Hispanic Hutzpah! Alma Draws on Resilience and Partnerships to Weather the Storm

By Madison Avenue Makeover Archives
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An Interview with Isaac Mizrahi, co-president and COO of Alma. How do agencies handle the operational challenges of COVID-19, client and holding company pressures, competition, and price-cutting — at a time when Scopes of Work are expanding? How does Alma, a Hispanic / multicultural / mainstream agency, part of DDB and Omnicom, manage itself in this environment? Isaac Mizrahi (pictured at top), co-president and COO of Alma, spoke recently with Michael Farmer to describe Alma and its operating philosophy.

Michael Farmer: Isaac, it's a delight to speak with you again. We last worked together on the McDonald's account in 2014. Conditions are very different today. How is Alma coping with COVID-19 and industry complexities?

Isaac Mizrahi: Michael, this is a subject close to our hearts. McDonald's, of course, has gone through many agency changes since 2014. Our relationship with them still grows strong. More than anything else, we believe in long-term relationships. Doing great work for clients does not happen instantly — it takes time to develop and enhance the strategic and creative visions. We can never really be as good and knowledgeable as our clients, but if we're in long-term relationships, we can always get better, and this is something that our clients recognize. We never believe that we are the best! We have to recognize that we always have more to learn about our clients' businesses, and this takes time.

Farmer: What does it mean to be a Hispanic and multicultural agency?

Mizrahi: The most obvious thing is that we have segmentation expertise that our clients need, so they rely on us to help, not only creatively but also from a strategic standpoint. They want to know how their Hispanic and multicultural customers react to marketplace developments, or to COVID-19, or how they can be reached more effectively for brand growth. Let's not forget that the Hispanic population has been growing very rapidly in the US. Our clients are keenly interested in capturing this growth:

Mizrahi: There's another dimension to being a Hispanic agency. Many of us in Alma have come from Latin America. I personally am Brazilian, and I worked on the corporate side there for two decades. When you're from Latin America, you learn to be resilient. In a two- or three-year period in Brazil, we had two or three currency changes, devaluation, and hyperinflation. Thousands of percents of inflation! You learn to cope, and resiliency becomes a muscle — you exercise it on a daily basis. That has helped us enormously during COVID-19.

Farmer: Can you elaborate?

Mizrahi:During moments of crisis, clients need their agency partners more than ever, and during Q2 we quickly adapted our focus. First, our priority was our team, making sure they were healthy and safe. Second, we wanted to create an environment that allowed us to keep our amazing culture, even remotely. Third, we modified our insights and strategic priorities to learn more about how consumers were behaving during COVID-19, and we and looked for ways to evolve our clients' messages to fit these insights.

Farmer: What about new business activities?

Mizrahi: We were very busy during the past few months, and while several industry leaders were concerned about a slowdown in advertising, we actually added six new clients in Q2! Of course, you have to be selective, and we prioritize clients that are looking for a close partnership. We do not simply chase new business and price low for a win. Those agencies who do are doomed to do poor work.

Farmer: How have you coped with growing Scopes of Work?

Mizrahi: We advise our clients, in general, to sharpen up their messaging. "Less is more" is our principle for the digital space. Clients need stronger and more original messages — and fewer translations and adaptations. Sharper messages allow consumers to digest what's being said. Scopes of Work need to be simplified and strengthened.

Farmer: What's hard about what you do?

Mizrahi: Despite the fact that we are a specialist agency, with specialist knowledge about Hispanic and multicultural market segments, and our staff is fully multi-lingual, and we're pro-active as partners, many advertisers think that we should be paid at a discount versus their "mainstream" agencies. In any other industry, specialists are paid premium prices for their expertise. This is not yet true in this industry.

Farmer: What about collaboration? You're part of DDB and Omnicom. How does that work?

Mizrahi: We're very much a DDB agency. We believe fully in the Bill Bernbach and Keith Reinhard creativity legacies. We're also very autonomous. An agency like Alma needs to be a great collaborator with anyone that our clients want us to collaborate with. Fortunately, both DDB and Omnicom give us a significant amount of autonomy. No one from DDB or Omnicom has ever told us with whom we must collaborate.

Farmer: Thank you for this update, Isaac — we must do this more often!

Mizrahi: We're very proud of what we do, and it was a pleasure to bring you up to date.

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