Multicultural Roundtable: Diverse viewpoints foster discussion

Keith O'Brien and Kimberly Maul were in Atlanta to discuss multicultural PR.

This year, PRWeek will visit eight cities where an industry close to that respective region will be discussed. For each event, leading PR pros from a variety of firms, companies, and other organizations will gather in a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting them and their peers. Keith O'Brien and Kimberly Maul were in Atlanta to discuss multicultural PR.


Keith O'Brien (PRWeek): What is the fastest growing demographic in multicultural marketing and what is the most pressing issue in the space?

Ines Rodriguez-Gutzmer (Ketchum): It has to be Latinos and Hispanics for sure. I don't know if you agree. Of course, African Americans have the steady growth, but now the Latino market is outpacing the rest of the ethnic groups.

Wade Guang (InterTrend Communications): I think by far, the volume definitely belongs to the Hispanic market, but the Asian-American segment, in terms of percentages, is very significant as well.

Carlos Santos (Delta): The spending power in all segments is growing significantly as well. The ability to participate more in the entire commercial aspect of the marketplace is growing among minorities exponentially, so it's very important for marketers to know that.

Rodriguez-Gutzmer (Ketchum): Everyone knows that the multicultural space is growing; it's not news for anyone. Still I believe there is a disparity between resources and funds applied to the space and the growth of the space. I think that in the Latino market… there are so many kinds of dated visions of what the market is and I'm hoping the companies and marketers understand that Latinos are not very low-income people trying to making it to the end of the month. There are very high affluent people; I mean, look at us here: professionals, affluent, definitely a lot of crossover.

The other thing which I think is important is the diversity within the diversity. We're not just a bunch of Mexican-Americans and Cubans in Florida and Puerto Ricans in New York. Gosh, Colombians, Argentineans. The flags are more than just three and those are things that we continue not to see sometimes— not only in agencies, but also on the client sides. Sometimes clients just want to put their toes in the [multicultural space] and those are safe assumptions, but we all have responsibility to move from there to new spaces because otherwise we are not playing the right tune.

Sharon Sim-Krause (GolinHarris): Multiculturalism is really focused on three ethnic groups: African Americans, Latinos, and Asians. But more and more we have clients who say, "We want to reach the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community." We have clients who say "There are a lot of internationals living here who bring with them very different histories and backgrounds from Asians who were born and grew up here or Latinos who were born and grew up here." We are seeing that as the Internet evolves, as the interactive world evolves, we are also evolving and customizing our programs to multicultural audiences and they are very different.

Ana Toro (Fleishman-Hillard): We are already 34% multicultural including every ethnic group in America. Move on baby boomers, here we come. The demographics in America are changing. The face of America is a new one and we can see it everywhere. The trend that I see is that clients are not only tapping African American, but moving into the more complete program. I want to tap African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American and gay/lesbian, and some even go further to the Native American and Canadian. That's the whole package because they know that each segment represents a potential consumer.

Lori George Billingsley (Coca-Cola): Businesses are now looking at multicultural consumers in the whole diversity space and they are seeing it is a business strategy that can create sustainable growth and it will impact the bottom line. You're seeing more and more companies with dedicated Hispanic consumer marketing groups, dedicated African American consumer marketing groups, Asian-American consumer marketing groups, where they have a laser focus on these consumer groups. When you talk about one-third of the consumers are multicultural consumers, when you look at teens, it's almost 50%, so it makes good business sense to go after the multicultural consumer.

Keisha Brown (Lagrant Communications): One of the things that was mentioned earlier was diversity within diversity. I think that's something that everyone is going to have to take more of a look at. We've talked about Hispanics and Latinos not just being Mexican or Cuban. Same thing with African American. You have black Hispanics, you have people from Ethiopia, and then you also have a lot of races that are mixing. So now you have multicultural within the own race so where people don't identify as black, they don't identify as Hispanic, they just identify as people. So that's another generation of individuals that you still have to target in a certain way because they do bring a lot of ethnicities into one person.

