10th anniversary: multicultural analysis

An increasingly diverse US market has created new realities and new opportunities for PR pros across the industry

Overwhelmingly, PR professionals in the multicultural segment point to one thing that has changed the industry over the past 10 years: the numbers.

For example, the US Census Bureau reports that Hispanics and Latinos accounted for 12.5% of the US population in 2000, up from 9% in 1990. With this growth comes increased spending power.

“Five years ago, [this market] was something companies were looking at and determining when it made sense [for them],” says Armando Azarloza, president of the Axis Agency. “Today, there is no question. They have to do it in order to compete and keep pace with their competitors.”

Another change is that companies have opened up to a wider range of communities, says Lori George Billingsley, director of community and multicultural communications for Coca-Cola North America.

“It is the move from minority communications and a focus on race only to communications that includes race, gender, sexual orientation, youth, and a host of other diverse segmentations,” she says.

The LGBT segment has seen great change since Ellen DeGeneres came out publicly in April 1997, as well as the 1998 murder of 21-year-old gay college student Matthew Shepard, which caused a national outrage.

“In 1998, we were at the beginnings of a real burst – increased, substantive visibility, particularly within the media,” says Cathy Renna, managing partner at Renna Communications, an LGBT issues firm. There is also “a growing understanding, primarily within corporate America, that the LGBT market [is] one that should be courted in the same way that other niche markets [are] courted.”

Online outreach has become big for reaching multicultural audiences.

“More than 68% of African Americans are online,” says Kim Hunter, president and CEO of Lagrant Communications. “That is a vehicle to raise awareness, build the brand, and [to reach] someone purchasing or acquiring a product or service.”

Being online is one way to build relationships within multicultural communities, but so is working with these communities year-round, not simply hosting a program during Cinco de Mayo or Black History Month, Billingsley explains.

“Ten years ago, if you [went] to the right political dinners, that was enough,” says Nicole Neal, manager of US communications for McDonald's. “Now, we hear what the consumers are saying. The communities want more.”

Some companies have increased their in-language promotions and campaigns, but the key isn't simply translation – it's in cultural relevancy.

“It's being culturally sensitive and culturally relevant,” Hunter says. “If those are not top of mind, as you're developing your strategy, the execution [will] fall short.”

Companies like McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and The Home Depot, among others, have all taken the lead in diversity and multicultural outreach over the past 10 years.

“If we are going to take care of these customers, it is important that we are reflective of [their diversity],” said Lyne Castonguay, VP of merchandising and marketing for multicultural and supplier diversity for The Home Depot.

“There are people who say, ‘We are all alike,' which is the biggest joke,” Hunter notes. “We're not all alike. We need to embrace diversity. We don't have to agree with one another, but we're different, and those people need to wake up and smell the roses.”

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