OP-ED: Before speaking to Latino market, listen to what they say

The release of the most recent round of US Census data has shed some timely and much deserved light on the growing influence of the Latino community. "35 million, and with a purchasing power of over $500 billion," read the headlines. But these headlines do not convey the full scope of the Latino experience today, an experience characterized by greater Latino cultural pride and a stronger influence on the American mosaic.

The release of the most recent round of US Census data has shed some timely and much deserved light on the growing influence of the Latino community. "35 million, and with a purchasing power of over $500 billion," read the headlines. But these headlines do not convey the full scope of the Latino experience today, an experience characterized by greater Latino cultural pride and a stronger influence on the American mosaic.

As more entities seek to engage Latino audiences, PR can play a key role in extending and clarifying your brand's value proposition to this audience, and, in turn, help you build a strong, long-term, culturally-relevant relationship with the Latino community. It all begins with telling a strong, consistent, and relevant story. Your overall positioning should center around what constitutes your brand and its mission for the Latino market. Start this process internally by incorporating all the messages from your organization's teams. Through this function, your communications team will also serve as the "center of expertise" that will communicate internally the full scope of Hispanic activities. When speaking to the community, you must recognize that perceptions are created by a multitude of messaging signals and sources. In order to communicate effectively, you must identify your audience, understand its mindset, craft the proper messaging, and then tap that community's influencers and leaders in a way to share your story and give it credibility. The most effective communication taps into emotions and establishes a connection with an audience. It's like any human relationship: Before talking about yourself, make sure you understand the individuals you are speaking to. When reaching out to the Latino community, tap into their strong sense of culture. You'll see this pride in a first-generation immigrant waving his or her flag, or a bilingual, bicultural Latino youth singing and dancing to the latest salsa or Tex-Mex hit. The best way to convey this respect is to identify a spokesperson team that can demonstrate your commitment to the Latino market. They don't have to be Latino (though it's a plus), but they must show a thorough understanding of the culture. Latinos have done an incredible job of creating an extensive network of leaders and organizations to advance their social and economic objectives. Before disseminating your message to this community, you must engage these key audiences. These leaders can provide immensely valuable feedback. Tap into them for counsel as to what your organization is doing right and wrong as it relates to the Hispanic community. In all PR efforts, there is no stronger third-party endorser for your initiatives than your family of employees. A strong internal communications initiative, including the creation of an internal network of Latinos, will motivate employees to support your overall vision, will encourage them to provide feedback, and ultimately serve as effective spokespeople to communicate the breadth and scope of your efforts. These are the entities that facilitate points of fusion around which the community lives. Research has proven that Latinos will respond most favorably to brands they perceive as caring about their communities. Tap into these groups' leaders to identify areas for collaboration that could favorably impact the host communities, and, in turn, your relationship with them. Hispanic media is a trusted voice for Latinos as they seek the American dream. They turn to broadcast and print media for information about immigration, education, health, products, services, and other matters that shape their lives and futures. Establish a relationship with Latino media based on respect and adding value beyond sending the press release and cold-calling. Understand their information needs. Tap into them as counselors for feedback on all of your activities. They have the most immediate pulse on the market; learn from them. As more corporations and organizations seek to speak to the Hispanic community, PR can provide them with a great opportunity to differentiate themselves and showcase their Hispanic initiatives. Look for the attribute or focus that sets you apart from the competition. This kind of effort demands a thorough grasp of Latino culture. Understand them, invest in them, communicate to them, and they will thank you.
  • Andrea Clark is General Motors' general director of communications for diversity and growth markets.

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