La Plaza: At The Corner of Madison Ave. & K St.

Welcome to Alejandro Lazo's weekly blog-within-a-blog on the region's Latino business community.

By Alejandro Lazo

Among Georgetown's boutique retail shops, architectural firms and upscale restaurants reside the offices of Elevación, a Hispanic advertising shop that has straddled the worlds of business, politics and policy since 2002.

Founders Jim H. Learned, a Peruvian, and his partner Pablo Izquierdo, a Spaniard, launched the company after working on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2001 campaign together, helping to introduce the billionaire to Hispanic voters. Since then, the pair, along with creative director Rodolfo Hernández, have gone on to design a number of advertising campaigns for both private clients and government agencies.

Jim H. Learned, left, and partner Pablo Izquierdo at the Elevación office in Georgetown. Photo by Alejandro Lazo

Some of the firm's most memorable work has emerged through its public service announcements and campaigns for government agencies.

One of the most jarring of these is the ongoing "No Mas Cruces En La Frontera" campaign, which the firm has produced for the U.S. Border Patrol. The slogan, which translates to "no more crosses on the border," is used as the tag line in television commercials running in parts of Mexico and the United States. The ads are intended to warn Mexicans of the dangers of crossing the border illegally.

In one spot, filmed mostly in black and white, a camera zeroes in on various headstones in a graveyard. Each headstone speaks, offering a different reason for why the deceased attempted to cross the border: "I crossed for the dollars," says one. "I crossed to follow him," says another. "They made it sound easy," another says.

Elevación hired several college students from Mexican universities to do "anthropological research" at the outset, Learned said. The students surveyed migrants who had crossed the border as well as people planning to undertake the perilous journey. The students' research found that migrants did not always cross for financial reasons, Learned said. Some viewed the crossing as simply a right of passage. Elevación tailored its advertisements to those more "casual crossers."

The campaign also tries to take some of the glory out of northern migration, perhaps most creatively by creating a CD of corridos -- or Mexican ballads -- that sing about the dangers of the border. The music, distributed for free, has wound up on Mexican radio.

Another ad in the campaign features a young Mexican man writing to his uncle in the United States and thanking him for the money to make the journey north. A narrator reads the letter as images play across the screen. The man tells his uncle he will work hard to repay him when he arrives. That he will see him in a few weeks. Tender violin music plays in the background. Then the video ends with the corpse of the young man lying face down in the open desert.

There is no tagline showing sponsorship for the "No Mas Cruces" campaign, something both Izquierdo and Learned said they suggested, arguing that it would diminish the campaign's credibility in Mexico if it was obvious the U.S. Border Patrol sponsored the spots. Though the ads are tough, Elevación said it tries to treat immigrants with respect.

"You can not do a campaign against the migrant directly, you can't insult them, they have their honor and their dignity and you have to respect their decisions," Izquierdo said during an interview at Elevación's offices.

"We do not talk down to the migrants," Learned added. "We do not tell them: 'don't come.' "

From left to right, the Elevación management team: Pablo Izquierdo, senior vice president; Jimmy Learned, president managing director; Rodolfo Hernández, chief creative officer. Photo courtesy of Elevación

As for its work in political campaigns, the first series of advertisements for Bloomberg were mostly introductory, as he was not well known to New York Hispanics in 2001.

"Bloomberg wasn't looking for a political strategy," Learned said. "He was looking for a consumer strategy, in the Hispanic market they wouldn't know him walking down the street . . . we had to introduce him as a regular guy."

Bloomberg wanted to do his very first spot in Spanish, though he poke little of the language, Learned said. Neither Learned nor Izquierdo initially thought it was a good idea, but Bloomberg was dedicated, they said, practicing the language daily with a tutor.

Bloomberg's 2005 campaign featured a different challenge for the group. By then the mayor was already well-known to the Hispanic community, but his opponent, Democrat Fernando Ferrer, a politician from the Bronx of Puerto Rican descent, threatened to galvanize the Hispanic community against him. So with each spot, Elevación tried to play on the inclusiveness theme of being a New Yorker. Embodying that theme was one advertisement of pure song that reunites two New York Salsa giants Johnny Pacheco, a native of the Dominican Republic, and Willie Colón, who was born in the South Bronx to Puerto Rican parents. The lyrics touted the improvements of New York over the four years that "Miguelito," as mayor, had helped to bring.

Learned and Izquierdo began working together on Hispanic marketing at Bethesda-based EMM Creative, founding its EMM Hispanic in 1998, Learned said. At EMM Hispanic the pair ran the Hispanic portion of Al Gore's advertising campaign in 2000. It was after Bloomberg's successful bid that the pair branched off on their own.

The two met more than two decades ago. Izquierdo got his start in the Washington area working for Arlington-based ZGS Communications, which owns several Telemundo affiliates and whose chief executive, Ronald Gordon, is Learned's brother.

Elevación employs about 20 people. Its offices are sleek-looking with track lighting, open spaces, black carpets and yellow- and rust-painted walls.

Learned said that the economic downturn could hurt their commercial client business, though it also might work to their advantage should big companies choose to downsize their advertising shops. Izquierdo added that the mix of government work helped diversify the company.

"The combination of the government and private sector allows us to play at all the levels we need to play," Izquierdo said. "We comfortably sit at the corner of Madison Avenue and K Street."

By Dan Beyers  |  October 9, 2008; 1:15 PM ET  | Category:  La Plaza
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

This article minimizes Willie Colón's contribution to the Bloomberg Campaign.
Colón penned the jingles (there were several)and recruited Pacheco. Willie Colón was largely responsible for the success of the Bloomberg campaigns in 2201 and 2005.

Posted by: Ernesto | October 10, 2008 8:46 PM

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