HOW IT ALL STARTED
Vergara and Balaguer met in 1996 through a common friend. Right away they hit it off. Starting out as a talent management agency, the first project was a calendar featuring Vergara. "We couldn't print the calendars fast enough to meet the demand," says Balaguer. "I see opportunities everywhere," says Vergara. "When I realized 20 years ago I could sell a lot of magazines in Colombia by being on the covers, I immediately felt I could sell my own calendars, endorse brands and have my own products in the U.S. and around the world with the right partners…and I just went for it." Balaguer says the 2000 census gave advertisers the first peek into the growing Hispanic purchasing power. So when Vergara scored a small part—as a Mexican housemaid, no less—in the 2002 movie Big Trouble, he convinced producer Barry Josephson to let LatinWE market the movie to Hispanics. "I told him we could promote his movie in a way that had never been done before in the Latino market. We were able to sign Disney for that movie and then they ended up giving us all their movies. We later signed Universal pictures, Sony Pictures, Paramount, New Line and Summit."
Soon after, Balaguer realized "no one was using Latino stars to endorse their products." He created an endorsement division, helping Vergara bag the first endorsement with Bally's Fitness and score deals for other Univision talent. "For the last seven years, our endorsement division does 87 percent of all endorsements in Spanish in the United States, even with stars that are not exclusive to LatinWE. We became the company to go to for endorsements."