In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Campaign US is spotlighting Hispanic executives from across the industry. This interview with Franke Rodriguez, partner and CEO, Anomaly New York and Toronto, has been lightly edited.
What is it like to be a Latino/Hispanic in the advertising industry?
It’s an exciting time to be a Latino in our game. More than ever before, Latinos are getting the right kind of attention and focus, both internally from agencies and externally from brands. This is leading to more influence, impact and growth, as well as more opportunities for authentic storytelling about our dynamic culture and many vibrant, diverse communities.
The last few years, agencies have been called out and put on notice for not having enough Black and Brown voices around the table. As a result, a lot of world-class companies have doubled down on increasing their diversity numbers at all levels and across all disciplines. They’re doing it through more considered recruiting plans, more thoughtful partnerships, more intentional retention efforts and more transparency around value and equity. The very best agencies are doing it transparently and holding themselves accountable along the way.
It feels like most major companies in this country are having a boardroom conversation that acknowledges the critical importance of connecting with the younger, multicultural audience that will shape the future of their business. Given Latinos are such a big percentage of that mix, it’s really exciting to see and to be a part of.
How has it changed since you first started?
It has changed so much in so many ways in the 20 years since I started. For the first half of my career, it very much felt like I was one of the only Latinos at my agency.
There was an even greater lack of diversity inside of agencies back then. I think many of us who had a seat at the table believed we needed to assimilate in order to be successful. Plus, there were hardly any authentic stories being told about our people or cultures in mainstream media. The few that existed got ring-fenced on Univision or Telemundo. If they leaked out into popular culture, they were usually heavy with one-dimensional stereotypes largely focused on Mexicans, Puerto-Ricans or Cubans (depending on which part of the country you lived in). As a result, I think Latinos in our industry felt we needed to suppress parts of our cultural identity and soften the way we express ourselves.
Now, everything is changing. You see Latinos everywhere having a major impact and positive influence. We’re doing it at the highest levels at great agencies and client-side, too. We’re penetrating the senior level of politics and government. Latino music has surpassed country music’s popularity. Hispanic directors have won the highest recognition at the Academy Awards multiple years in a row. Lin Manuel took Broadway by storm. Even Miles Morales' Spiderman hitting the mainstream at the peak of America’s superhero obsession is huge; it tells an authentic story of an Afro-Latino and makes him a household name. What a remarkable thing for us and for our kids.
How would you like to see brands honor Hispanic Heritage Month this year?
When it comes to connecting with any underrepresented group at any time of the year, action (not chat) is required for meaningful connection. We’re really focused on helping our clients move beyond representing different cultural groups, even beyond tailoring messages to them, into creating impact. Meaningful brand behaviors guided by impact and defined by action are essential.
Where has the advertising industry made progress with diversity and inclusion? What still needsto be done?
Significant progress is being made in terms of focus and attention. Conversations are happening, out in the open, at the highest levels and at the right times. That’s really important. Collectively, we are working harder to recruit diverse talent, hold space for all voices once they’re at the table, and be conscious of ‘designing with’ as opposed to ‘designing for.’ All great things.
If I was being cynical, I would say progress is relative. Our industry was so woefully behind that it’s easy to point to great progress in this moment. But we still need to see the impact in the future. Will it be sustained and continue in earnest two or three years down the road? Once we have carefully built a workforce that reflects the diversity of the beautiful consumers we aspire to reach, will we do all the right things to keep them engaged, empowered and growing?
When you’re working against a negative, you have to work harder to feel the positive impact. There’s a big difference between intention and impact. Expanding the conversation beyond diversity and inclusivity to include equity is so important.
What is something you love about your culture?
I love everything about it. I love how multi-faceted Latino culture is in this country and the way it manifests creatively, especially across fashion, music and food. From my Dominican fam up in Washington Heights who taught me to love fritura, to my Colombian friends in Queens who make the best empanadas, to the powerful Cuban influence all across Miami and the Mexican influence out west — it’s just energizing.
How would you like to see your culture represented in the industry and by brands?
More, more, more. I would love to see more of it, more often, in more places and with more authentic voices. More brands willing to prioritize Latino audiences outside of HHM. More brands willing to go beyond surface-level connections, like Mariachi bands on Cinco de Mayo. More Latino people in lead acting roles (like my boy Anthony Ramos, who is doing so many great things and spotlighting our culture). More authentic stories about the many different and nuanced cultures that make up the Latino experience in America. An ESPN 30-for-30 on Venezuelan players' dominance in the MLB, or cooking content from Skippy teaching us the many ways Ecuadorians use Peanut Butter in savory dishes.
There are so many great stories to tell, and so many ways to engage people in those stories. I’m really looking forward to the days ahead.