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Late last year, on the same day UnivisionCommunications and Mexico’s Grupo Televisa stunned the Hispanic media world with the announcement of a renewed partnership and the end of a long, costly battle in the U.S. courts, Monica Gadsby picked up the phone and called David Lawenda, Univision’s president of advertising sales and marketing.
Brimming with enthusiasm at the prospect of cross-border advertising opportunities, Gadsby, CEO, U.S. Multicultural and Latin America, Starcom MediaVest Group, didn’t want to waste any time. Here was an opportunity she and the media agency had been waiting for: to finally offer multinational clients an opportunity to cater to Hispanic consumers on both sides of the border.
The conversation soon paid off. Gadsby, Lawenda and a few executives from their respective teams in Chicago and New York traveled to Mexico City in the spring of this year and sat down for 48 hours in a full immersion session with the top brass at Grupo Televisa. The team began to drum up ways for multinational brands present in both countries to integrate themselves into reality shows, telenovelas and other television properties as they travel between Mexico and the U.S.
ON A MISSION
“Monica is a true pioneer,” Lawenda, who has worked closely with Gadsby pretty much since he joined Univision in September of 2007, said. The pair met for lunch in Chicago at Catch 35, a swanky seafood restaurant. There, Lawenda quickly realized that he and Gadsby share the same mission: To evangelize clients and help grow the market for Hispanics, the largest and most dynamic minority the nation.
It’s a market Gadsby knows well. Having worked in advertising since the age of 22, Gadsby is one of the nation’s most respected Hispanic media experts. Under her leadership, the two multicultural units of Starcom Mediavest — Tapestry and MV42 — have placed millions of advertising dollars in the Hispanic TV marketplace, handling an estimated $1 billion in media buys and working with blue chip companies, including Procter & Gamble, the Coca-Cola Co., Wal-Mart, Kraft, Disney and Burger King, among others. Her expertise has taken her clients to places they never dreamed of, to millions of boxes of cereal and nightly primetime dramas; to mobile devices and desktop computers.
The multilingual Gadsby, 46, is the recipient of this year’s Achievement in Hispanic Television, awarded by Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable. She’ll receive this honor at the magazines’ 9th annual Hispanic Television Summit on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at the Marriott Marquis New York.
It’s the first time this accolade goes to a media-agency executive. Past receipients include Sábado Gigante host Don Francisco; sportscaster Andrés Cantor; María Celeste Arrarás, host of Al Rojo Vivo; and journalist and anchorman Jorge Ramos.
“Monica is our superstar. She is the woman behind all the advertising energy that has been able to take the industry to the next level,” Jacqueline Hernández, chief operating officer of Telemundo, said. Hernández worked alongside Gadsby in breaking barriers and putting forward some of the most ground-breaking research on the Hispanic consumer to date.
Monica Gadsby truly fits the definition of multicultural. Born in Brazil, she moved with her family to Brussels, Belgium, at age 11. She attended college in Austin, Texas, where she perfected her English and was immersed in Spanish thanks to her Mexican roomates.
She now lives in Chicago with her British husband and three kids, and moves comfortably speaking the several languages she has mastered: English, Spanish, Portuguese and French.
“What is really great about Monica is that she is a global citizen … She speaks Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, but more than anything she speaks the human connection,” Hernández said.
While Gadsby’s contact with different languages and cultures was ultimately what helped shape her multicultural mind, it was not always a smooth ride.
“It was actually a very traumatic experience,” Gadsby said of moving to a small Belgian town from Brazil at age 11. “People knew nothing of my culture; all people knew of Brazil was Carnival, soccer and the jungle.”
Forced to adapt to a small-town school in a totally different environment — and trying to learn a new language — Gadsby didn’t know then that such a shock would be crucial in her future endeavor of breaking cultural barriers.
