules have no
place in business life here, which is a much rougher sport, although
paradoxically conducted with the utmost courtesy, at least on the
surface. Corruption is indigenous in most walks of Latin life, and
business is certainly no exception. Many foreign multi-national
advertisers found their way into Peru via "well-connected" agency chiefs
only to discover, with the rapid exit of president Fujimor last year and
the capture of his right-hand secret policeman Montesinos, that videos
of said agency chiefs exchanging money for favours with Montesinos
became primetime TV viewing.
Many Latin businessmen are larger than life, and many media chiefs are
billionaires, through their tenure of lucrative media monopolies. As a
media investment advisor, I attended various Galaxy Latin America board
meetings for the launch of the satellite TV service DirecTV in Latin
This board consisted of media moguls from the region, and the
larger-than-life (and twice as sinister) Venezuelan owner of Venevision,
Gustavo Cisneros, was heard to say to John Holmes, the regional
president for J. Walter Thompson: "If you f*** this up, I'll kill you."
Nobody doubted that he would.
The tranquil, well-regulated media markets of the UK or the US are like
Noddy's tea party compared with their Latin counterparts. A zero-sum
market where the interaction of demand and supply creates price gives a
pleasant sense of security completely absent from Latin America. In this
region, no television company is required to seal all its inventory and
rates are raised to levels the market can stand. Negotiated value is
likely to depend more on a combination of the audience share of the
media monopolist, whether or not you can scrape similar reach together
from a few relatively feeble alternative stations, and your relationship
with the station seniors is often measured in golf games or lunches.
Increasingly there are alternatives - particularly delivered by cable,
satellite or the internet. The most flexible media market in Latin
America is pan-regional cable TV, delivering a multiplicity of segmented
cable audience options. What makes it so flexible? Many advertisers
cannot take regional decisions and get stuck in regional versus local
politics where the regional centre cannot marshal the operating locals.
The resultant lack of demand for the airtime allows those who can, such
as our client Mattel, to have a field day with keen cable partners such
as Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Fox Kids and Discovery Kids.
My favourite campaign is our live Nike campaign in Mexico, which was
subsequently repeated in other Latin American markets. Done with
Televisa's outside broadcasting unit, we (along with the creative agency
Wieden &Kennedy) aired 22 live commercials in two weeks. Open with
runner, running along the Zocato in Mexico City. Up comes handheld
board: "He's training, you're not." Next board: "Just do it" and the
Nike swoosh. Or, open in weight training room with football on the TV.
Pan to footballer, pumping the iron. First board: "There are 100,000
footballers in Mexico, but only one is called The Matador" (Luis
Hermandez). Next board: "Just do it" and the Nike swoosh.
My other favourite campaign is our Star Media internet promotion for
Ford Motor Company. We delivered qualified leads to Ford dealers
throughout the region at $5 per thousand, compared with around
$100 normally achievable via conventional direct marketing. All
of them told us their life story at the prospect of winning the Ford
vehicle of their choice. As a media man, I have always wanted to declare
a 95 per cent discount. - David Byles is the chief executive of
MindShare Latin America
'TAKE LATIN AMERICA SERIOUSLY'
Before moving to Latin America, I envisioned stereotypical flamboyance,
wild economic fluctuation and under-developed cities with huge social
problems. Unfortunately, and predictably, global media gives only a
biased, sensationalist picture. Latin America is a prime example that
you can't underestimate the capabilities of a culture by what you see or
A typical "Gringo", when I arrived, I arrogantly suffered from martyr
syndrome and expected to have to build everything from scratch. My
preconceptions retarded my progress until I realised that I had to
adjust my mindset to effectively contribute.
Having worked in many regions of the world, the most overwhelming factor
was that I was warmly invited in. I am constantly amazed by the natural
spirit, passion and creativity of the people. Latins have mastered the
art of networking and leveraging local and international
Like all regions, Latin America has a mixture of highly developed and
emerging economies. Although Brazil's first tongue is Portugese and the
rest of the region speaks Spanish, use of English in business is
becoming more widespread. Unified by common cultural backgrounds and
language, as a network, I can confidently say the region works together
better than any other region I've worked in.
There is a huge focus on accountability, systems and tools' capability
in new business. Political connections, like in any country, contribute
to success, but clients are demanding internationally benchmarked
standards of service - and they're getting them.
Sure, economic instability makes people nervous, but the political
environments are stabilising. In this new global world, I'm more secure
in the thought that the international community can't allow such large
economies to collapse like they would have done in the past.
Latin America understands the double-edged sword of globalisation - the
economic opportunity and the social impact. Having experienced the
effects first hand, although sometimes frustrating, I agree that some
protectionist measures are necessary to regulate the rate of change and
to reduce exposure to foreign takeovers and market exploitation.
My advice is to take Latin America seriously. Countries and businesses
are agile because they don't have preconceived attitudes or the burden
of legacy infrastructure. Latin Americans are open to new ideas. The
prevailing attitude is "Why not!" rather than "We can't do that because
of X, Y, Z". Latin Americans will continue to develop quicker and adapt
to leverage the new global environment. - Brian Crotty is the
vice-president, managing director, Leo Burnett Media Brazil.