LATIN AMERICA: THE AGENCY SCENE - David Byles from MindShare and Brian Crotty at Leo Burnett describe what's different about agency life in Latin America


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

nervous disposition.

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


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.


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