PR TECHNIQUE: Multicultural campaigns: the sum of the parts

You can't reach numerous ethnic groups with one message. The real path to effective multicultural PR, finds Anita Chabria, is a number of smaller, targeted efforts.

You can't reach numerous ethnic groups with one message. The real path to effective multicultural PR, finds Anita Chabria, is a number of smaller, targeted efforts.

Here's the first thing you need to know about multicultural marketing: It doesn't exist. PR people with experience in diversity and minority campaigns will point out that it simply isn't possible to speak to numerous different ethnic and cultural groups with one message. Even within what most marketers categorize as a single-demographic target, such as Asian/Pacific Islander or Latino, the variety of attitudes is astounding. Yet as the American marketplace becomes increasingly diverse, companies continue to add a "multicultural" line to their marketing budgets, hoping that a politically correct idea will translate into increased sales. While the method may not always be on target, the idea behind it is. Spending power of minority groups is on course to increase dramatically in the next few years. For example, by 2007, the buying power of Asian Americans is expected to increase 287% from its 1990 levels, accounting for $454.9 billion in spending, according to the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth. In the same period, the buying power of "whites" will only increase 112%. But to reach consumers outside of the mainstream, multicultural campaigns must in actuality be a number of smaller, targeted efforts - sometimes tied together with a general theme or goal, and sometimes sharing little in common other than that budget line. Research is the key to any campaign, but it's vital to multicultural efforts. The diversity among ethnic groups makes it dangerous to rely too much on personal insights. This is especially true when reaching out to the youth market. Increasingly, American kids identify themselves with more than one minority or racial group. "We may live in black neighborhoods or Latino neighborhoods, but when it comes to youth, they can't be labeled that way because of music, the internet, and schools. And marketers need to understand that," explains Patricia Perez of LA-based Valencia, Perez & Echeveste Public Relations. That kind of detailed market research was one of the keys for Gina Amaro in planning a campaign for beauty products during her tenure at Avon. (She is now PR Newswire's global director of multinational markets.) The company found that different cultural backgrounds gave consumers varying priorities when shopping for cosmetics. For the mainstream market, the image the product presented was the most important factor. In the Hispanic market, price was the predominant concern. But for African-American women, Amaro's target market, she notes that the top question from consumers was, "How is this going to make my skin better?" "We ended up doing an educational skin-care catalog for [the African-American market], which was a great selling vehicle," she explains. The reality of today's bottom line often means that more general ideas need to be adapted for different audiences. While one message is almost impossible to disseminate across cultural groups, a visual or theme is often much easier. "Try to find some common ground or common person," suggests PR consultant Julian Teixeira. "Pick a very general topic that can cross boundaries." Teixeira cites a campaign he organized for a juice company that needed to reach both mainstream English-speaking audiences and Spanish-speaking shoppers - but with a budget that didn't allow for two separate efforts. Teixeira chose TV star Linda Carter as a spokesperson because her Hispanic background and her starring role as Wonder Woman made her "somebody both audiences could relate to," he says. Once you have that theme, it's important to tailor the editorial to reach those diverse audiences. "There are a lot of nuances you must recognize," stresses Amaro. "If you don't take the time to make the message relevant to different consumer groups, I don't think it works." Creating the perfect pitch is much more than simply translating a message. The research you did early on needs to be examined to understand what ideas will have the greatest impact on a particular group. Then, someone familiar with that culture needs to take the lead on crafting the message. An idea that may be funny or appealing in one market could be offensive to another. "Don't assume," says Teixeira. "The last thing you want to do is present a campaign that insults people." And it's vital to put the message into the right language. "If you are disseminating a message to a market, but you are not speaking their native language, you will miss their sweet spot," says Perez. "You have to know where that sweet spot is. It pulls on the emotional strings." The next step is to get the campaign in the right outlets. Mainstream publications clearly have the largest reach, but minority audiences often rely on community newspapers or other language-based media. Cultural institutions such as churches can also play a major role. Familiarizing yourself with the details of each demographic on the local level and pitching the relevant media is time consuming, but vital. John Shors, a Colorado-based PR practitioner with Powerpact, worked on a breast-cancer fundraising effort by Yoplait Yogurt, Safeway, and Kroger. "I needed to pitch it to women in all walks of life," he explains. Shors targeted small publications in the lesbian community (a higher-risk group), as well as ethnic-minority press. The positive response he received from the smaller papers pushed his story deeper into his target demographics than a single story in a larger paper could have. "It took a lot of time, but I ended up getting a huge bandwidth," he says. Reaching out to numerous outlets is an important lesson, according to Perez. "You are talking to a market that is at a cultural crossroads," she says. "With a combination of their past and their exposure to the new world, there is a lot of blending. The multicultural market is transitioning." --------- Technique tips Do in-depth research on the target demographic to understand cultural nuances and preferences that could impact the message Do reach out to smaller publications and institutions with clout in the community, such as neighborhood papers and churches Do consider using a visual or theme to tie together a campaign for various minority or ethnic groups Don't assume an outsider can understand the culture. Take the time to speak with members of the group you are targeting Don't limit your placements. Especially in the youth market, kids often cross demographic lines in areas such as music and pop culture Don't underestimate the power of language - reaching out in the target group's native tongue is critical

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