O'Brien (PRWeek): How well do decision makers, C-Suite, and those outside of multicultural marketing understand the segmentation among demographics?

Patricia Beatty-Gonzalez (American Heart Association): I think it is a challenge to get your companies to understand it's not just about a simple translation and call it a day. Or slapping a logo or a new look so that we can push it in that market and that makes us feel like we did something to reach that population and group.

Amy Swygert (American Cancer Society): As a nonprofit, we actually recognize the importance of reaching multicultural audiences. We recognize they're way more segmented than maybe we've recognized in the past. We want to reach everybody we can reach because cancer disproportionally affects racial and ethnic minorities. For us, it's a matter of prioritizing the very limited resources we have.

Toro (Fleishman): All the multicultural groups we represent have the highest health disparities in the nation. In the government sector and the health associations for any disease, they are all developing programs targeting minority populations because it is a health issue.

Swygert (American Cancer Society): And there are a lot of cultural challenges with health behaviors. For example, fatalism is something that is ingrained in a lot of different cultures like African American and Hispanic, and that is really counter to preventative [care]. And we've found that women are the gatekeepers for the family, probably across the board, but especially in the Hispanic world. Heart disease is the number-one killer of women. Only 29% even know that, so we have this huge current of lack of awareness, that that is even an issue, a health threat for them. And then they are so busy caring for everyone else in their life—their extended family, their parents, everyone else is so important—so they don't even take care of themselves.

O'Brien (PRWeek): For the nonprofits, do you get a sense that there are more Fortune 500 companies reaching out for partnerships for multicultural marketing and CSR?

Beatty-Gonzalez (American Heart Association): We definitely have sponsors who are very interested in what we can do together. And they may bring certain expertise to the table. For example, that may be a huge part of their business, so they can help us and we can help them with awareness materials and patient education materials, so it kind of provides a benefit for both. It helps their business reach out and do good by the community and it helps us spread the message in ways that we can't afford to do otherwise. Additionally, [nonprofits have] partnerships with each other. We have alliances with American Cancer [Society], American Diabetes [Society], the National Hispanic Medical Association—we work with them on some issues. There are a lot of alliances that we have to create because that's where it helps spread our ability to leverage without using dollars, per se.

Brown (Lagrant Communications): It's important, not only as marketers but as consumers, that companies stay in the space and at a consistent level. Not just to come in during Black History month or Cinco de Mayo. If you're targeting a consumer who you have never really reached out to, or invited to buy your product, or even know about your company, you can't think you're going to do it for a one-time campaign for six weeks and think you're going to have a consumer who is going to stay with you for the rest of the year. Companies have to realize that in order to be able to continually target these consumers, you have to do it on a consistent, sustainable basis, not just go in and out of the market.

O'Brien (PRWeek): Do you feel like consumers are more well-equipped to know who is doing what when it comes to multicultural marketing with the advent of the Internet?

All: Yes. Absolutely. A lot more savvy.

Toro (Fleishman): Usually the first generation of Hispanics in the US is the one that is loyal and then second and third generation are the ones that start switching because they blend into the society and they get acculturated, and then they are more open to the new brands.

Renata Franco (Cox Communications): I think companies know now that they have to do multicultural PR, but they are just trying to figure out how do we do it? There's a lack of data and information and that's why I think smart companies are trying to understand that it's more than just, "If you speak in Spanish you can be a good marketer." That was good four years ago and now you have to be applying marketing science to all the marketing that we do. Everything is becoming much more scientific.

