Universities across the country are recognizing the importance of offering students courses in multicultural communications.
In 1984, Felipe Korzenny, PhD, was a professor of communications at San Francisco State University when companies such as Procter & Gamble and Levi's began asking him for help in reaching diverse markets. His work eventually grew into a company called Hispanic & Asian Marketing Communication Research and Korzenny gave up teaching to attend to the booming business (it merged with market research firm Cheskin in 1999).
By 2003, however, Korzenny was ready for a change, so he sold his stake in the company and accepted a teaching post at Florida State University (FSU). The following year, he founded the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication, and currently serves as its director. About 150 students now take classes at the center each year.
"Everybody had a difficult time finding trained talent," he recalls. "Just because a person spoke Spanish, they'd become the Hispanic person in the company without necessarily understanding the market or the issues well. The best thing I could do was set up a program to train students to supply the industry with the people [it] needed."
Though FSU supported the idea for the center, Korzenny had to create it himself. The curriculum is built on three core courses: Hispanic marketing communication; advanced topics in multicultural marketing communications; and account planning. Hispanic marketing communication is also taught online. For the past two semesters, about 30 industry pros and 30 students have taken the online course.
Undergraduates may receive a minor in Hispanic marketing communication. Graduate students within the integrated marketing communication program may pursue a Hispanic marketing communication track, and graduate students from any discipline at FSU who pass a Spanish proficiency test can earn a certificate in Hispanic marketing communication.
On average, the center grants three certificates and 10 minors per semester. This spring, FSU will award its first PhD with an emphasis in Hispanic marketing communication.
The center is primarily funded by gifts. Korzenny assembled an advisory board of corporate and agency leaders, and many of their companies donate money for scholarships and research. Today's advisory board includes industry professionals such as Tony Suarez, VP of multicultural marketing at McDonald's, and Rodolfo Rodr'guez, director of multicultural marketing at General Mills.
The center also conducts a lot of ongoing research, including reports comparing Hispanics with Asians, African Americans, and non-Hispanic whites in terms of attitudes toward corporations and brands, technology use, and health-related issues. DMS, a market research subsidiary of America Online, donated $100,000 for research and partners with the center.
"Without research, we don't know anything," Korzenny says. "We can compare 2006, 2007, and 2008 with parallel samples nationwide. Nobody has done anything like that, and we owe it to DMS. Corporate America has two major problems: lack of vision and lack of research to support the claims of how important multicultural marketing is.
"The need for this kind of education is paramount in getting students to conceptualize culture beyond language," he adds. "It's not whether you belong to the group, it's your ability to understand the culture, almost like being a good anthropologist."
Options at other schools
Florida International University (FIU) also offers classes in multicultural communication, though it doesn't have a formalized center like FSU. Undergraduates in both the PR and ad tracks are required to take Hispanic marketing communications. A broader class in multicultural communications is offered at the graduate level. About 400 undergraduates enroll in the PR track each year, and about 150 a year enroll in the integrated communications master's program.
"The majority of the population in the top five urban areas in the US is ethnically diverse," notes Rosanna Fiske, FIU graduate coordinator and associate professor. "We need to communicate with audiences that are different from the general market."
Howard University (HU) has one of the oldest PR programs (established more than 30 years ago) at a historically black college. The school graduates about 30 PR majors per year. Rochelle Larkin Ford, associate dean of research and academic affairs at Howard's John H. Johnson School of Communications, explains that multiculturalism is taught in a holistic manner.
"We infuse case studies that force students to learn about someone other than themselves," she explains. "They're steeped in [multiculturalism] through all their classes. Multiculturalism, inclusiveness, and international understanding ought to be at the heart of any modern PR program."
Certainly, multicultural expertise is in demand in the communications industry. All of Korzenny's students intern, and many companies, including New York Life, Aetna, Terra Networks, and Sprint Nextel, express interest in students.
Kelly Alvarez earned an MA in integrated marketing communication with an emphasis in Hispanic marketing from FSU in 2006. The American Heart Association hired her to lead cause marketing and fundraising as a director of its Start! Heart Walk program in Fort Lauderdale, a top Hispanic market, because of her education.
"Specialization gave me an advantage," she notes.
"There is no mainstream America anymore - it's the biggest myth that some in corporate America [still] live by," Korzenny adds. "We need clear, specific messages that have to do with understanding consumers at the core of who they are and the media they use. It's a growing and important trend. I wish many more institutions of higher education would recognize the need to train students [in multicultural communication] so more talent [can go] into the industry."
Samples of various multicultural courses
Florida State University
Hispanic Marketing Communication. The course examines the US Hispanic population in terms of identity, origins, and cultural tendencies that affect consumer preferences. It covers media, segmentation, language, audience targeting, and marketing communication strategy. Messaging to Hispanics based on insights is a main theme.
Florida Intl. University
Multicultural Comms. This course explores multicultural dimensions of communications with diverse US audiences, including but not limited to ethnicity, sexual orientation, geodemographics, religion, gender, and age. It also addresses message strategy and comms execution.
History of Multicultural Media. This course compares black and white press histories from a political, economic, social, and cultural standpoint, emphasizing the development characteristics of the black press.