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Gonzalo Del Fa: Change Agent

Gonzalo Del FA, president of GroupM Multicultural, is beating the drum for change in the marketing world.

After joining GroupM in 2003, he started the company’s first Hispanic marketing units. Now, GroupM accounts for about 45% of TV and video advertising targeting Hispanic views.

But, in his view, the time for separate and distinct multicultural units at agencies is over. Instead, Del Fa is pushing to have multicultural staffers embedded in all of the company’s account groups and making reaching multicultural audiences the responsibility of everyone who works there.

It sounds like a long journey, but it’s not one that has taken more twists and turns than Del Fa’s own career.

Growing up in Argentina, Del Fa played drums in a series of bands. “I still think that one day, I’m going to be a rock star,” he said. But at that point in his life, “I realized I was not going anywhere.”

One day, he went to American Express to pay a bill and the cashier turned out to be an old classmate. Del Fa asked his friend for a job and signed up as a telemarketer. Before long, he was marketing and sales manager for the company’s acquisition division in Argentina.

He moved on to Visa, then to media company Carin Group and Televisa, before a headhunter asked him if he wanted to join MEC.

After finding out what a media agency does, he signed up and found a home.

Introduced Hispanic Units

During training sessions, Del Fa talked about the idea of setting up a Hispanic unit. Two years later, the idea was approved and he was named to run MEC Bravo. Hispanic units followed at GroupM agencies including MediaCom, Mindshare, Maxus and Red Fuse.

According to the agency, under Del Fa’s leadership, GroupM Multicultural handles $1 billion in billings from clients such as Nestlé, Unilever, Anheuser-Busch, Mars, Target, L’Oréal, General Mills, Subway, Church & Dwight, IKEA, AARP, Kimberly-Clark and Bayer.

Over time, Hispanic marketing has grown more sophisticated. Unfortunately, measurement has not kept up, Del Fa said.

And the conversation with clients has changed. It’s no longer enough to point out that that there are 60 million Hispanics in the U.S. with $1.2 trillion in buying power.

Agencies now must identify opportunities in the marketplace, explain why there’s a gap in consumption between Hispanic consumers and other consumers and how you can close those gaps and take advantage and improve your business, he said.

The Hispanic consumer has also changed, because a smaller percentage of the category is immigrants. Brands are trying to engage with these younger Hispanics who are millennial trendsetters, but have a lot of things going in their culture that are very Hispanic.

“It’s a combination of the Latino soul and the American spirit,” he said.

In the current political environment, immigration is a hot-button issue. But Del Fa says he hasn’t seen marketers change their attitude toward multicultural marketing.

“I was a little bit upset when probably a month ago, some companies went out saying that Hispanics are actually going out less and buying less because they are afraid of the immigration situation. That is not true at all,” he said. “Actually, we did a very specific study about that. There was a decrease in consumption across the board and it’s actually higher with non-Hispanics than with Hispanics. What is happening is they are going out less because they are buying online more.”

“So yes, immigration is a huge topic,” but looking at GroupM’s clients, “they’re all extremely committed, many of them investing much more than what they were,” he said. “Business people are not stupid. They put money where they see a return and they put more money where their return is growing.”

Del Fa added that he’s getting more calls this year from clients who’ve never invested a penny in the Hispanic market. “They are not just asking. They’re actually investing.”

Looking ahead, Del Fa said about 70% of GroupM’s clients operate with multichannel marketing as an organic part of their agency team. He’d like to get that up to 100%.

Planning for the Future

He’d also like every team at GroupM to be a hybrid team, with everyone accountable for putting together the best plan. If that includes multicultural, Del Fa said he’d like to have the resources to do that within the team.

That will mean a change in the way GroupM hires new people as it seeks the media professional of the future.

“Today, no one would hire someone who sits in an interview and says I don’t really care about digital,” he said. “My goal is that if someone gets asked about diversity and says they don’t care, or they don’t understand, they’re not going to have a job because you’re not going to know how to really engage the right audience.”