The Latin explosion that rocked popular culture a few years ago
with Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and that popular Taco Bell Chihuahua
has hit PR. From salsa to the samba, Hispanics are a hit. The fastest
growing ethnic group in the US, Hispanics now represent 12% of the US
population (US Census 2000) and $400 billion worth of buying
power (US News & World Report).
Consequently, the number of PR agencies targeting this burgeoning
community has increased over the past few years. Manny Ruiz, president
of Hispanic PRWire, estimates there are easily more than 125
Hispanic-focused PR agencies or agency practices in the US.
Even the large agencies are in on the trend. Hill & Knowlton began
providing Hispanic PR services in California in the 1980s, Ketchum has
Ketchum Asociados, Cohn & Wolfe boasts Cohn & Wolfe-En Espanol, and
Edelman's diversity solutions practice has a director specifically for
Hispanic outreach. Major corporations including Nike, General Motors,
and UBS PaineWebber have created diversity councils and initiatives,
which include Hispanic outreach.
But wait uno momento - just as the US is a pretty big place, "Hispanic"
is a pretty big word. Consider pop singer Ricky Martin: he's Puerto
Rican, and lived there much of his life. Singer/actress Jennifer Lopez
is also Puerto Rican, but she grew up in New York City. (The Taco Bell
Chihuahua is a tricky call, but he's more than likely Mexican.) Add to
that Dominicans, Colombians, Cubans, Venezuelans, Argentineans,
Nicaraguans, and Peruvians, and you realize that PR's hot new Hispanic
flavor is actually a spicy stew, varying by country of origin, dialect,
geographical location in the US, comfort level with English, and
familiarity with US media.
Like any minority population, Hispanics tend to cluster, which means a
PR agency's location can be an indication of how well it knows certain
segments of the Hispanic community. There are no hard and fast rules,
but California and Texas agencies tend to be more proficient with
Mexicans, while New York agencies might know more about Dominicans and
In Florida, there are large numbers of Cubans and Central and South
Nationally, Mexicans are the dominant group, comprising 66% of the US
Hispanic population; Puerto Ricans comprise 11%; Cubans, 5%; South
Varying the message
The big question is whether to target Hispanics as a whole, or by their
ethnic sub-groups. In Miami, Sergio Lopez-Miro is president of
year-and-a-half-old Hispania Public Relations, Hispanic outreach agency
of record for such brands as Cheerios and Trix cereals, Mazola cooking
oil, and Gerber Baby Products. He believes the individual approach is
more effective, because it proves the company or product being promoted
appreciates the diversity of its clients.
Since 1959, the year Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, Miami-Dade
County's Hispanic population has surged from 10,000 Cubans to 650,600
Cubans, representing 65% of the county's Hispanics (and 30% of the total
population). But the county also boasts large numbers of Puerto Ricans,
Argentineans, and Colombians.
To reach as many of these groups as possible, Lopez-Miro's agency
proposed product promotions to "celebrate the Colombian kitchen," and
"celebrate the Argentine kitchen," each month in turn.
"What happens in any large city where you have a predominant Hispanic
group, there is a lot of resentment by the others who feel left out
sometimes," says Lopez-Miro. "To be effective, you can bring in the
things that make each group distinct, like traditional food and
However, Martin Llorens, group account supervisor at two-year-old Orci
Public Relations in Los Angeles - which represents brands including
Verizon, Allstate Insurance, and Krispy Kreme - argues for a more
general appeal, explaining that established US Hispanics have formed
This outlook makes sense in California, where the presence of Golden
State Mexicans predates non-Hispanics (the state actually belonged to
Mexico until 1848). Llorens says the outreach of these established
Hispanic groups to other people can be exploited.
"In the past ten years or so, the Hispanic market has experienced its
own 'integration,'" says Llorens. "It is no longer rare to listen to
salsa music when you are in Los Angeles or ranchera music in Miami. In
the end, all Hispanics have an affinity to all forms of Hispanic
Bruce Rubin, CEO of Weber Shandwick Worldwide's Latin America practice,
is also a fan of generic Hispanic outreach, but for a more commercial
reason. Less than a month ago, WSW introduced M&M's Dulce de Leche
chocolate candies to Hispanic communities in Miami, Los Angeles, San
Diego, San Antonio, and Brownsville, TX. According to Rubin, for a
well-known brand, one message can be more important than a highly
targeted appeal in each city. Plus, he adds, the "dolce de leche" flavor
is known across Hispanic groups, from Cubans to Argentineans.
"The M&M brand in the US is a highly recognized one, and we wanted to
ensure that we maintained marketing consistency," says Rubin.
The best solution is often to plan one campaign, with sub-group tweaks
where necessary. "We try to create programs that speak to the common
characteristics across all groups, while maintaining a level of
flexibility that allows us to take advantage of a particular situation"
(e.g., an event that specifically appeals to a sub-group), says Jose
Lupez-Varela, managing partner of CreatAbility in Miami.
