By Jonathan Adams – Managing editor, Houston Business Journal
When Alex Lopez Negrete started his marketing firm in 1990, he had no doubt in his mind that one day the business world would agree that the Latino community is a lucrative market.
Eventually, potential clients would realize the impact the Latino community has on the country’s culture, and the job would get a little easier for Lopez Negrete, president and CEO at Lopez Negrete Communications.
But, 30 years later, Lopez Negrete still has to explain the power of the Latino buyer — which he said is the sixth-largest GDP on the planet — and discredit misconceptions about the demographic.
“It’s about culture. It’s not just about language,” he said. “Latinos tend to be fiscally conservative, yet socially liberal. There are a lot of things that make us different about how we feel about certain categories.”
Tell me about Lopez Negrete Communications. We opened our doors in 1985 as Third Coast Marketing. We had a specialty in sports and in real estate. Ray Patterson, who was the president of the Houston Rockets, said, “You know, Alex, why does the world need another advertising agency?” Being the paranoid ad guy that I was, I said, “Why are you asking me this? There’s plenty,” and he goes, “That’s my point. Make sure the world needs yours.”
I took a real hard look at what we were doing and tried to figure out how to fill a void. I looked at the community I come from, which is the Latino community, and we realized that back in 1985, there were some Hispanic-focused agencies but that community — which was growing very quickly — was largely not being sold to or talked to with dignity or respect.
We decided we were going to turn ourselves into something different with a great deal of purpose. We were one of the nation’s earliest wave of Hispanic agencies, and it worked. We attracted some great clients, starting with Fiesta, Wal-Mart, Bank of America — two of those clients we still have. We’re the longest-standing agency for Wal-Mart and Bank of America.
How did you get your communications company started? I was a partner at a media rep firm representing some publications in Mexico. After that, I segued into local radio sales, and then into media planning. My first agency job was as a print media planner right at the time of the oil bust. The agency was an oil and gas based that lost all of its clients, so there was no media to plan for. I became the new business guy. That was successful, but then I worked for CMI Advertising. I learned a lot. Eventually, I thought I needed to do my own thing.
What challenges did you face getting things started? When we went from Third Coast Marketing to Lopez Negrete, we were only about five years into it. We were very lucky. We got business very quickly. We kept the overhead very low. The first few years, we worked really hard and stayed really focused, and made sure we provided value to our clients.
The real challenges were when we defined our path as Lopez Negrete Communications. At that point, we were servicing large clients and the demands were bigger. I was competing with contemporary agencies like SosaGroup out of San Antonio. There were some formidable agencies out there. That changes things. I had to start adding staff and the overhead went up.
Then I had to find people. When you’re in the business of marketing to diverse segments, it’s not just a matter of translating. You really have to understand the consumer segment from a sociocultural perspective. You have to create the work using insights that make the work resonate and different. That’s a really different skillset. That was few and far between back in the ’80s. The pool is much bigger than it was 30 years ago.
We were also insane. We went to financial institutions to ask for loans, and they’d say, “Alright, son, so tell me. You’re in the advertising business, I get that. But you’re marketing to who? And your specialty is Hispanics?” Not only am I in the service industry with no inventory, I’m in the business of marketing to the segment that I knew was growing, but people didn’t really see it. Once, I literally walked the client downstairs and had them stand there on a Friday afternoon to see who’s cashing checks. We had to convince clients that we were not insane.
Why should businesses target the Latino market? If you were to isolate the Latino community from the GDP perspective, we would be the sixth largest GDP on the planet — ahead of India. There are 53 million consumers that are, on average, a decade younger than the non-Hispanic market, which means that this consumer is in their absolute acquisition prime. They’re in the stages where they’re buying homes, appliances and cars. It’s such a lucrative consumer. Just imagine that you’re marketing to a community that is bigger — from a GDP perspective — than India.
What are some misconceptions about the Hispanic market? That we’re poor. That we’re all undocumented. That we’re all immigrants. That we’re uneducated. There are so many misconceptions that I thought for sure would no longer exist 30 years later. There’s a lot of folks perpetuating this and folks who are not necessarily aligned with a diverse America. The rhetoric that we’ve heard over the past couple years — that we’re murderers and rapists — doesn’t help the cause.
I would like to turn the conversation to the fact that hand sanitizer was invented by a Latina, or that colored television was invented by a Latino. The contributions we make to this this country and the world — in terms of science, culture and culinary — are enormous.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Tune in to the July 7 episode of the Texas Business Minds podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify for the full interview.
Alex Lopez Negrete, president and CEO, Lopez Negrete Communications
Family: Wife Cathy; son, daughter
Education: University of Houston
Hobbies: Music, cars, golf
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