!Yo quiero public relations! - The Hispanic community is a meltingpot of many different ethnic groups. Should you target them individuallyor collectively, asks Robin Londner?

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

Puerto Ricans.

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

Americans, 13%.

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

pan-Hispanic bonds.

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

about it."

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.

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