An in-house multicultural PR expert is a powerful tool.A decade ago, you would be hard-pressed to find a corporation that had a senior executive working full-time on diversity PR. Today, companies fight over the best and brightest in what has developed into a highly skilled and ultra-competitive field, where personal insights are often as important as professional experience. PRWeek talks to some of corporate America's multicultural PR stars to find out what they're working on, what they've done, and what it means to work in this segment. Camila Clark Manager of external communications Choice Hotels International Choice Hotels is a franchisor that runs some of the best-known entities in lodging: Clarion, Comfort Inn, and Econo Lodge to name a few of its eight brands. Clark oversees some of the marketing for that vast enterprise and spends a good portion of her time focusing on diversity programs, which the company is strongly committed to. What kind of diversity programs does Choice have? In terms of diversity, our focus is primarily on five pillars: suppliers, franchisees, employment, philanthropic, and consumer. My role is to ensure that we maximize the coverage that we get on all of our efforts. We're interested in what the community is interested in, and we want to make sure our properties see the value in that. Do you think minority PR practitioners run the risk of limiting themselves by specializing in multicultural PR? I was a little reluctant professionally to take this on only because I didn't want to be pigeonholed. But as an African-American woman, it's definitely an area I am interested in focusing on. There is a passion for me to ensure that African Americans, as well as Hispanics and other minorities, are properly represented. How important is this area to Choice? It is extremely important to the company. On the board level, our board of advisers has a diversity committee. In terms of upper management, this is high priority. And it is definitely supported. I think we are in our infancy in terms of our diversity efforts, and there is plenty of room to grow. I'm sure we will become a pioneer in this area because our upper management is so committed. Carol Jackson VP external affairs, diversity/vendor development Macy's West Jackson is a 30-year veteran of the retail industry, working her way up a long chain of jobs from assistant buyer to her current role as a VP at Macy's West, where she concentrates a good deal of effort on diversity programs. She says that no matter what the organization, the "key to successfully understanding minority audiences is commitment, respect, research, outreach, and willingness to engage, forge strategic relationships, and listen." How does diversity or multicultural marketing fit into the overall plan at Macy's? Diversity and multicultural marketing are viewed as the "right thing to do," as being socially and morally responsible, but also as a business initiative. It makes good business sense. We've adopted diversity as a core philosophy in managing our work force, marketing to and serving our customers, and working with our vendors. What minority or niche audiences do you target and why? Diverse markets are driving our business. We target Hispanic consumers, as they make up 28.9% of our market's population. Additionally, this segment is growing far faster than any other demographic group, especially in our markets (e.g. Las Vegas, Phoenix, LA, etc.). We also target African-American consumers, who make up 7.5% of our market and spend disproportionately on apparel, as well. The Asian-American segment is more difficult to target due to individual country-of-origin label preference, language differences, and fewer media outlets. Another niche group that we target is the gay population. Although we have no statistics as to the number of gay consumers in our markets, this is an important target for us. Are there any brands or companies that you think are outstanding in diversity marketing or that you use as role models for your own work? Sears has done a phenomenal job of making the Hispanic customer feel welcome in their stores. McDonald's has done a really god job of creating a multicultural campaign with their "I'm lovin' it" campaign. It has incorporated music and visuals that are very appealing to the young, multicultural customer. Ennio Garcia-Miera VP and director of the new markets group GMAC Mortgage Garcia-Miera is spearheading multicultural outreach for mortgage giant GMAC as the company embarks on an ambitious and far-reaching campaign targeting minority consumers, but he's made sure it's not just about selling product. Garcia-Miera, who grew up in a family that picked sugar beets to pay the bills, says his goal is to create "win-win situations for the community and the company." What programs are you most proud of at GMAC? I'm very proud of our homebuyer education initiative. We partnered with the League of United Latin American Citizens [LULAC], which has 600 local councils. We selected a number of key cities where our loan officers work with the local LULAC to present workshops. We also are in partnership with Freddie Mac, and [it has] credit counseling. We don't want to invite people to the workshop to be told they are not going to qualify for a loan, so we do a credit assessment up front so that the credit counselors can work with them, and then when they are ready, they refer them back to our loan officers. How would you like to see your programs develop further? We need to hire more and more loan officers, people at all levels of the organization, that know how to interface with these markets. All corporate America needs to have a work force that is reflective of the demographic reality of the country. Why is multicultural PR important to you personally? I come from a long line of people that are committed to the community. My mother and father were very active in the Latino community. I remember that when I was little we were the first Mexican family to buy a house in the Anglo section of town. There was a Catholic Church there, but they would only let Anglos go. So my mother got a caravan of ladies, and they went to the diocese. That always impressed me. Ursula Castrillon Media consultant Girl Scouts of the USA Castrillon is only 29, but she has already helped change the face of one of the US' best-known organizations for girls. As head of marketing outreach to Latinas at GSUSA, Castrillon helped the Girl Scouts increase Latina membership by 321% over the past three years. Were you ever a Girl Scout? No. I was born in Nicaragua, and I came to the US when I was 5. My family were new immigrants trying to find resources for their children and trying to better their lives. The reason why I don't think I knew about Girl Scouts really is because as a child there was a language barrier. My parents were working multiple jobs trying to make ends meet, so they didn't have the chance to go out there and try to find that information. So what we're trying to do is make sure the information is out there in the community, and in-language. Why do you think Girl Scouts appeals to Latinas? One of the founding values of the organization is inclusiveness. As the face of this country continues to change, we know that, like any organization or even corporation, we need to stay on the cutting edge and make Girl Scouts accessible to all girls. We do know that there is a shared value system between Girl Scouts and the Hispanic market. There is an emphasis on education and reaching your potential. What are your future goals for GSUSA? We want to focus more on retaining Latina volunteers. Jessica Priego Manager, multicultural and customer direct PR Sears, Roebuck & Co. Priego is new to Sears, but has a long history in multicultural marketing, with positions at agencies like Ogilvy PR Worldwide (where she was a VP) and work for corporations including MasterCard and Allstate Insurance. Priego says she jumped at the chance to work for Sears because "Sears has been a part of my family's life as long as I can remember, so working for a brand like this was an offer I had to take." How does diversity or multicultural marketing fit into Sears' overall plan? I was pleasantly surprised to arrive here at Sears three months ago and find that multicultural outreach is rarely an afterthought and usually a very real part of every planning meeting and strategy discussion. We really do value the business opportunity multicultural markets represent. We also value our relationship with our multicultural customers and know that we have a responsibility to best serve them. This doesn't mean that there aren't challenges in getting buy-in from everyone on more out-of-the-box thinking or new ideas, but at least there is always a willingness to discuss any and all solid recommendations. Do you think you need to be a minority to successfully understand minority audiences? Absolutely not. I believe that you need to understand the realities of minorities and also need to have an ability to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. This ability is true of any communications practitioner. To successfully reach the multicultural audience you need to understand them and listen to them.