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Agency Profile: Potter Ruiz

Posted on August 11, 2011 and read 2,736 times

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brettcreditpic Agency Profile: Potter RuizBrett McKenzie
Chief Writer, SBN2
ihaveanidea

 

When you think of the city of Boston, what are some of the things that come to mind? There’s the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, there’s Boston baked beans. There’s Harvard, there’s MIT, there’s New England clam chowder. And of course the region is famous for its rich Latino culture.

Wait, what?

Okay, okay, replace “Latino” with “Irish-American” and you might be onto something, but Boston isn’t particularly famous for a large Latino community. While a city like not-too-far New York has a population where more than a quarter claim some Hispanic or Latino heritage, up here in considerably pastier New England, census numbers put their numbers at less than 8%.

Perfect place to start a Hispanic agency, no?

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Just northwest of the famous Boston neighbourhood of Charlestown lies Somerville, a bustling city with a thriving arts community. It is here that you will find, far away from the more traditional Boston area agencies, the tiny ad shop Potter Ruiz. Founded in 1997 by Fernando Ruiz and Susie Potter, two passionate production people who felt that the needs of Hispanic America weren’t being tended to by the corporate and marketing world. While their early years focused on corporate communications, it wasn’t long before marketers started realizing the increasing buying power of Hispanics in America, and thus wanted to shift advertising dollars towards this emerging market. Fernando – Fer for short – was already perceived as being “that Latin guy” when working with agencies as a sound engineer, worked to expand the shop’s offering to include creative work as well.

Initially, it was a bit of a struggle to get clients to really think of Hispanic advrtising as simply ads in Spanish. “Back in the days, there was no such thing as Hispanic advertising,” Fer says. “You had these big agencies who would do creative work, then send it out to translation companies to be turned into Spanish. And no offense, but translation companies are great for legal documents, not for the colloquial, human language that makes advertising wonderful. Or they do a 60 second radio script in English and are surprised to learn that when translated into Spanish, that script is now a minute and a half.”

“It wasn’t just the language either,” Fer continues when reflecting on work he’d see by the big traditional agencies that required a Latin touch. “I’d be given a TV spot all about hackey-sack, but simply making it Spanish wouldn’t fit into our culture. I could be wrong, but I never knew any Latinos who did hackey-sack.”

Now there’s a big difference between wanting to inject true Latino culture into advertising, and being given the opportunity to do so. A number of years were spent with Susie and Fer simply knocking on the doors of Boston ad agencies, trying to sell themselves as an answer to their clients’ Hispanic market needs – needs that not everybody even knew were there. Potter Ruiz finally got a break around 2005 when Susie was able to drag Fer to a big luncheon with all the ad world bigwigs. “I hated these things because you always had to dress up and I didn’t like being the brown boy in the suit,” Fer reminisces. “I would always be having more fun with the hired help than with the guests.” This time around was different, as the luncheon’s guest of honor was the legendary Arnold Rosoff, founder of Arnold Worldwide. “This was a guy I had admired from afar for many years, all the way back when I was a young studio guy in Mexico City. I had friends at another studio who had worked with the agency, and it was always exciting when you got to work with a big American agency. So here I was, years later, at this gala with one of the first ad legends I ever knew about. After the ceremony, I approached him and shook his hand. I don’t know what possessed me, but I told him that story of me in Mexico, and I said ‘you’re like a Jimi Hendrix of advertising!’ Whatever tha meant, it clicked with him and we spent a lot of time chatting. He was very gracious and offered a lot of advice for us, and most importantly he connected us with the CEO of Arnold. At that point we had only done a few very rushed last-minute projects with the agency, but with Rosoff’s help we were able to show them what we felt we really could do. Soon we had an assignment for McDonald’s, and that was our big break.”

 

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Today Potter Ruiz gets agencies and clients approaching them, and it has allowed them to build an impressive roster of regional and national brands over the years. They remain an important agency for McDonald’s in the US Northeast, Jack Daniel’s in several major markets, Fidelity Investments and Babies R Us. The agency has even gained the attention of much larger Hispanic market shops in bigger markets. “We once had an opportunity to do a project for a client who usually worked with a bigger, more famous Hispanic agency,” recalls Fer. “But when the other agency found out about us, they pulled out all the stops to ensure they still got to do it. In the end we didn’t get that chance, but it was somewhat satisfying for us, a tiny shop in Boston, to make this much revered agency sweat a little.”

One of the interesting things we learned during our visit to Potter Ruiz is how flexible and scalable its staff is. At the time of our trip to Boston, there was only Fer, Susie and a handful of others working offsite, but we are told that when it’s full guns blazing crazy creative and production time, the team can grow as big as thirty or more people. This is handled by keeping a handy Rolodex of freelancers they love working with. “While we enjoy working with agency teams on certain projects, it’s nice to have people we can rely on to lend a hand,” says Fer. “There are a lot of talented people to draw from, and as long as they don’t have egos, we enjoy working with a wide variety of people.”

Big egos, no, big talent, yes, and one of the biggest is Potter Ruiz CD and renowned director Luis Aira. Luis makes up what Fer jokingly calls “our west coast office”, as he is based not in Boston but Los Angeles, a city with a slightly more Latino flavor. “Luis has been a part of us since the beginning, and even though we are thousands of miles apart, I find that we connect on so many different levels.”

So what does the future hold for the little Hispanic agency that could? “Honestly, aside from getting a little bigger, I don’t see us changing that much,” says Fer. “We like to stay small and focus on the quality of the work rather than trying to woo new business with all sorts of extra services. If we can do that, I know we’ll maintain our passion and love for the industry and for what we’ve built here in New England.”

Thanks to Fer and Susie for welcoming us into Potter Ruiz.

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