Elena Sotomayor pauses in front of the dairy fridge at Carniceria Guanajuato, a Mexican grocery store in Wicker Park, and scrutinizes the stacks of yogurt behind the glass doors. She whips out her BlackBerry and snaps a photo.
"My client's yogurt isn't in there," she says before picking up her basket of produce and moving down the aisle.
At the register, as Sotomayor unloads her basket of apples, avocados, chiles, poblano peppers, corn and Oaxaca cheese, she pauses again to ponder the packets of gum piled beside the magazines.
"Now this is interesting," she says as she aims her BlackBerry and snaps another picture. "They don't have a display case."
For Sotomayor, a stylish 38-year-old bubbling with energy, Sunday errands are never just errands. As she flits through the grocery store, the car wash and the nail salon, Sotomayor is on the lookout for what Latinos are talking about, what they're buying and how those products are displayed — a kind of casual market research she uses to better help clients promote their products and services to the booming Latino community.
"I live and breathe what I do," says Sotomayor, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Cardenas Marketing Network, a multicultural event marketing agency that specializes in targeting Hispanics.
Sotomayor, who was born in Bogota, Colombia, and moved to west suburban La Grange when she was 13, is the kind of person who is always doing, always working, always strategizing at a pace sure to make the rest of us mortals ashamed of our indolence.
She begins her Sundays early, around 8:30 a.m., with a shot of wheatgrass juice and a trip to the gym for Pilates class. Brunch at Sushi Samba Rio, where she orders a club soda, a mimosa and a sampler of tiradito — slices of raw fish in delicate sauces — serves partly as a client visit; Sotomayor threw Sushi Samba's opening bash seven years ago.
One of her most important errands comes next: her weekly trip to Bert's Car Wash in River West, where chatting with the men who towel down her white Range Rover doubles as market research. She asks the men, many of them recent immigrants from Mexico, what musicians they're interested in seeing and whether they've heard about coming concerts, to gauge if advertising is working. She gives them freebies left over from promotions.
"I brought you gifts, like always," Sotomayor says in Spanish as she hands out white polo shirts with the Chelada beer logo and black drawstring bags from Wrigley's 5 gum.
Sotomayor then drops by her office a few blocks away. Cardenas Marketing Network is based in a former horse stable that's been sleekly renovated with gleaming hardwood floors and exposed brick and ductwork. In addition to brand promotions, Cardenas organizes concert tours for Latin artists in the U.S., and evidence of that is everywhere. Signed guitars from Latin greats such as Mana, Ricardo Arjona and Carlos Vives line the walls like a Hard Rock Cafe. Posters of Daddy Yankee, Ricky Martin and Chayanne share wall space with framed soccer jerseys.
Sitting at her desk in her own office, where the walls are draped with papers and flowcharts detailing coming events, Sotomayor takes out a yellow highlighter and flips through Billboard Magazine — "my Bible," she calls it. She turns to the Latin charts to mark which artists are popular, and potentially affordable, to hire for an event for People en Espanol.
Amid the rock and sports paraphernalia, Sotomayor's most-prized possession hangs prominently in a glass case above her office door: the black and gold costume of the famous Spanish bullfighter Julian Lopez, better known as El Juli.
"I'm a bullfighting groupie," says Sotomayor, who also owns a pair of dried bull's testicles, currently hanging at her grandmother's house. She loves the culture, the tradition, the man-versus-beast dynamic that she considers a metaphor for life.
"I feel like I'm bullfighting every day," she said.
Next pass: M.GO Fashion Salon in Wicker Park, a boutique owned by Sotomayor's friends, where she drops off fliers for the coming musical "Celia," based on the life of the Cuban salsa icon Celia Cruz and produced by Cardenas Marketing Network. While there, Sotomayor looks at new jewelry, tries on shoes, gets a chipped nail fixed and makes off with a "mohawk" hat she barely takes off the rest of the day.
The Mexican grocery store is the next stop, and between the yogurt case and the gum packets Sotomayor pauses to answer her cell phone.
"That was the best call of the day," she says when it's over. It was her mom, she says, calling to confirm that New Balance will send 150 pairs of shoes to an orphanage she works with in the Dominican Republic.
Stopping at her home, a stunning two-bedroom condo with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows overlooking Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, Sotomayor decompresses for a moment. She flips her kitchen TV to "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," a show she loves because it doesn't require her to think.
Sotomayor — who lives with her boyfriend of 16 years, Henry Cardenas, who is the owner of Cardenas Marketing Network — said she has trouble turning off her brain, and only recently stopped bringing her BlackBerry to the gym because she kept dropping it.
Clients look to her for the next big thing, which is challenging when dealing with a group as diverse as Hispanics.
"The audience is either unacculturated Hispanics who are recent arrivals or younger Hispanics who are very tech savvy," says Sotomayor, whose biggest clients include Wrigley and Anheuser-Busch. "Do you do it in English? Spanish? Spanglish? With music and sports, you can't miss, but it depends who you pick."
Sotomayor's final stop of the day is at Underground Wonder Bar to listen to a live Latin jazz band. She spills two glasses of crayons onto the white paper tablecloth and, picking out a green and yellow crayon, draws palm trees, a beach chair and a big yellow sun.
She has an important meeting the next day with Red Bull, a company she's been trying to snag as a client for years, and hopes to be in bed by 11:30 p.m. But she knows herself.
"I'll probably go to bed with my computer."
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