(From left) AMC President Charlie Collier, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks, Jon Hamm, and "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner. Photo courtesy of Creative Civilization.

The revolutionary San Antonio Advertising firm Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar and Associates has been inducted into the canon of American history. American Enterprise,” a 20-year-long installation on the history of American business, will open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History on July 1.

San Antonio natives Lionel Sosa, Ernest Bromley and Al Aguilar, known as the “Godfathers of Hispanic Marketing,” will be prominently featured in the exhibit. The Smithsonian reached out to them last year to recognize them for their pioneering work that essentially defined and created the industry of Hispanic advertising. 

Photo of Al Aguilar with Lionel Sosa and Ernest Bromley, featured in Hispanic Business magazine in 1989. Courtesy Photo.
Photo of Al Aguilar (left) with Lionel Sosa (seated) and Ernest Bromley (right), featured in Hispanic Business magazine in 1989. Courtesy Photo.

This exhibit is the first of its kind, one that “looks at advertising as the essential bridge between products and people,” said Kathleen Franz, one of the exhibit’s curators.

In January, the Smithsonian came to San Antonio to accept the firm’s donation of objects, including print and video ads, business records, and the famous tribute to Selena they designed for Coca-Cola. On Friday, March 27, the Smithsonian also accepted artifacts from the wildly popular and long-running Mad Men television show, now in its final season. The show, if it has somehow escaped your notice, follows the public and private lives of the employees of a Madison Avenue advertising firm during the Creative Revolution of the 1960s and beyond.

The fictional Mad Men (and women), including John Hamm, who plays main character Don Draper in the series, mingled with the real Ad Men from San Antonio during the private event. Al Aguilar attended on behalf of his former partners.

“I’m just excited that San Antonio is represented in this exhibit. It’s monumental and historical. Great creative minds are everywhere, and those from San Antonio are now being recognized,” Aguilar said after the event.

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He added that in the Mad Men era there were few, if any, women or Hispanics in the business: “At the time, we were not invited to the party — but today we are the party.”

Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar and Associates, which came to be known as the “San Antonio Madison Avenue,” was distinguished by its progressive cultural understanding of what was needed to reach the Hispanic market in both Spanish and English. Sosa, Bromley and Aguilar all say that this understanding was inspired in no small part by their hometown.

“We were able to see what a more mature, diverse market would look like,” Bromley commented. Aguilar added that San Antonio was ahead of the country in the way it embraced a multicultural heritage, and that it now serves as an example of positive change to come.

Actor Jon Hamm poses for a photo with Gisela Girard. Photo courtesy of Creative Civilization.
Actor Jon Hamm poses for a photo with Creative Civilization President Gisela Girard. Photo courtesy of Creative Civilization.

When Lionel Sosa founded the firm in 1981 as Sosa and Associates, his first objective was to put food on the table. A dedication to working hard on behalf of his clients and business has propelled him from the beginning.

When Sosa entered the business in the 1960s, he found no Latinos in the advertising industry. He kept hearing that they weren’t qualified, and he began a personal mission to “find a niche to give Latinos an opportunity to prove themselves.” It was a chance to “improve ourselves, to produce a better product,” and to build a thriving business that would compete with agencies in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago.

Bromley commented that at the time, the Hispanic market had not been portrayed well, nor had it been directly addressed: “We saw an opportunity to serve our community.”

Sosa feels that the firm’s immense success derived in part from the synergy between its three principals. “We were the perfect combination of talents in business, marketing and creative enterprise. We relied on each other’s talents and on our shared goal to not only be the best Hispanic ad agency in America, but also to be the biggest. We went out to prove that we were number one, even though we were not in one of those big cities. That took hard work,” he said.

In less than two decades, the firm grew to be the largest and highest-billing Hispanic advertising agency in the country. It drew clients from around the world, and enticed employees away from big advertising meccas like New York and Los Angeles.

The firm set a precedent for Hispanic advertising with its innovative campaigns for Coca-Cola, American Airlines, Western Union, Burger King, Proctor and Gamble, Budweiser and more. They were named Southwest Agency of the Year by Adweek Magazine in 1996, and garnered numerous national awards.

Al Aguilar, Lionel Sosa, and Ernest Bromley, at the Smithsonian announcement during the SAHCC Gala in January 2015. Courtesy Photo.
Peter Liebhold, chair and curator for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Division of Work and Industry (left), Al Aguilar (center), Lionel Sosa (right), at the Smithsonian exhibit announcement during the SAHCC Gala in January 2015. Courtesy Photo.

The Smithsonian officially accepted the firm’s donation of artifacts during the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Gala in January. In addition to a place in the permanent exhibit, the Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar & Associates story will be showcased in 2016 in a rotating “New Perspective” portion of the exhibit. Sosa, Bromley and Aguilar also have recorded their stories for the Smithsonian’s Archives Center of oral histories, a valuable resource for the future.

These three men have continued to distinguish themselves over the years. The firm officially became Bromley Communications, which now specializes in total marketing and continues to boast an impressive roster of clients. The firm’s work has been integral to San Antonio’s own extensive marketing campaigns. The firm’s website states that staff members, “create communications that speak (to consumers) in a truthful and respectful way …empowering them to form their own connection.”

Al Aguilar, along with his partner, agency President Gisela Girard, founded Creative Civilization in 1999. The firm, which encompasses all aspects of advertising, marketing, digital and public relations for its clients has recently won thirteen Addy Awards, and has been internationally recognized and honored for its creative advertising, including the now-ubiquitous “Go Spurs Go” slogan that coincided with the team’s first NBA championship win.

Sosa now runs the marketing firm Sosa and Sosa with his wife Kathy. He has served as the Hispanic media consultant for the Republican Party for seven presidential campaigns since 1980, was admitted to the Texas Business Hall of Fame, and was named one of the “most influential Hispanics in America” by Time Magazine. He is the author of several books, including “The Americano Dream: How Latinos Can Achieve Success in Business and in Life.”

“We are a little piece of a much bigger story,” Aguilar said from Washington D.C. last Friday, “but San Antonio is now a part of that story. We are the future of other cities.”

Bromley agreed: “Every day as we go forward the whole country starts to look more like San Antonio.”

*Featured/top image: (From left) AMC President Charlie Collier, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks, Jon Hamm, and “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner. Photo courtesy of Creative Civilization.

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Gretchen Greer

Gretchen Greer

Gretchen Greer is a freelance writer and photographer, born and raised in San Antonio. She has lived in France and England, and currently divides her time between Texas, London and Burgundy. You can find...