George Billingsley (Coca-Cola): I think it's just basically relationships. Who can be in and out of a relationship for it to be sustainable? So you've got to go in and it's got to be year-round, it's got to be a commitment, it's got to be 365 days of the year where you're making a commitment that you're going to be there. It can't just be Black History month or Hispanic Heritage Month or Cinco de Mayo. It has to be a sustainable campaign that is year-round targeting whichever consumer group you're going after. In terms of the whole multicultural segment, I think everyone would agree that in the past decade, it went from minority communications where you just focused on the races to the emerging multicultural consumer, which started moving into other areas. It's now diverse communities, which is a catch-all for gay and lesbian, transgender, a baby boomer, a Generation X-er. All the different target market segmentations that you could go after, so I think that as a business you have to define it and then start making headway into whatever areas you feel are the most important, but not forgetting the other markets as well.

Hank Ernest (Images USA): For example, urban. Urban was synonymous with African American and now urban is…

George Billingsley (Coca-Cola): Urban is hot!

Ernest (Images USA): Yes! [Laughs] And it's not even necessarily multicultural. It's the MTV generation, so that's who we're beginning to target more and more. For instance, one of our clients just had a big event in North Carolina, which was an art event that was urban called Art Beats & Lyrics and the client, Jack Daniels, hired our agency as an African-American multicultural agency, but then realized they wanted a multicultural audience, which was an urban audience, which was the MTV generation. So we had a mix of people and it was just today, it's what today is. The kids today don't recognize the segmentation.

Guang (InterTrend): Beyond just marketing, you have to go deeper into the product development stage. You really have to look at the different needs to be relevant that you have a product and service that caters to that audience.

Toro (Fleishman): I think it's a lot of education to the clients still, every day. In global firms, you have to have a multicultural champion within the company that will literally sell it to the top management. If the company's not convinced, it won't move further than having one person who speaks Spanish managing Hispanic PR or Hispanic communications or African American. Still, I think many companies are taking baby steps. There is still a lot more to come. The issue of budget, of course, [is there]. We always have less budget than the digital market, but on the other hand, that is the point of research. We have to provide the client with the numbers. I represent multicultural within Fleishman, but I'm not Asian and I've never been in an Asian community, in terms of living and breathing. We have to go to experts who can tell us patterns, things that happen, nuances so that really, when you develop a program, you won't get it wrong. Partnering with organizations and celebrities and people who go to the cause. There are so many factors you have to put into place to really sell the whole package to the client. It's a whole process.

Santos (Delta): But that's where the need for new data is needed, because we have the responsibility to give the numbers to those companies so that it makes sense for them because at the end of the day, they are able to make money.

Franco (Cox): It's a fun job because all the time. It's selling this whole multicultural thing to everyone in your company. Data is what is going to show them. They believe in data because they have to make money. You have to do the math and you have to show data because at the end of the day, that's what they're looking at.

Rodriguez-Gutzmer (Ketchum): I think that everything goes back and boils down to return on investment. The long-term is what matters. Having a person internally that is a champion is key, and that tells you whether a company is really interested or just has one spot for [multicultural] media. You can pinpoint when you talk to clients, if they have the resources internally or they don't and you know what you can expect. Everything goes back to return on investment, let's make money on it, and let's dedicate resources.

Swygert (American Cancer Society): As a health charity, our ROI is very elusive because we have fundraising goals and we have mission, saving-lives goals. Sometimes when we look at fundraising and who is the best target for that, that is a more affluent audience, across cultures. But the health disparities issue exists more among lower socio-economic groups. So we have a disparity about how to target and who to target. And again, we have very limited resources, so we go somewhere in the middle. Where is our ROI and how can we hit both of those goals?

George Billingsley (Coca-Cola): I think companies just have to have a multicultural mindset. I know our senior management gets it and understands diversity makes good business sense, so there's almost a multicultural mindset within each of our marketing groups and with all the brands, so it's not just relegated to the African-American consumer marketing group or the Hispanic-American consumer marketing group. You've got the brand teams who are also thinking about who is going to consume this product and who do we need to be targeting. Unless you really have the champion or the multicultural mindset infiltrating the whole company, you won't see the sustained campaigns, programs, and initiatives going on within the company.

