Hispanic market his target: Ponce Publicidad founder focuses on fast-growing demographic group

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The Bank of Central America is moving into Florida and other parts of the southeast United States. While this development might not seem significant for central Indiana business operators, Roberto Ponce thinks it’s a sign.

“The burgeoning Hispanic market within the U.S. is becoming a major factor,” said Ponce, president of Indianapolis-based Ponce Publicidad. “If domestic businesses don’t realize that and reach out to this segment, others from beyond our borders will.”

Ponce thinks his firm is uniquely positioned to help central Indiana businesses reach out to Hispanics. The 31-year-old Honduras native came to the United States in 1995 to launch an advertising career.

He attended Drury University in Springfield, Mo., where he earned undergraduate degrees in French and communications and a master’s degree in communication with an emphasis on integrated marketing. After graduation, he began work in the advertising field, and a position with a local agency brought him to Indianapolis.

In June 2003, he founded Ponce Publicidad, using the Spanish word for advertising to drive home his firm’s focus.

“Ponce Advertising could have been any other firm,” said Ponce, who runs the business with his wife, Debra, and four other staffers. “We thought putting our title in Spanish let people know what we do.”

Ponce Publicidad is the only area agency focused solely on the Hispanic market, Ponce said. He considered hanging his shingle in southern California, Florida or Texas, but decided to stay in Indiana, because the Midwest, “is virgin territory.”

Though Ponce opened his firm with no clients, he soon found interest from government agencies, businesses and not-for-profits.

Ponce took on the Indiana State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce pro bono to showcase his firm’s work. Then he landed accounts with locally based El Rodeo Restaurants, Humane Society of Indianapolis, Missouri-based Global University and the Ohio-based Major League Soccer franchise Columbus Crew, among others.

“People talk about global strategies, and they think about sales and marketing efforts all over the world,” Ponce said. “They need to realize what they have right here in their own back yard.”

According to U.S. census figures, the Hispanic population in Marion County has grown 294 percent from 1990 to 2000. The most recent census figures count 50,000 Hispanics in Marion County alone. Ponce estimates the number of central Indiana Hispanics above 80,000.

Ponce thinks as that number continues to grow and free-trade agreements mature, more Hispanic companies based outside the United States will seek to reach the lucrative Americanbased Latino market.

“Hispanics come to the U.S. to achieve a better life, and part of that means having more money and buying things,” Ponce said.

‘Dramatic’ change

Census data shows that Hispanics’ average household income has nearly doubled in the last decade to near $40,000.

“You’re seeing the beginning of a dramatic historical change,” said Charles C. Guthrie, a University of Indianapolis history professor who has studied and written about the influx of Hispanics in central Indiana, which he said began in the mid-1990s. “It’s still difficult to measure what this means from a business perspective, but suffice it to say, it’s significant.”

Part of the increased purchasing power, Hispanic culture experts said, is because second-generation, Americanborn Latinos are getting better educations and jobs than their immigrant forbearers.

While many Hispanics come to Indiana directly from a foreign country, an increasing number have been in the United States many years, Guthrie said, but are migrating to Indiana for work and a more affordable lifestyle.

As the awareness of Hispanics’ purchasing power grows, Ponce thinks his company’s revenue also will increase. Ponce Publicidad had capitalized billings of $800,000 in 2004. Ponce projects that to hit $1.5 million in 2006 and $5 million by 2008.

While reaching the goal would put Ponce within the 20 biggest advertising agencies in central Indiana, it would still pale compared with the market’s biggest firms, such as Young & Laramore and Hirons & Co., which rack up $30 million to $50 million in capitalized billings annually.

Ponce Publicidad is capable of creating a range of advertising including print, outdoor, radio and TV spots.

Area businesses are finding firms like Ponce’s valuable because they understand the nuances of Hispanic culture, said Ricardo Gambetta, director of Latino affairs for Mayor Bart Peterson.

“It’s more than translating words,” Gambetta said. “It’s about delivering a message the Latino community can relate to.”

Mexico and more

While 82 percent of central Indiana Hispanics are from Mexico, Ponce pointed out that Hispanics here come from more than 20 countries.

“Some of the cultures are similar, but you have to be careful,” Ponce said. “We never try to be cute with slang. A word can mean one thing in one dialect and something quite different in another.”

Ponce’s expertise in the Midwest’s Hispanic market is not just gaining attention locally.

Ponce Publicidad won two top awards in this year’s Latino Marketing Awards for work it did with the local Humane Society and the mayor’s Latino commission.

During a trade mission this October with Mayor Peterson and several other local and state officials, Mexican business and government leaders flocked to Ponce due to his knowledge of the local Hispanic community.

“Roberto Ponce is a rarity in the Midwest,” said Manuel T. Gonzalez, president of the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce, who accompanied Ponce on the Mexican trade mission. “He really knows how to reach the Hispanic market here, and leaders in Mexico had an intense interest in that.”

Big clients

Ponce polished his resume while working for Cabello Bodkin Marketing Design Inc., an Indianapolis ad agency that later split into two firms. While at Cabello Bodkin, Ponce worked on Spanish-language ad campaigns for Citizens Gas, the Indianapolis Colts, Goodwill Industries, Ball State University, Great Southern Bank and Eli Lilly and Co. Inc. Indianapolis-area businesses, Gonzalez said, are starting to reach out to central Indiana’s growing Hispanic community as myths are dispelled.

“The education level and earning power of the local Hispanic market is much higher than many people think,” Gonzalez said.

For instance, he said, only recently have numerous local car dealers started targeting Hispanics.

“I was told there was no point in targeting advertising to Hispanics because they couldn’t qualify for loans,” Gonzalez said.

Ponce and Gonzalez said the central Indiana businesses that reach out first could have life-long customers in the Hispanic community.

“Hispanics are extremely brand-conscious and loyal consumers,” Ponce said.

But he added that area Hispanics also are beginning to realize that in U.S. markets, there are a plethora of brands and services from which to choose.

“Hispanics work very hard, and they want the most for their money, so they want the best brands,” Gonzalez said. “When Hispanics feel a company is reaching out to understand them and provides a quality product, that company gains a very loyal customer.”

Companies in Hispanic countries realize that, and they also realize Hispanics in America make significantly more money than their counterparts elsewhere, making growing Hispanic markets like Indianapolis a prime target.

“Indianapolis is known as a strong Latino community among Latinos,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s only going to get bigger because of the quality of life and the abundance of jobs here. And Latinos want to be where other Latinos are, so it feeds on itself.”

The number of central Indiana ad agencies and marketing firms that do targeted work toward Hispanics can be counted on one hand, Ponce said, but that could soon change.

“This is a market with a Hispanic TV station, three Hispanic radio stations and at least six Hispanic publications,” Ponce said. “This is a market, from a business standpoint, that is ready to take off.”

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