Where things can go south
Crafting one campaign for the entire Hispanic community is likely to be
more cost effective than targeting groups individually, but it could
result in missing the mark.
Language, of course, presents the biggest opportunity for a slip-up.
While most segments of the Hispanic audience are more comfortable with
communications in Spanish than English, the language varies from country
to country. A common example of the possible disasters of direct
translation is "Got Milk?" which would be directly translated to Tienen
leche? which means, "Are you lactating?"
The best way to avoid potential language snafus is to learn the
For example, while a generic Hispanic campaign for beans would call them
frijoles, a Puerto Rican-targeted bean campaign would use the
linguistical quirk habichuelas.
The question of language begs another issue: with most communications in
what for many non-Hispanics is a foreign tongue, does a PR practitioner
of messages targeted to a Hispanic audience need to be Hispanic to be
effective? Most Hispanic practitioners agree that unless someone is an
aficionado of a certain culture and is bilingual, Hispanic practitioners
are better by virtue of their upbringing. Their responses also add
weight to the argument that it is often more effective to go for the
targeting rather than the broad-brush approach.
Jennifer Tudder Pizano, PR manager of 10-year-old Sanchez & Associates
in Chicago, says non-Hispanics may lack insight into the nuances of
Hispanic sub-groups. Tudder uses the example of the Mexican quinceanera
(a girl's 15th birthday "coming of age" celebration) as a cultural
touchstone - and potential marketing possibility - that someone
unfamiliar with Mexican culture might not know to exploit.
"From a marketing perspective, you can leverage that quinceanera when
you're targeting teens or even their parents," says Tudder. "I had one,
my sisters each had one, and Mexican Americans know how important it is
in the life of a girl and her family. But non-Hispanics might not know
Cultural touchstones abound. Cubans have a similar coming-of-age
ceremony for 15-year-old girls, only they call it a quince. Puerto
Ricans call their version the fiesta de quince anos. All three cultures
might serve a pan-Hispanic traditional dessert flan at their
celebrations. But if you're trying to promote a band for any one of
these celebrations, it had better be mariachis for Mexicans, merengue
for Puerto Ricans, and salsa for Cubans.
Other pan-Hispanic festivals are similarly tricky. For example, for the
Day of the Dead, three days in late October and early November set aside
to honor the deceased, supermarket promotions would be very different
depending on the Hispanic group. An Ecuadorian family would need
ingredients to make bread dolls (guagas de pan), El Salvadorians are
more likely to make fritters of fried dough (buenelos), while
Nicaraguans would make corn bread (pan de maiz).
The age factor
While cultural differences can be learned and studied, American
assimilation can be harder to divine. Armondo Trull, managing partner of
the Armando Group, a Washington, DC-based Hispanic firm, says the
"generation gap" between Hispanics who have been in the US for decades
or even centuries and newly arrived immigrants is a factor that must be
considered in Hispanic campaigns.
"You will find there are differences between a Mexican American who is
fifth or sixth generation who has been partially or totally
acculturated, and a Mexican immigrant who arrived maybe a year ago -
they come from two different worlds, and have very different
perspectives," says Trull.
Roxana Lissa, president of five-year-old RL Public Relations + Marketing
in Los Angeles, is generally in favor of a more generic Hispanic appeal,
but says she targeted Spanish-dominant, first-generation Mexican women
for a Thanksgiving campaign for Mrs. Cubbison's Stuffing. Through
research, the RLPR team learned that Mexican women traditionally prefer
to make holiday foods from scratch. However, RLPR partnered with
Hispanic chefs to create recipes to "Latinize" Mrs. Cubbison's Stuffing
with Mexican ingredients such as chilis, nopales, cilantro, and
But when it comes to more acculturated Hispanics, Texas is the place to
find them. The state's population is second only to New York's, which
lured large numbers of Puerto Rican immigrants over 60 years ago with
post-WWII manufacturing jobs.
US colonization of Texas only began in 1823, and the state didn't gain
independence from Mexico until 1836. Today, of six million Texans, more
than two million, or nearly 32% of residents, identified themselves as
Hispanic in Census 2000.
To reach this market, Henry de La Garza, chairman and CEO of 19-year-old
de La Garza Public Relations in Houston, says community involvement is a
prime way to retain Texan Mexican loyalty.
"You have to get involved mano-a-mano in the community so they know you
are not just interested in making money," says de La Garza, who adds
that tackling education and health issues is a good way to get involved.
"Scholarships are always a valuable gift, and diabetes strikes Mexicans
300 times more often than anybody else. Offer screenings to determine
risk. This is a community that's growing rapidly."
In the end, whether you produce one campaign for all Hispanics or a
variety of different groups will depend on to what extent the product
elicits varying responses, and what level of budget you have. Desirable
as it is to target Hispanic sub-groups, it costs.
But it's an investment worth making. If your brand hasn't started
engendering loyalty among the various Hispanic communities, it's time to
think about it.
By 2010, close to 15% of the US population will be Hispanic. And that's
too many consumers that stand to be turned off to a brand because its
image doesn't cater to their interests or lifestyle.