Bill Vincent: Racial profiling … another nail in the coffin of Hispanic print?

Today I have a lunch appointment with yet another potential client.  If I’m successful, I will become his financial consultant and advisor.  We’ll be discussing fixed index annuities, life insurance needs, tax changes and Roth IRA conversions.  For the most part, the conversation will deal with the ramifications to life of cold, heartless, brutally objective numbers … emphasized by actuarial tables, premiums, and death.

It seems like a far cry from the balance of my career in print media.  The last few years in the industry have seen so many changes, that it forced all of us to do what we should have done many years before: treat our precious Hispanic publications like the businesses they are, and the thriving businesses they should be.  Fortunately, most principals in Hispanic print do exactly that.  Still, there is an almost unspoken expectation that remains in the mind of some, of THE premier requirements  to run a Hispanic publication: the right face and/or the right last name.  Or as I called it, “el concepto de aspecto/apellido.”   Without at least one of the two, a leader in Hispanic print will generally need to field questions from supposedly interested observers.  These questions range from the leader’s family genealogy to the reasons for interest in running a Hispanic newspaper.  Or perhaps my favorite … “¿Cómo hablas español?”  Followed by my favorite answer: “¡Pues, con la boca y la lengua!”

Could racial profiling within our own industry be yet another – or even perhaps the final – nail in the coffin of our papers?

We’ve been adept at giving lip service of seeking the most qualified people to guide our papers.  But how much of those critical decisions are based on an objective assessment of talent, achievement, and knowledge and passion for the readers and the issues that are important to them, and how much is based on the hiring executives perception of a candidate’s mere “Hispanicity”?

It’s wrong.  It’s counterproductive and, frankly, counterintuitive.  It’s also an insult to the many outstanding leaders in the industry, whether Hispanic or not.  And it’s racial profiling.  It affects not only the selection of leaders to run the affairs of the newspapers, but also how both ad agencies and newspaper account executives sell their clients on Hispanic media.  Heaven knows we face enough obstacles now, with the general economy, seeming changes in technology that make content delivery more effective, more mobile, more personalized.   But somehow, we in Hispanic print find ourselves easily distracted by both the surging numbers of Spanish-language-dominant people in our communities, and huge gaps of reliable and statistically significant data about our readers.  In the absence of the data, many of our ad agencies give their large clients proposals based on their gut and … racial profiling.  How many ad execs either imply, or outright say, “I’m Hispanic; therefore, I know.”? General market AEs could not get away with that.

Forget the fact that I’ll never get past this idea of considering Hispanics as a “race”.  My own experience with the incredible diversity of culture and “aspecto” in Chile, Argentina, and with my own Mexican family will make this concept forever in dispute with me.  That said, how often have we heard, or even uttered, a variation of “I’m Hispanic; therefore, I know”  with clients?  And how often do decision makers find themselves in the interesting position to rely on someone’s declaration of “Hispanicity” as the compelling reason to purchase advertising, or even offer someone a position to lead a Hispanic newspaper?

I’ll never forget a conversation I had years ago with an executive of a very large newspaper chain which will remain unnamed.   I had the interesting task of assisting him in determining new leadership of one of its Hispanic newspapers.  I myself was willing to take the job, and there was no question in his mind about my qualifications.  Without any prompting from me, he told me, “We have to find a Hispanic.  Bill, we have to have a Hispanic in the position.  I can’t not have a Hispanic.”  Among his concerns was the potential fallout caused by some insiders’ reaction to the image of a white, blonde, blue-eyed face on marketing material.  Fortunately, most executives don’t take that view.  But even today, I wonder how much that thought process still influences those seeking new leadership of Hispanic newspapers.

We all face a fantastic opportunity to provide desperately needed and wanted services to the fastest growing demographic in the United States.   We owe it to them, and to our businesses, to provide them with the VERY best and most creative approach to building our readership and providing compelling content, unfettered by the paralyzing effects of political correctness of making critical decisions based on our concept of race.  Yet too many Hispanic publications and ad agencies continue to allow themselves to remain mired in the comfortably subjective world of race, encouraged by the relative ignorance of potential advertising clients.  That comfort, especially in this economy, will eventually be forced to give way to the cold, heartless, brutal objectivity of the numbers.

Which reminds me … I have to get ready for my lunch appointment.

Bill Vincent has recently worked as publisher of the newspaper Rumbo Texas. Before that, he was the business director of La Estrella in Dallas/Fort Worth, and launched La Estrella en Casa.  He currently is the executive director of Vincent Global Connections, a consultancy specializing in niche marketing, financial diversification, and business expansion within the Americas.


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