Have we figured out how to reach ethnic groups yet?

PR is beginning to understand ethnic cultures, and use this knowledge to target campaigns more effectively.

PR is beginning to understand ethnic cultures, and use this knowledge to target campaigns more effectively.

The National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association (CASA) is a nonprofit with a common problem - getting its message out to the right audience. The group pairs children in the legal system - such as victims of abuse or neglect - with adult advocates who can speak to the needs of their charges in court. But like many volunteer programs, CASA isn't attracting enough minority participants. While 39% of children in foster care nationally are African American, just 11% of the organization's volunteer pool matches that demographic. "Although it's not mandatory, it's beneficial when a volunteer is serving a child of the same background," explains Betsy Helgager, of BLH Consulting in Atlanta, which is aiding CASA with the issue. "It helps connect with these children in a relevant way." An ethnic PR program targeting African Americans was the solution BLH chose to help CASA increase minority mentors. The group put together special recruitment materials targeting African Americans with messages relevant to that community, specifically centered on the Nigerian proverb that "it takes a village to raise a child." "It did come from an African proverb, and even before Hillary Clinton made it known in the general market, it was very well known in the African- American community, so it has its foundation there," says Helgager of the concept. CASA also enlisted the help of community leaders to write op-ed pieces promoting the organization when national issues arose that matched their agenda - such as the disappearance of five-year-old Rilya Wilson, an African-American foster child in Florida who may have been missing for as long as 16 months before authorities noticed. While the program is ongoing, Helgager is confident her agency has found a successful strategy to tap into a minority market on behalf of the nonprofit. That goal isn't exclusive to CASA. Ethnic PR is increasingly prevalent for nonprofits and corporate America alike. As the country's demographics continue to incorporate more minorities with significant buying power, organizations are more eager to explore PR as the means to tap into ethnic communities, whether to promote social programs or sell the latest soda launch. In the past few years, ethnic programs have changed from last-minute add-ons to front-and-center components of campaigns. But it's still an emerging discipline, both in terms of tactics and client awareness. "The 2000 census was a big shocker for corporate America," says Jorge Ortega, head of Burson-Marsteller's US Hispanic practice. "It really opened the eyes of a lot of people at major corporations that this is a real market to contend with." A more targeted message One of the areas where ethnic PR has gained sophistication is in its ability to tailor messages for specific audiences through research. Only a few years ago, clients would have been happy to simply foist a general market campaign on minority audiences after a quick translation of materials, assuming that core ideas would resonate across cultural boundaries. But that leftover mentality has fallen out of favor as ethnic PR pros prove time and again that minority communities have their own values, ideas, and idiosyncrasies that must be addressed. "In the past we've assumed PR programs that were for general market venues reached everyone. But you can't just translate what you did for the general market. That's not good PR," says Ann Hardison, SVP at Fleishman-Hillard and project director for one of its largest accounts - the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Hardison points to Fleishman's work with that client as an example of the kind of tailored effort that is becoming common. One of the campaign's goals was to reach parents of varying ethnicities with strategies to discuss drugs with their kids. While researching the topic, Fleishman quickly found that each community viewed the threat of drugs in a different way. "The family discussion around drugs is very different in Asian-American households compared to African-American households," she says. Asian parents tended to be "much more in denial about drugs even being a threat or a risk for their kids, whereas with the African-American audience, they get it, they know their children are at risk." Those findings lead Fleishman to craft different messages for each community. For Asian-American families, the message was that drugs did indeed pose a risk. For African-American parents, "what they need to know is they make a difference in their children's lives, and they shouldn't assume other influences are stronger," explains Hardison. Using targeted messages is also gaining popularity as a way to reach ethnic subgroups, another audience that has gained recognition in recent years. "A lot of companies lump consumers into this Hispanic group," points out Armando Azarloza, EVP of Weber Shandwick Worldwide's LA office and head of its national Hispanic marketing practice. "It's not a homogeneous group. Cubans are different than Mexicans, and Mexicans are different than Puerto Ricans." The same holds true for Asian and even African-American communities. Companies are realizing that simply targeting Asians or Latinos isn't enough. Campaigns need to work on the micro-level, understanding the needs of specific cultures within those generic labels. At Ogilvy's LA office, pinpointing exactly what those differences are is part of an upcoming project on teen pregnancy for The California Wellness Foundation. Ogilvy recently completed a year-long survey on minority community attitudes towards the issue, and is now in the planning stages of another project to look at five different Asian subcultures to gain an even deeper understanding of how to target those groups with appropriate messages. "We're finding that we have to do a different approach around different ethnicities. You need specific things for Filipino versus Thai," says Ogilvy SVP Dawn Wilcox. Alternative avenues of information Addressing that level of diversity may seem like a daunting task - and an expensive one at that. But PR agencies have learned that understanding where and how minority groups search