If you ever saw the movie Soul Plane, viewed a 50 Cent music video or enjoyed the Netflix scripted series El Ganador about Reggaeton singer Nicky Jam, you’re familiar with the artistry of Dominican-American Filmmaker Jessy Terrero.
What you may not be familiar with is Terrero’s remarkable journey and mission to elevate the stories, image and representation of Latinos in the film, television, music video, and the music industries.
That mission – which the Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA) will honor in October by bestowing Terrero its prestigious President’s Award – is full of inspiring lessons for Hispanic PR and marketing professionals.
In an era of continued Hispanic underrepresentation in the entertainment and marketing industries, where Hispanics are now 20 percent of the U.S. population but only receive two percent of the roles in movies and television* and occupy only three percent of the seats in Fortune 500 boardrooms*, Terrero’s story stands out because he never just complained about the disparities: he took strategic action and made a difference.
Among Terrero’s many trailblazing achievements:
- He became one of the most prolific and sought-after music video directors in the Hip-Hop and Reggaeton genres, producing hundreds of videos for artists such as 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Daddy Yankee, and more.
- He elevated the image of Latino artists and their music by improving the quality of their videos.
- He directed Soul Plane, starring Snoop Dog, Kevin Hart, and Sofia Vergara, giving Vergara her crossover breakthrough.
- In 2018, he successfully convinced Netflix to produce his scripted series about the life of Reggaeton singer Nicky Jam.
Based on recent interviews with Terrero, here are 5 marketing and leadership lessons from the New York-raised storyteller that Hispanic marketers and PR pros can draw inspiration from:
1. To influence what’s in front of the camera, get behind the camera
Terrero started out in the 90s as an actor, studying acting in college and getting small parts in television series such as Law & Order. One day he was drafting his résumé and realized that all of his roles had been nameless Latino stereotypes, such as Drug Dealer 4, Gang Banger 1, or Thug 2.
“I wasn’t even a Paco or a Sanchez,” Terrero said. “When I was getting the parts, it was cool to be ‘Drug Dealer 2’, but when you see it on a résumé, it looks bad. I was disappointed. And a lot of my friends in the industry were like, ‘We need more people behind the camera. We need more writers, directors, producers, because that’s what’s going to change this image of us on the screen.’ And that’s where I started shifting my energy.”
Marketer Takeaway: Play bigger. Seek positions of leadership in the organization you’re in, positions in which you can influence the strategy, narratives, hiring, and budgets.
2. Start small and rise with storytelling
Since smartphones didn’t exist in the 90s, Terrero learned the art and craft of filmmaking by taking internships on movie and music video sets in New York. His big break came when he overheard his director on a phone call with Puff Daddy (Sean Combs), who was complaining that he didn’t like her concept for his music video.
“I didn’t realize that a lot of directors don’t write their concepts,” Terrero said. “I told her, ‘I think I know exactly what [Puff Daddy] means. That’s why he didn’t like your idea or these other directors’ ideas.’ And she was like, ’If you’re so good, why don’t you write the concept?’”
Terrero seized the opportunity and wrote the concept for The Lox’s song “Money, Power, Respect,” featuring rappers DMX and Lil’ Kim. Puff Daddy approved it. Terrero’s winning concept led to more video concept writing assignments for artists such as Wu-Tang Clan and Mariah Carey.
“[My director] was one of the biggest music video directors at the time, so for me, that was the big shift because now people started looking at me as an Idea Guy. So I was getting all this music, and I was writing these concepts, and I saw my concepts come to life.”
Marketer takeaway: Sharpen your understanding of what makes a great story and how to best tell it. Read great writers, watch great films, and sign up for Creative Writing courses.
3. Rather than complain, be part of the change
Once Terrero established himself as a successful Hip Hop video director, he noticed that MTV’s countdown shows were playing Latin artist videos alongside general market videos. The difference in quality between an Aventura video and an N’Sync video was striking. Terrero was not happy about the disparity. He complained to his friends.
