Miami is the Next Big Thing in Tech

The cofounders of creative and digital agency República are helping position the city by steering Fortune 500 clients and the tech world to embrace the potential of America’s burgeoning multicultural population

Jorge A. Plasencia and Luis Casamayor could not have picked a worse time to launch an advertising and communications agency. It was November 2006, and just as República was getting off the ground, the United States spun into its worst economic period since the Great Depression.

But looking back, the duo behind what has become one of the country’s leading cross-cultural shops wouldn’t change a thing. Together, they weathered early storms to build an independent creative powerhouse known for making deep connections and bridging language and culture between brands and consumers.

Now, nine years since they started, República has been inducted into the Inc. 5000 “Honor Roll,” a special designation for companies that have earned their place on the magazine’s coveted list of America’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies for five consecutive years. Plasencia and Casamayor are using digital strategies and new technologies to drive República to new heights. As they do, they’re working alongside some of Miami’s other leaders to cement the South Florida hotspot as one of the world’s most vibrant tech, startup, and arts hubs.

How hard was it to launch República right as an economic downturn hit?

Jorge A. Plasencia: Well, if we had only known…but it actually worked to our advantage. Everyone was slashing marketing budgets, so right from inception we had to be really clear on delivering results and being ultra responsive to what was happening in the marketplace. We didn’t know any other way, so that’s still how we live things out today. It also made us nimble and very entrepreneurial.

Luis Casamayor: Yeah, and right away we focused on digital because we knew that the tech firms and startups were still trying to monetize everything they were creating. The whole change in the economy forced a new paradigm in how these connections are measured with the consumer, and we’ve built our agency around those connections.   

JP: The time we launched the company was really the advent of the tech and social media world we know today. Twitter also started in 2006. We weren’t an agency that had to find a way to incorporate digital into an existing structure; it’s been part of República’s DNA since day one. We’ve brought together the most talented staff, including countless millennials, who really understand tech, coding, digital, social, and mobile. We live it and consume it.

And, we have the props to prove it. República’s won many national and international awards for our digital work, including an Appy Award for Best Navigation App for the Miami Trolley App and the award for Best Agency Using Social Media from Latinos in Tech Innovation and Social Media.

You mentioned several factors coming together in a perfect storm. How does Miami factor in?

LC: Miami is the epicenter. It has this great multicultural spin. It’s a microcosm of what the whole United States will be in the future because the Hispanic population is booming, and there are so many other cultures here too. We understand that, and when we combine that with our tech and digital prowess, we can help brands resonate positively with multicultural consumers.

People may think of an agency like yours in Los Angeles or New York. What advantage does Miami give you?

JP: It’s actually the ideal place. Miami’s the gateway to Latin America. It’s the center for business and commerce for the region. Miami has the blending of all the cultures, and that resonates in our work. The big firms are starting to see what we can do from here. Today, right here from Miami, we’re doing great work for Fortune 500 clients across the United States, including a number of Silicon Valley tech leaders such as Google.

Another plus to being based in Miami is that we can do work in Latin America. We’ve actually established a network of affiliated agencies in various countries, including Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia.

LC: We have more than 100 employees and twenty countries represented in our agency. We are the market. We know the triggers and insights that go into how different audiences consume media and advertising. Combine that with our location, the work we do in Latin America, and the skills we have as a team, and it’s hard to replicate.

How do you ensure that you keep doing all these things well?

JP: Luis and I are cross-cultural. We live in both worlds. We were both born in the United States and we embrace and live both our American and our Latino cultures. We’re both fully bilingual. That blending of cultures lets us target folks that have that hyphen, like us, and embrace their rich heritage. We speak Spanish, enjoy our Latin music, and of course, love our delicious cuisine! When we market to people, we don’t just market in language—we market in culture.

LC:  We are advisors—many times directly to the C-suite, boards of directors, and key leadership on how to reach and engage with diverse consumers. We also recently started a new division, Spectrum by República, created to counsel tech and Fortune 500 companies as they seek to build or deepen their diversity and inclusion practices, including their supplier-diversity programs. República has a lot of experience in this arena, so creating a specialized division of the company made sense. As a minority-certified enterprise, we’re also involved with the National Minority Supplier Development Council and recently achieved prestigious Corporate Plus status as a company with a proven track record for doing successful national work for clients—and we’re one of only two advertising agencies with the distinction.   

What has it been like to collaborate with your peers in Miami as the city’s reputation for these things is growing?

JP: Miami is just 119 years old. We’re still building this city, really, and it’s our role to deepen what our parents’ generation started and make this an even greater community. This city has an energy like no other. It’s vibrant. Anything is possible here. If you have the gift to create, Miami is the place for creators.

There’s also a watershed moment for the tech and startup community going on right now in Miami. There’s so much opportunity and talent here. One of our good friends, Manny Medina, started eMerge Americas, an annual tech event that’s really driving the conversation forward. We’re proud to have been involved with eMerge from its inception, working closely with Manny and his team. Collaborating with Manny and so many others, including Matt Haggman of the Knight Foundation, we feel eMerge is a catalyst to cementing Miami’s place as a major tech hub for this part of the world.

What’s the real potential there for further innovation?

JP: Things have spun from eMerge like the Idea Center at Miami Dade College. This year, we partnered with the Idea Center and the Knight Foundation to launch MarketHack, a digital marketing course taught by industry pros. We’re giving students the know-how and assets they need to be successful in marketing in the digital realm. We’re also an early supporter of Square co-founder Jim McKelvey’s LaunchCode effort and hired the first LaunchCode apprentice here in Miami.

What technologies are driving what you’re doing today?

LC: The most important thing is for us to understand the consumer, and we use a lot of tools to understand the consumer journey as we build and create brands. We’ve developed our own suite of tools to measure and analyze the consumer at multiple touchpoints. We monitor online activity and social networks so we can capture that info and serve content to deliver against it.

JP: The traditional way was to serve an ad and then measure it some time later, but now we’re doing it pretty much in real time. It’s allowing data and creativity to merge.

Give me your best piece of advice for someone like you, only ten to fifteen years younger.

JP: Persevere. There’s nothing that comes easy. You have to work hard every single day. And you should do your best to help as many people as you can along the way.

Editor’s note: Look for more from Jorge and Luis on the  March/April cover of Hispanic Executive magazine, celebrating República’s ten-year anniversary.