out their information leads to community partnerships that can make ethnic PR campaigns more manageable. Unlike the general market that may be reached through national advertisements or mass-market tactics, many minority communities rely on alternative means of information gathering. Community centers, schools, churches, and local leaders can all be important resources both for minority neighborhoods and the groups targeting them. "In ethnic communities, you must tap into groups and leaders they listen to," says Wilcox. For Ogilvy's teen pregnancy work, that meant identifying and working with advocates such as preachers in African-American communities. "We brought them around the table to talk around teen pregnancy because we knew the faith community does still have a strong influence on the African- American community," she explains. For Fleishman's anti-drug work, using local resources was the backbone of their campaign targeting kids with prevention messages. The agency helped the Philadelphia Mural Arts program design a protocol for creating anti-drug street art with kids. The goal was to create a program that could be used by other community groups to create works of art in their own neighborhoods. "Murals are a staple in urban communities," points out Hardison. "They've become an increasingly popular way for urban communities to improve their surroundings and showcase their own cultural morals and values. But we couldn't go into every community in America and conduct a mural workshop. It's too labor-intensive." Fleishman tested the project in eight markets including Honolulu and Puerto Rico, each time enlisting the aid of community organizations to handle the actual events. "Partnerships were key," says Hardison. "We have been able to go into communities and establish relationships with organizations that have influence locally. In Harlem, it might be the Boys and Girls Club. In Chicago, it might be the YMCA." The trials were so successful that Fleishman is now searching for a corporate underwriter to help distribute the program nationally. But that kind of grassroots networking carries a responsibility. Corporations and government agencies are being granted access and trust by community organizations and forging relationships that require ongoing care. "One of the first things I tell a client is, 'Are you serious about making a commitment?'" says Burson's Ortega. He points out that clients need to go beyond pushing their specific agenda by demonstrating a long-term interest in the issues that affect minorities, and including them in the decision-making process. It's an idea that WSW's Azarloza calls "retail politics." "That means to not only have programs, but to have board members who represent [these communities] on the highest level of an organization," says Gay McFarland, who heads communications for the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston. While it's clear that ethnic marketing has grown into a sophisticated discipline with a successful track record, it still has a way to go before it becomes a PR priority. Some companies are deeply entrenched and committed to the idea, but others haven't even tested the waters yet. And until the consumer power of these groups grows to a level that can't be ignored even by the most conservative of corporations, ethnic marketing will remain the minority cousin of mass-market PR. "There is a huge untapped potential out there and companies are still struggling to figure out how to reach this market," says Azarloza. "The problem is how much resources and budget they are willing to commit to those efforts." -------------------------------------- Why multicultural marketing matters By Esther Novak Why should American companies embrace multicultural marketing? Because it has become a business table stake. Simply put, diversity today isn't a slogan, it's a reality. If you don't have a multicultural marketing plan - and a workforce and corporate culture - that reflects your customers, you simply aren't going to be very competitive. Consider how our country has changed. The four most common last names of Southern California homebuyers in 2000 were Garcia, Hernandez, Lopez, and Martinez (with Lee and Kim also among the top 10). In the 1990s, the Hispanic community skyrocketed 60% in population to make up about 13% of the US population, and the Asian-American community grew a hefty 49% to 11.9 million. And, there are now more than 800,000 African-American-owned businesses in the US. No wonder more companies are embracing multicultural marketing. The challenge, of course, is that most brands and companies continue to dabble in multicultural marketing, instead of living it and demonstrating it. Companies that succeed in getting this right, and can effectively ingrain it in their employees and their values, will win in the long run. Here are a few other factors to consider when marketing to a specific cultural segment:
  • Consider the most influential communicator and the best place to communicate your message. In one culture, the newspaper may be the best medium. In another, it may be the radio. In the Hispanic and African-American communities, the power of radio personalities is much stronger than it is in the general market.
  • Recognize that no ethnic community is homogeneous. Each culture can be segmented into several categories of consumers, with their own unique demographic and psychographic features. And consumers make their selections based on their own unique mix of preferences. What influences their choices are a mix of general factors, like age, gender, education, and income, and other factors such as language preference, degree of acculturation, country of origin, and length of residency.
  • Consider conducting a brand-marketing audit. Determine who helps bring diversity to your company and thought-leadership initiatives. Look at your collateral materials and advertising. Are they in any language besides English? When you call your company's 800 number, can you get help in a language other than English?
Today, effective communication with multicultural consumers can be the deciding factor in establishing market leadership - and in answering: "Yes, we are talking to you."
  • Esther Novak, SVP and director of Ketchum Vanguard Cultural Marketing, has more than 20 years of experience in multicultural communications.
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