Lionel Sosa is an independent marketing consultant and nationally recognized portrait artist. He is the founder of Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar & Associates (now Bromley Communications), which became the largest Hispanic advertising agency in the U.S.
Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, the son of Mexican immigrants, Lionel Sosa was expected to learn a trade, defer to gringos and vote Democratic. As a child, he always wanted to paint, but he was so impressed at age 13 by Dwight Eisenhower’s version of the American Dream during a televised speech at the 1952 Republican Convention that he decided he wanted to be a rich businessman — and a Republican.
After graduating from Lanier High School and serving in the United States Marine Corps, Sosa returned back home and designed neon and plastic signs, eventually forming his own graphic studio; called Sosart. In 1974, Sosart expanded and merged with another ad agency, called Ed Yardang. In 1978, Texas’s first Republican Senator John Tower hired the agency to help garner Hispanic votes. In spite of Sosa’s lack of experience in politics, Tower won 37% of the Hispanic vote, making it the largest percentage of Hispanics voting for a state-wide Republican candidate. Soon clients like Bacardi rum, Dr Pepper and Coors beer came seeking his advice on how to woo the Latino market, eventually turning Sosa & Associates into the largest Hispanic advertising agency in the U.S. At one point, it was billing more than $100 million annually. Sosa & Associates was created in 1980.
Sosa’s experience with Tower led him to become active in Republican presidential politics, serving as an adviser to the Republican campaigns, including those of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
The George W. Bush campaign became the first Presidential campaign in history to incorporate a Latino strategy directly into its overall campaign. For years national races had small symbolic ‘Viva Kennedy’ or ‘Viva Ford’ efforts that included a quick photo op in heavily Hispanic precincts. For the first time in that campaign Latino staff worked not just as volunteers and advance, but, literally at every level of the operation. In fact, the first staff on the payroll were Latinos and at the top, advising George W. Bush was Lionel Sosa. For the first time in a Presidential campaign Spanish language television ads appeared in places like Concord New Hampshire, Raleigh North Carolina, and Memphis Tennessee and for the first time there was an extraordinary national ad campaign targeting Hispanic voters in English as well. With Sosa’s help, George W. Bush snared an estimated 40% of Latino voters in 2004, a huge jump from Bob Dole’s 21% in 1996.
While Lionel is undoubtedly the first man to bring Spanish language mediums into common practice on state and national campaigns – he was also among the first to demonstrate that targeting Hispanic voters in English was as, or more, effective as Spanish if you understood and could connect in both Hispanic and popular American culture.
Currently retired, Sosa remains a prominent figure in San Antonio and a chicano marketing pioneer and legend. He and his wife Kathy run a consulting firm called Sosa & Sosa.
In his heart, he’s always wanted to paint so three times a week, the Sosas retreat to their studio in Castroville, Texas to paint together. Located in a restored Alsatian-styled farmhouse built in the late 1800’s, the two relax in a quaint neighborhood, with little to distract them from their art. Both integrate Mexican people and culture as inspiration.
In 2005 Sosa was named one of the twenty-five most influential Hispanics in America by Time Magazine. Sosa has also been named to the Texas Business Hall of fame.