The booming Asian American market is not only affluent, but extremely diverse, with myriad native-language outlets. A customized approach is needed when it comes to PR pitches, finds David WardMuch has been made in recent years of opportunities for using PR to reach out to specific ethnic groups within the US population. But it's important to note that a one-size-fits-all strategy for reaching these increasingly influential segments is not possible.
Since 1980, the Asian American population has tripled to over 11 million, according to 2000 Census data. What's more, Asian Americans have the highest average household income in the US, at $55,521 (around $10,000 more than the average Caucasian household), representing a significant and growing spending power.
While Hispanic populations in the US have also grown exponentially, comparisons with the Asian demographic more or less end there. Hispanic media in the US is now a billion-dollar business and national in scope, but the Asian American media is much smaller, and is focused locally on population pockets in California and on the East Coast.
The primary reason for this disparity is language. While most Central and Latin America immigrants are Spanish-speaking, Asian immigrants speak a number of different languages. As a result, the Asian media market in the US, while large in total, is made up of a number of sub-segments that include groups such as Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and Vietnamese, as well as smaller groups, such as Thai, Cambodian, Hmong, and Asian Indian.
The other key distinction is how recently many of these Asian Americans have come to the US. Unlike other ethnic groups with large second-, third- and even fourth-generation populations, the huge influx of immigrants from the Far East in the past few decades means the vast majority continue to be first-generation arrivals. The result, says Greg Sullivan of Asian Marketing & Media Services, is that "when they're at home, they are speaking in their native languages."
Much of the news media targets Asian Americans in their native tongues, but that doesn't mean any particular group is not eager to learn more about US-based products and lifestyle.
Mike Sherman, general manager of KTSF-TV in San Francisco, says only a small amount of companies realize this. The majority, he claims, cling to the misconception that recent Asian immigrants prefer to shop for the brands they grew up with in their homeland, and they'll patronize neighborhood stores owned and run by fellow immigrants. Instead, surveys have found that recent Asian immigrants want the same things most American consumers want: value, price, convenience, and plenty of parking.
KTSF, one of a handful of terrestrial Asian-language stations in the US, offers a mixture of native-language entertainment programs from Asian countries, a QVC-style home-shopping show, and two-and-a-half hours of locally produced prime-time news each night.
"We try to model ourselves after a mainstream station. The driving force behind most local stations is local news, and it's no different for us," Sherman explains. The channel does a one-hour live Cantonese news broadcast, followed by a one-hour Mandarin news broadcast, and a 30-minute call-in talk show similar to Larry King Live, but in Mandarin. The news combines international news-feeds and b-roll, with local reporting and commentary on Bay Area issues.
"If you look at our story lineup compared to the local NBC or CBS affiliate, the first 20 minutes we'll be covering the exact same stories, and then further down you'll see more stories about Taiwan or Hong Kong or China than you would at a mainstream outlet,
A print sector on the rise
While the highest-profile Asian media outlets in the US tend to be television stations such as KTSF, KSCI in Los Angeles, and the International Channel cable network, Asian Americans also support a booming print media. There are literally hundreds of native-language print publications, offering hard news from both home and the US, as well as celebrity and lifestyle coverage.
Bill Imada, cofounder of Imada Wong Communications, says these print outlets can be pitched, adding, "You have a greater chance of getting coverage for your press release if you do the translation, and do it properly."
The problem, Imada adds, is that few PR agencies actually have the in-house skill to do a correct translation. Oftentimes, releases that have been translated to, say, Vietnamese, will make no sense to the reporters at Vietnamese publications. "They tell me they need to look at it in English to figure out what it says,
Imada observes, who adds that if there's any doubt, agencies should simply send the release in English. "A lot of publications have a bilingual staff that will do the translation themselves if the news is of interest to their community," he says.
Although many second- and third-generation Asian Americans tend to be English-speaking, they have thus far proven to be an elusive media market in themselves. Rice, an English-language, pan-Asian American lifestyle publication run out of San Francisco, failed after a few short years.
While there are a few others still available, most notably Yolk, Jade, and A Magazine, they sometimes struggle to define their audiences.
Saul Gitlin, EVP with Kang & Lee Advertising, says that while the US Census may identify immigrants from the Far East under the general terms "Asian
or "Asian American,
most of the people who are lumped into that demographic define themselves in much narrower terms.
"One of the issues for the English-language publications is the extent they're going to be relevant for the people who consider themselves from a specific group - Koreans or Chinese or Japanese,
Gitlin says. "In embracing all the Asian cultures, it can be argued that these magazines end up diluting each of the individual cultures."
Gitlin notes that there's only a handful of US PR agencies with an Asian or Asian American practice, and says that advertising agencies often end up serving that role, in part because of the blurred lines between editorial and advertising departments at many Asian-language outlets. Lisa Skriloff, president of Multicultural Marketing Resources, concurs with that assessment, saying, "Companies may initially speak to the advertising department, but may also suggest that something would make for a good story as well."
A two-step PR approach
The best PR solution for reaching Asian Americans may be to initially combine an outreach program toward various Asian immigrant groups in their native tongues. Then later, reach out to them again as they grow more comfortable with the English language and the US general-interest media.
Those who may end up playing a key role in this assimilation process are the thousands of Asian Americans currently working as editors and reporters at traditional US media outlets. Among the most influential are Mi-Ai Parrish, deputy managing editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco-based AP writer Deborah Kong, De Tran, editor of the San Jose Mercury News' Viet Mercury section, and Catalina Camia, former Dallas Morning News journalist and president of the Asian American Journalists Association.
Skriloff says newspapers such as The New York Times have done an admirable job in reaching out early to new Asian immigrants in New York. "They have links with a lot of ethnic newspapers,
she says. "For example, they reached into the Chinese market with advertising in Chinese that promotes The New York Times as a way for Asians to learn about the world and provide a better education for their children."
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: Korean Times; Los Angeles Times; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; World Journal; San Jose Mercury News; The New York Times; native-language weekly and daily publications
Magazines: Yolk; Jade; A Magazine; Asian Week
TV & Radio: International Channel (cable); KSCI-TV (Los Angeles); KTSF-TV (San Francisco).