Client Spotlight: Ingrid Otero-Smart

Bridge Advisory is thrilled to introduce you to our client, Ingrid Otero-Smart, President & CEO of Casanova//McCann, a woman-owned business. Please take some time to read about Ingrid and her fascinating journey from Puerto Rico to Southern California, and learn a bit more about her passion for the advertising industry.

Q: Ingrid, please tell us a little about yourself.

A: I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and I am the oldest of 4. I studied Communications and began my career in Puerto Rico at McCann. In the late 80’s, I moved to California to work in a local ad agency called Mendoza Dillon. I had never heard of Orange County, so it was all an adventure. I interviewed for the job in NY, so when I landed here two weeks later, I was surprised to see the tiny little airport! How much has changed!

I worked at Mendoza Dillon for 18 years, starting as an Account Director and leaving as the CEO. It was hard to leave a place I had loved so much, but I was burnt out and needed a change. At that time, I became CEO of a small, independent, woman-owned ad agency in Santa Monica called Anita Santiago Advertising. I loved the independence and the control of our own destinies, but the drive to Santa Monica from South Orange County was rough. Three years later, when my son was starting middle school I moved to Casanova. My son was on the tennis team and I did not want to miss his games! He is 27 today, graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a Communications degree, and is pursuing his dream to become an actor. Last year in the middle of the pandemic, I decided it was time for a new adventure and purchased Casanova from our parent company, Interpublic Group (IPG). I was blessed with IPG’s and McCann’s full support. Today I am amazed at how we have grown as an independent and certified minority business.

Q: What inspired you to start your business, and how did you become involved in advertising?

A: I always say that finding a job in advertising was a stroke of luck, as I never planned it. I studied Communications, but my major was Journalism. When I graduated, I took a few months off. I had been working since I was 15, keeping a full schedule at school, and modeling since I was 18, so I needed a break. I decided I would take a year, as I completed several modeling jobs and then pursued my Masters. After a few months I got bored, as all my friends were already working, and the modeling jobs would not occupy my entire days. A friend told me about a job, a temporary job at McCann, and I went for it. It was in the traffic department and had no idea what that was (and couldn’t Google it, of course!). I got the temp job and quickly fell in love with the industry, and never left. I worked at McCann for 7 years until the opportunity to work in the US came along. I never dreamed of having my own business, yet here I am today.

Q: Tell us about your business and the services that Casanova provides.

A: Casanova//McCann is an integrated agency specializing in the Latino market in the US. Our Agency headquarters are in Costa Mesa, CA and we also have a full-service office in Detroit. Our footprint includes presence in Chicago, New York, Tampa, and Dallas. The Agency offers a variety of services to our clients including Advertising, Media planning and Buying, Digital & Social Media, Consulting. We also have an in-house digital production studio. Our work for the Latino market is both in Spanish and English, with culturally relevant messaging. We employ 75 people representing every Spanish-speaking country in the world.

Q: Do you have a specialty area of advertising that you focus on?

A: Casanova//McCann is an integrated Agency, so while advertising may be our specialty, we offer many other services. The Agency has a significant expertise in the CPG industry, but we do have a very diversified portfolio including Automotive, Financial Services, Pharmaceutical, Government, among others.

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of running your own business?

A: The most rewarding part of running my own business has been to re-think what our ideal Agency has been and working towards building that. We took a look at our Vision and Mission and re-defined it as becoming the most caring Agency out there. It is work in progress but every day I am amazed at what our team is doing and how we have grown in just a year.

Q: What has been your biggest business challenge over the last couple of years?

A: I think our biggest business challenge has also been our biggest opportunity: how to continually justify why marketers cannot keep ignoring the Latino market. We are the largest MC segment, and as we saw in the last Census, MC (multicultural) segments represented 100% of the growth of the US. Yet there are marketers that are not speaking to this segment of paying it lip service. The ones that are doing it right are the ones reaping the benefits.

Q: What is the most exciting aspect of working in advertising?

A: I can’t think of a more exciting, rewarding career. I fell in love with advertising 4 decades ago and I am still in love with it. Every day is different, and we get to work with interesting, curious, diverse people.

Q: Is there anything else that you think we should know?

A: Giving back to our community is an important goal and a pillar for the Agency becoming the most caring Agency and living our values. Every year we select 1-2 non-profits and do pro-bono work for them. We have worked for the Orange County LGBTQ Center as well as Oasis International, an organization that brings art education to underprivileged communities. Today, we also work with Donate Life CA and Best Friends Animal Society. We also want to inspire more young Latinos to enter this amazing field and that is why we are a founding member of Cal State Fullerton’s Latino Communications Institute and I serve on several Boards at the university, including the Board of Governors.

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