“I was like, “Man, I don’t like the way these videos look. These labels are not investing enough in Latin artists’. A friend said, ‘You’ve got a choice: you can continue to complain or you could be part of the change because you’re Latino and you’re doing it on the general market side, so if you don’t like the videos on this side, then you need to come on this side and make a difference.’”
Although the video budgets weren’t as high in the Latin market, Terrero took his friend’s words to heart, ingratiated himself with Latin artists such as Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Wisin & Yandel, and Nicky Jam, and made it his mission to elevate their video standards.
“When I started working in the Latin market, I felt like what I was doing had a different purpose and it felt better for me,” Terrero said. “I stayed in that market and just started pushing the agenda. And as the visuals changed, I felt that other directors followed suit. Other artists started demanding from the labels, like ‘Man I don’t want a cheap video. I want my video to look clean.’ That image started to help because the Latin artists started feeling like pop stars and their image matched the general market image, which, in terms of growth, helps because then it attracts more brands, it attracts more people, it makes people in other countries visualize you in a different way and it pushed the music out of the urban ghettos.”
Marketer takeaway: If you’ve spent time in the general market and feel you have great ideas that you can contribute to Hispanic marketing, apply your talents and experience in the Hispanic space. You may find the work more fulfilling as a pioneer making a difference.
4. Cross-community collaboration can yield strategic wins
Terrero credits African-American rappers for his early breaks. And when Terrero was making the shift from music videos to movies, he remembers that African-American directors such as John Singleton, Spike Lee, and Tyler Perry reached out to mentor him.
“If it wasn’t for Hip Hop, I wouldn’t exist,” Terrero said. “Because that door wasn’t being opened for directors like me. It was Puff Daddy, it was Jay Z, it was guys like that who opened the doors. They got empowered to say, “Hey, how come the directors don’t look like us? “They started empowering directors of color. So a lot of times I try to empower Latinos because I feel like we need that empowerment.”
Marketer Takeaway: Rather than viewing African Americans as competitors for limited multicultural marketing dollars, greater collaboration could yield strategic wins. When was the last time you reached out to an African-American or Asian-American marketer for mentoring, knowledge sharing, or collaboration?
5. Keep educating gatekeepers on Hispanic market sales statistics
As Latin artists began to gain international popularity, Terrero noticed that they were breaking attendance records in the United States. When he would tell this to industry leaders and general market artists, they were incredulous.
But the staggering numbers didn’t lie.
“I would say, ‘Hey, Wisin & Yandel sold out two nights at Madison Square Garden and a rapper would be like “No they didn’t. Not by themselves.” They’d call me back 10 minutes later, and say “I just called the Madison Square Garden. They sold out.” I’d say, ‘Yeah, I told you. Aventura just did four nights at the Staples Center by themselves.”
At that time, the standard practice among general market rap artists was to tour together as co-headliners to increase attendance.
“And these kids, because the music was in Spanish, they were crushing it,” Terrero said. “But people didn’t understand so when I tried to sell projects like the Nicky Jam series, nobody saw it and they were like, ‘Okay, the music’s in Spanish. We don’t get it.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, but they’re selling out arenas in the U.S.’”
“So it wasn’t ’til the streamers came along that they started saying, ‘Okay, of the top 10 videos on YouTube this year, eight of them happened to be a Reggaeton.’ So I started pushing the agenda. I started saying, ‘You know what? Reggaeton is just as big. It’s America’s new Hip Hop.’ And finally, Netflix was the right partner because they were brave enough to take the chance.”
Marketer Takeaway: Major brands and general market companies are not ignoring the data about Hispanic growth and consumption. They simply may not be aware. Continue presenting them with fresh research.
HPRA President Sonia Diaz has confirmed Terrero’s presence at their upcoming BRAVO! Awards, set to take place at The Drake Hotel in Chicago, Illinois on October 12, 2023.
For more information about the HPRA event, click here