Ingrid Otero-Smart never thought she’d own her own agency.
But when the deal closed on her buy of a majority stake in Casanova McCann at the end of September, she became the owner of Orange County’s largest Hispanic and multicultural advertising agency, also ranked the 7th largest overall among the ad shops here with clients that include Nestlé, Chevrolet, Coke, Ulta Beauty, USPS, Cigna and U.S. Bank.
“Last year, we started looking at the market and it seemed like the right time to control our destiny,” she said.
That’s the case even more so now as marketers look to the expertise of agencies such as Casanova McCann that can provide a multicultural perspective in a rocky year that’s seen the country not only grapple with a global pandemic, but unrest and protests across the nation around racism.
“I don’t think that our role necessarily has changed since we sit in the multicultural space. I think we could say that our role is heightened because clients are realizing there is a deeper need to do multicultural [marketing],” Otero-Smart told the Business Journal.
“With everything happening in culture today, they’re realizing we need to respect this consumer and we need to value them and look for ways of helping them through the difficult times we’re living in today. We’re especially well positioned to help in that respect.”
The agency—with a staff of about 65 across the Costa Mesa, New York and Detroit offices—continued to do work for its consumer packaged goods brands throughout the pandemic, all the while continuing to pitch prospective clients.
Adapting to Change
The agency, which last year was estimated by the Business Journal to bring in about $25 million in revenue, has proven itself by picking up new business this year from Vallarta Supermarkets, Häagen- Dazs and most recently Fitz Games, a Laguna Beach game-maker.
The agency also continues to work from home, which begs the question of what the go-forward looks like for a team of creatives in what will likely be a hybrid working situation once workers return to the office, which Otero-Smart hopes happens in January.
“I personally believe [working from home] in the long term can affect the culture of an agency and the product, but what is clear is that it works and we need to figure out what’s the right answer for our people, our clients and our business,” she said. “I think that’s going to be our biggest challenge.”
The CEO went on to say aspects of the job, such as quickly editing commercials and shooting original spots, have all been done efficiently from home without having to rely on stock creative. That’s going to have an impact on expectations in the go forward.
“Clients are going to continue to expect that, ‘Hey, if you were able to produce a spot in just a few days during the pandemic, why’s it taking months now [back in the office]?” Otero-Smart pointed out.
Moving With Trends
It’s been a wild ride for the agency founded in 1984, originally in Irvine, as Casanova Pendrill Publicidad.
It had billings in excess of $50 million when the Interpublic Group of Cos. bought it in 1999. It was rebranded Casanova McCann in 2016. The company was previously cited in national reports as the country’s largest independent Hispanic marketing agency.
Terms of Otero-Smart’s acquisition of the company were not disclosed.
And for as much change that the agency’s seen, the industry’s seen just as much. Most of that change has boiled down to the cyclical nature of the relationships between agencies and their clients, Otero-Smart pointed out.
“We go through cycles, right? When I started the business, we seemed to be more partners to our clients,” she said.
“Then we went through the cycle of being suppliers. What I’ve been seeing now is a return to being a marketing partner to our clients and for us, as an agency, that’s how we’ve grown.”
That shifting relationship has been a constant over the years, but the industry has also seen its own short-lived exercises in response to larger consumer shifts. The most recent example was Quibi, the VC-backed platform originally focused solely on mobile for short videos. The concept of short videos is not something going away any time soon, despite Quibi’s folding less than a year after launch.
“I think our consumers are getting used to the short content, be it Twitter or even Quibi. I don’t understand how they went out of business so quickly. Maybe it was just timing because I don’t see the short content going away. Maybe it will evolve, but it’s not going to go away in the same way long[-format] content is not going away,” Otero-Smart said.
“What the pandemic has shown us is if you give someone good content, they don’t care about length. They will commit to it and they will follow it and enjoy it.”
As for now, the agency’s currently awaiting the release of the U.S. Census numbers early next year, which Otero-Smart expects to show the country’s growth resting solely with minority groups in what will likely be a boon for agencies such as hers that are well versed in the market.
“It’s going to show 100% of the growth of this country is coming from multicultural,” the CEO said of the census. “100% of it, which means those clients that really haven’t either marketed at all or not made a commitment to multicultural [marketing] are going to have to take a deep look at their plans and we will be there for them, because it’s no longer an opportunity; it’s a necessity.”
“I see it in some of the new business inquiries we’ve been getting so I am bullish about the future and I think we’re ready for it.”