O'Brien (PRWeek): Are you getting a sense now, or is this something that is going to occur in the future, that the general market approach to marketing is going to bring together all of the groups? Like how are we going to reach a younger generation that might be more of an integrated generation?

Franco (Cox): Now the economy is slowing down, it helps. Marketing is becoming more mainstream. We first said, "Ok, let's segment and divide everything." And now because there are so many different segments that we want to target, we're seeing, at least at Cox, that our general market campaigns are also inclusive to other segments as well. The reality is, I just read today, that 25% of the kids under five in the US are Latinos. It's going to becoming more general market. Those kids are going to school and learning and living in a very diverse environment. Budgets make things smaller. I think it's going to eventually become mainstream.

Swygert (American Cancer Society): That's an interesting point. We were actually looking at different market segments the other day and lining up the general market and African Americans and Hispanics and we were looking at women and what's important to them. And there were so many common themes that we stepped back and said, "Couldn't we just do one campaign that targets all women and all mothers?"

Franco (Cox): You're still going to have the uniques of each segment and you can't put everybody under the same umbrella, but I think that the key marketers are going to understand the budget constraints and are going to start to look for similarities. What is the umbrella?

Brown (Lagrant): We have to be careful with saying that our teens and our youth are going to live in this happy homogenous society to where they're not going to recognize race. I really think that that's not true. Being that we target the African-American consumer market, we know that there are still a lot of issues that not only adults face, but that the teens and the youth face. And they're growing up in this skeptical society that it's not a fair society. So even if we have marketers who think that, you do have kids out there who have access to more resources than a lot of other kids. They might be living in an area in the suburbs where their world is a little different to the kids who are still living in the urban center. Those kids in the urban center are not having the same resources, they don't have the same opportunities, the same education or anything else that is brought to them versus those African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic kids who might be mixing more with other kids in other areas. As marketers, we do have to sometimes step back and not say that everything is going to be easy for us to do and target this next generation. There are still a lot of things out there that will impact the next generation coming up to say, "Why are you still targeting me like that? This is not who I am.” I agree with what you said that it's opening the world up for people to look at other people's differences and to see that we are all just people. At the same time, I think that the next generation behind us, they have so much access to information that they know everything when it happens. And when things don't go right, they know that when it happens.

Beatty-Gonzalez (American Heart Association): I think you can look at influencers, like music for example. Some of those in the entertainment world are going to cross over. African-American entertainers often times are very well received by the Hispanic [community]. There are things you can do to reach groups and strategies you could use that can influence multiple audiences. You still have to look at how you're messaging to them, but they may be able to reach them with that message just because of who they are.

O'Brien (PRWeek): When you looking at the Census trends, the largest slice of consumers is not going to be white. What becomes, then, the general market?

Franco (Cox): My point is "What is general market now?" Every campaign we do, there is all the different segments. In 10 years, it is going to be totally different. So we are going to start looking for commonalities. How can we do it? Instead of just doing a TV spot, we're going to be inclusive and have things that are common to all of them. Still targeting the communities and doing community outreach that is specific for each segment. But general market: what is it?

Sim-Krause (GolinHarris): I think the most success we've had with different client campaigns is if they have a big general market campaign, but we integrate ethnic messages to that campaign, and it's customized for each specific ethnic market. It's very successful when we do that.

Toro (Fleishman): We're doing the same with AT&T. It's complicated, but then you tailor the messages and each one receives that message that really resonates with their culture and how they're going to respond to the brand.

Sim-Krause (GolinHarris): For example, with CSR campaigns they choose specific nonprofit groups for the corporations to give to, within the ethnic groups and those are very successful.

Guang (InterTrend): An encouraging sign is we've also seen some clients actually have Hispanics driving the overall campaign because the product or service is really high index against that ethnic group.

