Multicultural at the multiplex

Moviemakers are reaching out to multicultural audiences in a bid for increased relevance.

Moviemakers are reaching out to multicultural audiences in a bid for increased relevance.

When Quinceañera won the Grand Jury and Audience awards for best dramatic film at the Sundance Film Festival last January, it had all the markings of a hit. The story of a 15-year-old Mexican-American girl on the verge of her traditional rite of passage, the movie examines sexuality, class, and race - issues relevant to any young woman growing up today.

But even with tremendous word of mouth, Sony Pictures Classics (SPC) knew it needed additional publicity assistance to boost Quinceañera beyond the art house, particularly when it came to reaching the US Hispanic community.

There were challenges, says Etienne Hernandez-Medina, president of H&M Communications, the LA-based firm that handles Hispanic PR for SPC. The film's directors did not speak Spanish, and its theme revolves around a cultural event that requires a certain level of understanding to ensure authenticity. There was also the film's gay element, he adds, a potentially taboo topic with the Latino-American community.

"To really be effective," Hernandez-Medina explains, "we needed to create something specifically for them."

In the case of Quinceañera, H&M worked closely with SPC's general market firm, LA-based Block-Korenbrot PR, to develop a program that included screenings, media junkets, and interviews with the film's virtually unknown Hispanic talent, both in Spanish and English media, Hernandez-Medina says. The campaign also relied on established Hispanic filmmakers to serve as third-party, credibility-building ambassadors for the movie.

Of course, it's not just big-screen productions that are targeting multicultural audiences. "Hispanic Americans always appreciate seeing themselves and their experiences on mainstream American television," says Gabriel Reyes, president and founder of LA-based Reyes Entertainment.

His firm, which handles Hispanic media relations on behalf of ABC Primetime, recently crafted a PR campaign for Ugly Betty, a soon-to-debut series based on a hugely popular Colombian telenovela. Though general-market-oriented blogs have been abuzz with questions regarding the show's US crossover appeal, Ugly Betty, Reyes says, "has a heroine that is Hispanic, and her Hispanic family plays a large part in the show, as well. These elements make [it] a natural to promote."

David Magdael, president of LA-based David Magdael & Associates, also firmly believes in tapping into cultural relevance and pride.

"For a person of color in America, ethnic pride is a very big thing," he says. "It creates ownership."

For Universal Pictures' The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift - which features a Taiwanese-American director and Chinese-, Korean-, Filipino-, and Japanese- American actors - Magdael complemented in-language and English media relations with grass- roots components targeting the movie's PG-13 audience.

Lifestyle efforts on behalf of the June 2006 release centered around teen club nights in eight cities. The campaign also extended to boba bars, malls, and Asian-American festivals to raise awareness among the segment's teen tastemakers.

Internet plays a part

Hispanic marketers have taken note of the Internet's power, especially in the past two years, says Stephen Chavez, VP and director of PR at LA-based L'Agencia de Orci. This summer, the firm was hired by Buena Vista Home Entertainment's online division to craft a Web-only program for the DVD release of Goal! The Dream Begins.

The campaign is different, says Chavez, because along with general-market sites, outreach targets include Spanish-language properties such as Batanga.com, Terra. com, and LaOpinion.com. It's a first for Buena Vista, Chavez says, but it could become a trend: A 2005 study by AOL/Roper, found 67% of bilingual Hispanic-American Web users say Spanish-language content is important to them.

Good for the community

Building solid relationships within segment media is also vital, says Rosa Alonso, SVP of New York-based Edelman Multicultural.

The job of a multicultural PR pro is to not only bring media partners news, she says, but also "something that is good for the community." While younger urban audiences indeed rely on the Web, Alonso says that the church - as a "hub of trust, family, and all the values that go with that" - has become an important vehicle for African-American efforts.

Tyler Perry, the filmmaker behind Lionsgate Films' Madea trilogy, has also won positive results by incorporating faith-based outreach in his movie-marketing mix.

Perry works closely with the studio and LA-based Cassandra Butcher PR in the creation of publicity concepts, says Sarah Greenberg, co-president of theatrical marketing for Lionsgate.

Among efforts to promote Perry's second feature film, Madea's Family Reunion last February, Lionsgate appealed to African-American churchgoers with promotional items like fans and prayer cards emblazoned with colorful "Madea-isms," Greenberg says.

Regardless of the audience segment, says H&M's Hernandez-Medina, the secret to crafting a successful multicultural effort comes down to one word: Relevance. Whether in-language or English, that means being aware of culture, context, and ethnic pride.

"A big percentage of the population has money to spend and wants to see your film," Hernandez-Medina says. "Often, you just need someone to contextualize it."

Multicultural moviegoers

Hispanics buy more movie tickets than any ethnic group, says H&M Communications president Etienne Hernandez-Medina, noting that horror and action films translate best across cultures. According to a December 2005 study by BIGresearch, 72.2% of Hispanic Americans say "going to the movies" is their preferred lei-sure activity, compared to 46.9% of Caucasians.

College-age Hispanic Americans spend the most on entertainment, at $40 per month on average, according to a 2005 survey by Harris Interactive. That's 54% more than African Americans spend.

To reach young adult Asian-American tastemakers, you must target bloggers, advises David Magdael, president of David Magdael & Associates. A 2006 study by ethnic research and consulting firm New American Dimensions found that second-generation Asian-American youth are more likely to identify and seek out trends virally and via word of mouth than through traditional media.

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