Moving to Belgium seemed to affect the young Gadsby in two major ways: it forced her, from an early age, to sort out the idea of acceptance and tolerance; and it provided an opportunity to share her culture with others — and prove any stereotypical notions of her native country wrong.
The oldest of five children — and the only girl — Gadsby had successfully adapted to a European adolescence when her father was called away, again, this time to the equally alien environs of Houston, Texas.
In addition to moving to a country she’d never set foot in before, Gadsby was forced to navigate the complex process of picking a U.S. college. She ultimately enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. As a Houston-to-Austin commute wasn’t practical, she quickly realized she’d need to live away from her family.
Thus started Gadsby’s second round of adapting to a new culture and a new language. This time, however, she was ready: “I was a bit older and a bit more equipped. I had my killer spirits, so I knew I’d be OK.”
It was those killer spirits that made Gadsby realized she had to find something for a career other than reading the classics and devouring English literature. She also knew she did not want to be a college professor and began to look for a more practical career path.
She discovered marketing and advertising while still in college and it quickly became her passion. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, she earned a bachelor of science in advertising from Texas.
In 1987, the same year she graduated and at just 22, Gadsby was recruited as a media planner by Chicago-based Leo Burnett. She soon moved there and became a founding member of the Leo Burnett Hispanic unit.
“My boss figured I spoke Spanish, so why not?” she said.
She has lived in Chicago ever since.
While Gadsby has always worked for the same holding company, Publicis, her career has been anything but boring. Soon after landing in Chicago, she quickly pioneered the world of multicultural marketing; first as CEO of Tapestry, the multicultural agency launched in 2001, and as recently as two years ago charged with overseeing the Americas, in addition to her job as head of SMG’s multicultural operations in the U.S.
Under her leadership, Gadsby’s team has worked on big productintegration deals with the major broadcast and cable networks, using popular telenovelas and sports properties to showcase her clients, or forging relations with smaller players in the cable and digital worlds to explore cross-border opportunities.
In one recent example, Gadsby’s team worked with the production company behind El Diez, ESPN Deportes’ first original scripted series, which chronicles the life of a professional soccer player who arrives in Mexico City in search of glory. El Diez, which premiered Sept. 4 on ESPN Deportes in Mexico, features integrations from Burger King and General Motors, two of SMG’s clients that also have a strong presence throughout Latin America. The series is scheduled to premiere in the U.S. on Oct. 30.
A similar project is currently in the works with Yahoo! en Español, where Yahoo de Moda, a Procter & Gamble-sponsored beauty and fashion site, is ready to travel south. De Moda features news, photos and webisodes about trends and styles, and caters to the growing number of Latinas online, both in the U.S. and in Latin America.
SMG’s efforts in the online space are also part of Gadsby’s push to debunk the myth that Hispanics are not big consumers of digital media. In fact, programs developed in the past for clients P&G, Allstate and Walgreens demonstrated that Hispanics were avid respondents to online and mobile promotions.
Behind most programs undertaken by SMG’s multicultural divisions is a solid foundation on research, an area where Gadsby and her team have taken the lead.
“Monica and her team have put out some the best research tools ever,” Telemundo’s Hernández said. One of these was Beyond Demographics, an in-depth Latino identity study done in partnership with Telemundo to help marketers develop content relevant to this demographic. The study, which first launched in 2009, sought to go beyond language and acculturation, and aimed to tackle the complexity of the Hispanic market, touching on the passions and interests of consumers.
Whether embedding a car’s brand into a primetime telenovela; driving consumers to vote for their popular artist on their handheld devices; or posting the face of a famous Hispanic actor on millions of cereal boxes, Gadsby said every new project is a step in which she and her team get the opportunity to learn something along the way.
Gadsby’s job becomes more complex and challenging as Hispanic media evolves, she said.
Asked how she goes about the controversy about language when targeting U.S. Hispanics, she said: “The challenge is to go beyond language. The discussion needs to evolve into good content — content that can cross borders and that can ultimately be in any language,” she said.
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