Franco (Cox): We've found by control testing, it doesn't suppress response rate if we use that as a base, so we can do that.

Sim-Krause (GolinHarris): Wade, you brought up an interesting point, which I was kind of milling over earlier. Hispanics have critical mass. What is the percentage in the US population?

Toro (Fleishman): 15.1%. 45.5 million.

Sim-Krause (GolinHarris): Asian-Americans have 4%. So sometimes we've gone into companies and they say, "OK, the Hispanic market is much more important because they have 15.1%. So 4%, let's think about next year." But they haven't seen the purchasing power. So the Asian population is 4%, but for Toyota's customer base, 10% is Asian, so that says a lot. If as a regular corporate executive would just look at this, on a surface level, it just takes a lot to educate and to build and cultivate the internal champion you were talking about. I'll be very interested to hear some tips on how you do that.

Santos (Delta): It makes me wonder—and I'm not stating this as a fact—just as a comment, if minorities are going to be the ones leading all marketing and all advertising and all PR in the future because of cultural aspect. We understand our culture plus the general market. It would be an interesting trend to see if that happens in time.

O'Brien (PRWeek): Are there a lot of similarities in LGBT outreach among the various multicultural spaces?

Rodriguez-Gutzmer (Ketchum): It's probably the one [market] that has the most crossover because you find it in every single ethnic group.

Santos (Delta): They still maintain their cultural influences and characteristics, obviously. For example, Delta last year we sponsored the Gay Soccer World Cup in Buenos Aires. It spans the world and you need to adapt and see what countries it is going to be OK and what countries it's not going to be OK.

Toro (Fleishman): And then you're establishing a relationship with the community that then their loyalty will be shifted to the brand.

O'Brien (PRWeek): Let's take a look at that Absolut ad in Mexico and the percentage of the US population that is very against illegal immigration and some that are against immigration in general. What should companies do? Should they have crisis communications involved? How should they react to people who, because of their perception, are threatened by immigration numbers?

Brown (Lagrant): As a company, anything that is a political hot button, you have to know that. If you want to be a company like Absolut and take those types of chances and risks, you have to have some kind of crisis communications planned. As a country, we're not ready for that discussion [of immigration]. We're not open to that just yet. I think that any company that takes that route has to be prepared for some type of backlash because that is something that people are really struggling with is how to balance the whole immigration debate. If it's good, bad, or ugly, people are still struggling with that.

Ernest (Images USA): If our marketing efforts are targeted toward Hispanics or African Americans, and that marketing is within those communities, that's one thing. If we create multicultural marketing tools that go out to general market, I'm wondering if that would cause a backlash. In other words, if Delta does Hispanic marketing in Hispanic publications or media, that's one thing. But if Delta does the same thing in general market media, will that cause a backlash?

Swygert (American Cancer Society): And sometimes mainstream media is plain old the best way to reach some markets. We've done some targeting to older, African-American women and the African-American specific media tend to skew a little bit younger than what our target is. Sometimes advertising in O Magazine or being on the Oprah Winfrey Show is really the best way, from a numbers perspective, to reach that market.

Brown (Lagrant): I agree with you, Amy. I think the key is making sure the information is culturally relevant and culturally sensitive. Particularly when you're targeting African-Americans, there is not language issue, which we always hear from the companies, "There's not language issue, so we can target you with the general market." At the same time, if you're not speaking to me in a way that I can understand how you're trying to deliver your product, then we miss it.

O'Brien (PRWeek): Looking at staffing, what sort of interests do you see from students of all different races and backgrounds in working in public relations, specifically working in multicultural positions?

Rodriguez-Gutzmer (Ketchum): Ketchum has really interesting internship program and these students are so happy to learn. They have to be leaders to be good in school, get good marks, get into college, and all of that. But then they join an agency and they are asked to be followers and not leaders anymore. That's one thing that we have to as agents realize that and give them opportunities to grow and continue that leadership role that they have.  

