Arenas Entertainment: 20 years


When ABC enlisted Arenas Entertainment to help launch "Ugly Betty" with the U.S. Latino audience in 2006, it got more than just a publicity and marketing campaign -- it got a 360-degree media blitz.

It hit print (People en Espanol, Latina, TV Notas, etc.) and TV (cable networks MTV Tr3s, Galavision, Telemundo, Univision, etc.), the Internet (Yahoo, Terra and AOL Latino) and outdoor. Traditional Mexican corridos were composed for radio spots. Vans festooned with "Betty" billboards rolled through neighborhoods around the country. Spanish-language promos played in select movie theaters and on TV screens installed on commuter trains and buses.

But more important than the methods was the message. For many Latinos in the United States, "Betty" was old news. Originating as the Colombian telenovela "Yo soy Betty, la fea," it already had numerous other adaptations, including Mexico's "La Fea Mas Bella," which had a blockbuster run on Univision in the U.S. Arenas had to find a hook for the campaign that subtly acknowledged this, but still drew them in, with a tone that was hip and culturally aware, but not patronizing.

"They came up with a tagline that loosely translated as 'Ugly Betty -- she's so ugly that we made her in English,'" recalls Gilbert Davila, vp multicultural marketing for the Walt Disney Company, parent company of ABC and the show's producers, Touchstone Television. "In a very creative way, it let people know that they could now see a new, fresh version of 'Ugly Betty' in English."

Over the course of its 20-year history, Arenas has built its reputation on this capacity to find creative ways to effectively target the U.S. Latino audience. But while the membership of that group is diverse, CEO Santiago Pozo believes the best way to reach it is simple: Focus on the shared core values, which include a strong work ethic and a love of family, faith and tradition.

"To do my job properly, I have to look for the things that we have in common more than looking for what we have different," Pozo says. "Because when you're marketing a movie, you're trying to get everybody to see your picture, from Puerto Ricans to Cubans to Central Americans."

For the Disney/Pixar animated film "WALL-E," Arenas subtly tweaked the Spanish-language ads to emphasize the titular robot as a hardworking cleaning machine. For Paramount's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the company keyed in on iconic objects in the film and the idea that attending a Jones adventure is a ritualistic activity that should be passed on to the younger generation.

"Their insights are insights that are available only to them by being immersed in the culture, by being a part of the culture and having grown with the culture," observes Oren Aviv, president of production at Walt Disney Pictures. "They've helped us speak to that community respectfully and with truth."

Arenas' ability to reach that community has become valuable to other clients as well, including DreamWorks, MGM, Miramax and Universal, among others. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, the country's Hispanic population has more than doubled in the last two decades, growing from 22.4 million in 1990 to 45.5 million in July 2007.

Pozo gained his insights into that population the hard way. A native of Spain, he arrived in the U.S. in 1983 with dreams of enrolling in the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. But he had little money and spoke no English, and he wound up working a series of jobs as a bus driver and janitor while rooming with newly arrived Mexican immigrants.

"That was something that many years later has given me an insight into how to target that part of the Latino market," Pozo says. "I don't know it intellectually. I know it firsthand because I was there."

Eventually, Pozo was able to enroll in the Stark program on a Fulbright Scholarship, which led to a summer internship in the Universal Studios marketing department. While helping plot the campaign for the 1985 re-release of "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," he convinced his bosses to book a Spanish-language print of the film into the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, and it wound up having the largest gross of any single theater in the country. Impressed, Universal gave Pozo a full-time job as manager of special markets.

But after several more successes, Pozo had a run-in with his newly hired boss and was forced to leave Universal. Fortunately, he had impressed Robert Redford with his preliminary work on Redford's Latino-themed film "The Milagro Beanfield War," and the filmmaker subsequently asked Universal to hire him as an outside consultant for its 1988 release. Pozo dubbed his new venture the Arenas Group, despite the fact that he was its sole employee.

"Santiago saw that this was an untapped market," says Charlie Nelson, executive vp publicity at Grace Hill Media, who worked with Arenas regularly while vp national publicity for Walt Disney Pictures between 2002 and 2006. "It's a huge credit for Santiago, establishing himself in a time when niche marketing wasn't even a blip on the screen for major marketers."

By 1994, Arenas was creating the Spanish-language campaigns for films such as "Pulp Fiction" and "My Family," but neither the company nor the market truly came into its own until the campaign for Warner Bros.' 1997 biopic "Selena," with Jennifer Lopez in the title role as the slain Tejano singer.

"'Selena' is when Arenas became a full-service company, buying media and doing creative, as well as doing publicity and promotions," Pozo says. "It was the first movie that had a cohesive 360-degree campaign for the Latino market."

"Selena" had a clear connection to the Hispanic audience, but many of the films Arenas has worked on have not. In those cases, they've made the films relevant to their target audience by consulting the end credits and finding Latinos in the supporting cast or below-the-line crew and sending them on publicity tours.

Whenever possible, Arenas crafts campaigns to reflect the diversity of the Latino population. For Disney's upcoming "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," "We're offering different talent for different regions," says Isaac Cuevas, executive director of promotions. "Andy Garcia, who has a Cuban background, is more fitting for a Miami tour. Luis Guzman, who is Puerto Rican, may be better for a New York tour."

Nelson says that Arenas is especially adept at reaching Latinos at a grassroots level, whether it be through cultural events or educational institutions. For 2006's "Apocalypto," Arenas not only had Mel Gibson charming the Latino press by giving interviews in (limited) Spanish, it also set up screenings and Q&As at colleges around the country with high concentrations of Hispanic students.

Arenas' forays into production and distribution have been less successful. In fall 2001, Pozo launched Arenas Films with Universal Pictures and Marco Polo Investments, a Spanish venture capital firm. Their first release, the low-budget acquisition "Empire" (2002), made it into the black with domestic boxoffice grosses of $17.5 million and $22 million more in home video receipts, but the partnership soon fell apart.

"The agenda of a professional investor like Marco Polo is completely different than that of a studio," Pozo explains. "One is concerned about what movies are being put in the pipeline, and the other is concerned about the EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization)."

Arenas subsequently teamed with Myriad Pictures to produce the 2003 Antonio Banderas-Emma Thompson drama "Imagining Argentina," which performed poorly at the boxoffice in Spain and received only a limited art house release in the U.S. Its next effort, the 2004 dark comedy "Nicotina," also proved to be a financial disappointment. Although it fared better with the animated feature "The 3 Wise Men," which was released on DVD as a Walmart exclusive in November 2005, today its production and distribution efforts are more modest. Last month, the company handled the U.S. release of "Goal II: Living the Dream," and it is currently developing a film with producer Bill Block.

After all these years, Arenas' bread and butter is still the marketing of films to Latinos.

"(Pozo) has the right vision for the market in terms of putting all the elements together -- media, a promotion, screenings, on-site events plus publicity," says Patricia Buchanan, director of national sales for Telemundo. "With everything all together under one roof, Arenas can really impact the Hispanic attendance, which is the most important thing."