Oye cómo va: Corporate America looks to PR agencies to reach Latino consumers

It is estimated that US companies spend between $50 million to $75 million dollars annually trying to connect with Hispanicsthrough PR efforts, and many are turning to (Hispanic) PR firms to more effectively tailor their messages.

By contrast, the general market saw $4.1 billion in PR investment, a 9.5% growth over the previous year, and between fifty-five and eighty times what was spent in Hispanic PR.

Consequently, some good questions are being raised about the role of PR companies in the Hispanic market: What types of messages are they trying to convey to the Hispanic market? What methods and mediums are they using to do so? How do they approach the Hispanic market differently from the general market? All of these are questions that corporations and PR agencies are themselves asking.

The message...

The consensus among industry professionals is that PR companies need to demonstrate that they  are serious about reaching out to Hispanic audiences, and are not simply paying lip service to this increasingly affluent market segment.

As Edelman’s VP of Hispanic Outreach Fabiola Rodriguez puts it, “What is essential is to demonstrate a commitment to building a long term relationship with the community. In fact, if a company’s Hispanic outreach efforts are not backed by real substance, then they could backfire and end up having a negative impact.”

Martin Llorens, President of Miami-based PR Conexion, says that the key to making inroads into the Hispanic market is by showing respect to its constituents. “Hispanics are very brand loyal. If you show respect to them, and earn their respect, they are yours.”

Martin notes that the best way to earn this respect is to demonstrate an understanding for their culture and values. “This can be difficult, though, as the Hispanic market is so diverse. That is why you have to know exactly who your target consumers are and really focus on them and what is important to them. In general, though, I favor positive, aspirational messaging.”

The mediums...

As Maria Amor, of San Diego based boutique firm Formula PR, points out, an important consideration is how to get the message to the intended audience: “Although this is changing, Hispanics are typically not as web-savvy as the general market. They still rely on more traditional mediums such as print and broadcast. Radio is a hugely important outlet with which to reach them. So you really have to think about who you are trying to reach, and target them with the most appropriate medium with which to do so.”

Of course each medium has its own advantages and disadvantages, which is why most companies will go for a mix of delivery mechanisms, integrating print, online and broadcast campaigns to achieve the greatest possible coverage.

The mix...

Broadcast is an attractive vehicle, as radio is very popular among Hispanics, and they spend an average of 17 hours a week watching television, compared with 12 hours for the general market (Source: Market Segment Group 2003 MSR Multicultural Marketing Report).

The disadvantage with broadcast is that “topics that interest producers and news anchors have to be very local to get coverage,” says Maria Alejandra Galdo, an associate at Burson-Marsteller’s US Hispanic Practice in Miami.

Online is a growing area for the PR industry, although the ethics of online PR can get a bit complicated, as the line is blurred between average people voicing their support for a company, and paid representatives of that company working on their client’s behalf.

Nonetheless, Hispanics do spend more time online than most people: approximately 9.5 hours a week, versus 8.5 hours for the general market (Source: AOL / Roper Hispanic Internet Survey 2005). While Hispanics spend more time online than the general public, not as many have internet access at home.

Print is another great venue to get out the message. For one thing, Hispanic print has seen robust growth over the past 10 years. “Print also carries with it a great deal of credibility. If your project gets print coverage, it is much more impacting to the reader than traditional advertising methods, since it has much more of a word-ofmouth aspect to it,” says PR Conexion’s Martin Llorens.

Barreto & Brightwell (Miamibased, Hispanic PR/Communications agency) President Martin Barreto also sees print as a great way to get out your message: “I think print is a wonderful vehicle because there are over 1,000 Spanish-language weeklies, and over 20 dailies, and they are all looking for informative content for their audiences.” But the message has to be right... “One has to bear in mind that publications are more interested in pieces that highlight a company’s socially-responsible initiatives or community-building projects than self-serving advertising,” adds Mr. Barreto.

The challenges...

And there is plenty of self-serving advertising in the industry as well, leading to a common frustration among newspaper staff: PR-fatigue. Vida Latina Publisher Seth J. Mason says that he is continuously bombarded by PR people “following-up” on items that really warrant advertising-space, rather than straight coverage.

He notes that it is actually counterproductive for PR reps to be so aggressive. “It makes publishers less receptive to legitimate PR, because we are constantly getting harassed with this masked advertising. In the world of Public Relations, publishers are the hand that feeds; and as the old adage goes, you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you.”

This is why, according to Martin Barreto, one of the greatest PR challenges is execution: “What is essential is to have good advisors to tell you what is worth announcing and what isn’t, as well as when best to make your announcement. If you are sending a press release every five minutes, people will soon turn a blind eye to your message.”

Another challenge is making sure that your message reaches the audience you are targeting, and that it is saying what you intended it to.

Edelman’s Fabiola Rodriguez says that these days your message must be bilingual so that it can reach out not only to Spanish-dominant Latinos but also second and third generation Latinos that feel more comfortable with English.

Rodriguez also stresses the importance of the type of language used. “If you are going to be targeting a particular ethnic group, you need to be speaking their language. A straight translation of English copy isn’t going to suffice.”

Making the Hispanic market more closely mirror the general market is another oft-cited challenge among PR professionals. Connexion’s Martin Llorens says that there is still room for improvement in terms of distinguishing advertising from PR. “The problem is that so many Hispanic PR agencies are also offering advertising services, and vice versa, so the line between what is PR and what is advertising gets a bit obscured.”

Ivette Zurita, Account Executive for Pasadena-based Valence, Perez, Echeveste PR firm says that ideally, there should be no difference between the Hispanic PR industry and the general market.

However, due to the challenge of reaching consumers in a bilingual fashion, it is twice as much work having to process all of the information and media materials in both Spanish and English:

“It´s not a simple translation either. You must truly understand the different groups within the Hispanic community and the different mediums to reach them. Of course Hispanic PR practitioners can also handle general market media efforts and campaigns that target the general market, but the Hispanic PR Industry is a golden child because it is reaching into markets that were never tapped into before,” says Zurita. “But it is an ongoing challenge to make our clients realize how valuable the Hispanic community really is and continue to have stable budgets available.”

However, things are picking up a bit. Just recently, for instance, the San Antonio-based agency A Big Chihuahua/ K. Fernandez, announced that Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey had retained their services to support its sponsorship of the acclaimed Mariachi star Vicente Fernandez' U.S. tour.

In addition, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) announced that it had hired two agencies - Ketchum and The Mendoza Group - to head up PR efforts surrounding the USHCC's 27th annual National Convention and Business Expo in Philadelphia this September. Also Sigma Alimentos USA announced that after careful review of its options, it has selected Legion Advertising as their agency of record for its flagship brand, FUD. The agency is charged with promoting FUD's expansion efforts within the U.S. Hispanic market.

Market analysts foresee even further growth in the Hispanic PR sector following the recent release of Census data showing that Hispanics comprise a full 14.5% of the U.S population.

The forecasted boost would have precedent, like the one following the release of the 2000 census, which showed marked growth in the nation's Hispanic community, and precipitated increased Hispanic advertising and PR budgets.

Alex Andrews


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