Beatty-Gonzalez (American Heart Association): We've had a collaborative relationship with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and we've gotten interns with HACU for the last couple of years, across all of our different departments and it's been very successful.

Brown (Lagrant): Often companies leave students in the multicultural space because they believe that is all they can do and they don't give them opportunities to advance, to do general market, to do anything else. And I think that's where a lot of people get frustrated because they feel like all I'm going to do is be is stuck in doing African-American  or Hispanic or Asian-American [marketing]. If that's someone's passion, they're going to be happy with that. Someone might have started off with that because that was their entrée into the field, but as they continue to grow and get more skills, now they want to venture out, now they want to be able to do general market. And sometimes companies don't let them do that.

George Billingsley (Coca-Cola): I think that students are interested in [the multicultural space] and they're trying to find entrees into companies, because all companies don't have a multicultural space in it. But, to Keisha's point, there's also looking at the total practitioner and not just putting that person in that space and letting them get pigeon-holed. But letting them also explore other opportunities within the company to be able to move around.

O'Brien (PRWeek): Is digital playing a larger part in multicultural campaigns?

Everyone: Yes. 

Guang (InterTrend): Especially for Asians, there is a very high index against Internet usage and it is very prevalent for us to look into this platform and utilize it more.

George Billingsley (Coca-Cola): It's another tool. It's another way to target and segment your market. We just started a partnership with TheRoot.com [a daily online magazine geared toward African Americans]. It depends on how you're trying to slice the pie. Whatever outlets make the most sense to go with to target that specific segment, that's what you do, and digital is just another tool in your toolkit.

Beatty-Gonzalez (American Heart Association): I think what's challenging for Asian and Hispanic [is that] the younger ones may be getting information for their older parents and grandparents, so they're getting health information, but they're not reading it from their eyes, they are filtering it or downloading it and giving it to their aunts or their grandmas. So who are you writing to and how are you reaching them? It may be the younger ones that are really on that are looking for that information to help their parents with their health issues.

O'Brien (PRWeek): Social networks do a lot to inform PR professionals on how different cultures are identifying themselves. Are you on Facebook and MySpace? How are you using social networks?

Guang (InterTrend): [We worked on] a recent campaign for the Asian Film Festival around the launch their new Matrix model. In terms of using the Internet, definitely blogging, they invited all the Asian directors, Asian actors. They're talking about the films featured at the film festival. So it's very interactive and measureable platform.  

George Billingsley (Coca-Cola): In our public affairs and communications functions, we have a whole digital communications team and so they basically take everything and make it work digitally. They're reaching out to all the different social networks and all the different online tools that we can use to help expand our message.

Ernest (Images USA):
One of the things that is a challenge, though, is getting your client to realize how you count the numbers. I met with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution right when they were going though a lot of change in the newsroom and one of the things they were doing was putting a greater importance on their [Web site]. The problem was that so many clients want to see that newspaper article, that magazine article that they're used to—that book of clips, with the circulation numbers and the impressions. But when you're online, those numbers are harder to come by and so how do you report that? That's the challenge.

Swygert (American Cancer Society): We've had a great amount of success in Second Life, doing fundraising there. You can get really creative. It almost equalizes the multicultural issue. When you're on Second Life, it's hard to know which cultures you're coming across. Relay for Life is our most successful fundraising event offline and we've had a lot of success online with it in Second Life. People get so creative with the ways that they raise funds and the way that they come together to do Relay for Life. We've had our volunteers actually build us a headquarters in Second Life. It's all volunteer driven and we've got a core group of volunteers in Second Life who are very dedicated to advancing our mission in that virtual world. It's been amazing to watch.

Franco (Cox): The audience is dictating how entertainment is to be and how they consume their media. With cell phone and chat, it's not the easy way for us.

Sim-Krause (GolinHarris): But it's what makes our jobs interesting.

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