Jorge Plasencia, CEO and founder of ad agency República, marries tech and entertainment savvy to reach a bilingual crowd.
At just 38 years old, Jorge Plasencia has already held a couple of cool jobs where he mixed it up with sports and music stars. He was the Florida Marlins’ first director of Hispanic marketing and later helped run singer Gloria Estefan’s entertainment empire. But a few years ago he traded his glitzy gigs for an entrepreneurial life, launching an advertising agency that serves buttoned-up corporate clients such as Google GOOG and Goya Foods.
What Plasencia’s new role lacks in glamour it more than makes up for in impact: His Miami-based firm, República, has emerged as one of the nation’s fastest-growing independent ad agencies, according to the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Its mission: Helping mass-market companies reach the fast-growing Latino population in the U.S. while showing niche players like Goya how to reach a broader audience. Since its founding in 2006, República has seen revenue grow roughly 40% each year, and last year it climbed to nearly $11 million. “Companies are asking, ‘What’s our Hispanic plan?’ And if they don’t have one, they’re calling us,” Plasencia says.
Many of the advertising world’s giants have robust multicultural marketing divisions that help companies translate their messages for diverse audiences. República takes a cross-cultural approach, wooing Latino customers (16% of the U.S. population) with marketing campaigns in Spanish and English to appeal to a hip, bilingual audience. According to Nielsen, Hispanic consumers are among the biggest users of smartphones (68%, vs. 59% among all Americans), and the company is developing new ways to market on social and mobile platforms. For Chivas Brothers’ Blend, a liquor sold only at duty-free and travel retail outlets, República designed a multicountry campaign that began with a mobile-ad blitz to Chivas fans, which sent them to a trilingual (English, Spanish, and Portuguese) Facebook page that secured more than 70,000 “likes.”
Plasencia’s career in marketing had a poignant start. His late father fled Cuba in 1961 and worked his way up to a senior position at Republic National Bank, “the only bank in Miami that would loan money to Cubans on a handshake,” Plasencia recalls. “When my father was very sick, I learned that when he was a kid, he had always wanted to go into advertising or marketing.” After his stints with the Marlins and Estefan Enterprises and a later post with Univision Radio, he and graphic design veteran Luis Casamayor launched their ad agency. Its name, República, is a tribute to his father’s longtime employer.
And being a banker’s kid clearly has rubbed off on Plasencia, who serves as República’s CEO. “I’m the type of CEO who’s extremely involved in client relationships, client strategy, and client acquisition,” he says. “Having had a banker as a dad, I’m also very conscious of spending and costs.” That kind of mindset may not be glamorous, but it could help Plasencia keep winning big-name corporate clients.
This story is from the April 08, 2013 issue of Fortune.