A Wink & A Smile: Tere Zubi Makes the Hall of Fame
by Maria Budet
As I remember it, even Tere Zubi’s manner of speaking was three dimensional. Her words danced with the same kind of energy that vibrated through the rest of her, like she was moving in 20 directions at the same time, her unique syncopation helping her stay ahead of the game. Someone who loved her dearly recently referred to her as un personaje (“quite the character”), and she was. More than just special, Tere was vibrant, hysterical, dynamic, demanding, giving, insightful, irreverent, charming, strong-willed, quick-witted, resourceful and real. It comes as no surprise then, to those who knew her well and to those who’ve admired her from a distance, that tonight, Tuesday, March 27th, Tere Zubizarreta will be the first Hispanic woman to be inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame.
Tere wasn’t the first Cuban mom to go to work outside the home, reinventing herself in exile, nor was she the first to work her way up, to start her own business, to be successful… But who got there first was less important than whether or not it was done right and, although she’d be the first one to tell you she was figuring it out as she went along, the lady got it right. And this time, she also got there first.
A lot of Tere’s success was built on two pillars: her gut and her team. In the days where data and measurement tools for the Hispanic market were scarcer than an iPad3 on release day, the Gut-Powered Gauge was a barometer to be reckoned with; lucky for Tere and her clients, hers was a good one. She augmented that instinct with a talented team that she always said worked with her, not for her. One of my favorite examples of that is Zubi’s Winn Dixie pitch. Tere and two of her cronies, the original Zubi All-stars, drove a Winnebago to Winn Dixie headquarters. They moved their pitch meeting with a bevy of suited white males from a boardroom to a crowded RV kitchen where three Latinas illustrated Hispanics’ unique relationship with food by literally whipping up traditional Hispanic dishes. Those execs left that RV with full bellies, educated palettes, a window into their consumers’ needs, and a new Hispanic AOR.
Mama Zubi was always all in, personally invested in the success of her clients, her family and her team. Walk the halls and you still find the corporate culture is a unique hybrid of professional and home, powered by cafecito Cubano, creativity and sheer force of will. Familiar, friendly, frenetic and fantastic, Tere popped her head into a heated discussion about how we were going to talk about roaches/cars/planes/household cleaners/(insert relevant product here) to Hispanic consumers in an insightful, culturally-relevant way, stopped at your desk to ask about your kids, and followed the family dogs into her office for a conference call with the United Way… all before lunch.
An independent spirit, she was always happy for those working to better themselves, especially if they played a role in building the industry that she laid the foundation for. You cannot be a woman in this industry and not feel how solid the path she laid down for us is. It’s our own efforts and our families’ sacrifices that secured our educations, but it’s the work of pioneers like Tere that’s made it possible for Latinas to sit in boardrooms across America for the past decade and talk about the U.S. Hispanic market in an intelligent, strategic way to business leaders that actually listen. Tere and her generation yelled loudly so we wouldn’t have to; if it “takes a village”, they were the settlers.
These days, I’m grateful to catch her eye whenever I pass the sunlit portrait of her that sits in Zubi’s reception area, where she watches over her extended family. Sometimes, I could swear she’s winking at us, knowingly… It’s exciting to have the AAF wink back.