Ah….Public Relations. The term itself seems to embody some of the spin that so characterizes the field. Public relations can mean many different things, also in the Hispanic market: Of course it’s about presenting the public face of a company in a way that is favorable, at least not harmful, to its public image. But it’s about so much more: It is alternatively a news-making entity (whether or not there is actual news to announce), a crisis-management resource when a crisis is afoot, a middle-man (gatekeeper) between reporter and desired contact, a free-publicity machine, and always—but always— a friendly voice on the other end of the telephone. Most of all, PR is excitement. You’ll notice PR people are always very “excited.”
But in all seriousness, love it or hate it, Public Relations is an integral to the multi-headed beast that is modern media. And Hispanic public relations is a world of its own, sharing many similarities with the parallel universe of General Market PR, but also characterized by some of the same sensibilities that distinguish the General market from the Hispanic market. So what is the role of public Relations in Hispanic Media and what factors make for a successful PR initiative? And what should a PR outfit stay away from at all costs, lest it need a separate PR campaign for its PR campaign?
What’s the Big Deal?
Asked why it is so important for major brands to connect with the U.S. Hispanic market through PR efforts, Mike Valdes- Fauli, managing director for U.S. Hispanic efforts New York-based PR Firm The Jeffrey Group tells Portada, “The answer to that is simple: Sheer numbers. At 46 million, Latinos are now the most populous minority in the U.S., at the oft-cited figure of 15%. Additionally, Hispanic buying power is growing more quickly than all demographics.”
Speaking to what PR can achieve that traditional advertising cannot, Valdes-Fauli cites three key differentiators: credibility, cost-effectiveness, and buzz. “With PR, you often have a third party expert validating what the brand is trying to convey. And while traditional advertising requires huge media spends, effective PR efforts can be launched at a fraction of the cost. Finally, a good PR campaign has ‘legs,’” says Valdes-Fauli. It can generate buzz among the target and perpetuate itself through word-of-mouth.
Chase Wang, director of California-based BAM! Marketing, Publicity & Promotions, asserts that PR efforts can be much more targeted than traditional advertising. He says that whereas Hispanic ad-campaigns are often targeted at reaching the Latino community at large, PR efforts can go after the Spanish-dominant, English-Dominant, and Bilingual Hispanics separately, and therefore more effectively: “Depending on the product you are trying to outreach and to which group you are reaching (based upon language skill, age, etc.) you have to cater your campaign to that audience.”
Michael Olguin, president of FORMULATIN, Formula PR’s Hispanic sister agency, agrees with both Valdes Fauli and Wang, pointing to relevance and third-party testimonial as key factors differentiating PR from traditional advertising: “Effective PR can help brands speak with consumers in relevant terms by developing programs defined by the 4 passion points shared by all Hispanics: food, music, sports and family,” says Olguin. “Additionally, Hispanics make their purchasing decisions based on advice or comments made by people they trust (i.e. family members, friends, celebrities, etc.); PR helps brands earn that third-party credibility through media coverage, etc.”
Does Corporate America Get the Picture?
“I do believe that many large companies are now realizing the purchasing power of the Hispanic market and that they have underestimated this group for many years,” says BAM!’s Chase Wang. “There is definitely room for growth in this area at this point, but by the same token, there are companies that feel that there will be a transition soon within the Hispanic marketplace in which the next generation, composed of many bi-lingual Hispanic Americans, will be reached sufficiently by general market efforts.” Wang says that while he agrees somewhat with that perspective, campaigns will still need to resonate culturally, even if they are not “in-language.”
Valdes Fauli says that while corporate America is starting to get the picture, “Some huge companies are doing just the bare minimum. They need to understand that Hispanic outreach should not be viewed as an item to check off on the list of things to do.”
Formulatin’s Michael Olguin sees plenty of room for improvement, “particularly in understanding Hispanic nuances and how to approach the various groups, such as Cubans, Mexicans, Dominicans, etc.”
Speaking to the challenges PR executives face in delivering their clients’ messages to the Hispanic market, the Jeffrey Group’s Valdes-Fauli says, “A critical factor is staying innovative, and delivering the message in a way that appeals to those who are ina place to report on it in the media.” Wang echoes the importance of having a driving message behind a given initiative: “The biggest challenge is delivering a message that is palpable to the masses. A message that is sensitive to the culture and its nuances as well as a message that will be remembered, processed and acted upon.”
Formulatin’s Michael Olguin sees establishing trust between a brand and consumers as paramount. “Although FORMULATIN doesn't face this as much because most of the brands we represent are Mexican and consumers already recognize these names from their country of origin, it is still a major challenge for other brands trying to reach Hispanics.
· Try to understand psychographic needs of varying Hispanic groups
· Always be truthful; sounds obvious, but hyperbole can backfire
· Keep relationships with media so you know what they are looking for and what their readers are interested in
· Explore new mediums to connect with consumers (i.e. mobile/cell phone marketing)
· Build platforms that are relevant; Activate all sponsorships in a relevant way
· Go beyond typical/obvious Latino events (i.e. Calle Ocho, Fiesta Broadway…)
· Don't think all Hispanics should be communicated the same way. There are different levels of acculturation and each respond to media differently
· Don't assume brands will resonate by simply speaking Spanish with consumers
· Don't just translate and assume its relevant
· Annoy reporters by sending them everything; don’t condescend.