Should entities seeking multicultural outreach look only to boutique firms?

Mike Valdes-Fauli and Zandra Zuno debate whether entities seeking multicultural outreach should look only to boutique firms


Mike Valdes-Fauli

President, The Jeffrey Group

Manages the multicultural efforts for Coca-Cola, Diageo, Fox, T-Mobile, UnitedHealth, and Volkswagen

Would you visit your family's general practitioner to examine your eyes? Probably not because specialization is critical to taking care of yourself. It's just as vital to marketing your company.

After a period in which companies first discovered the need to communicate with multicultural consumers, a fierce debate has emerged over how to do it. The most effective way to target any audience is to engage an agency specializing in nothing but that audience.

At large global firms, US multicultural practices are too often a loosely formed amalgam of Hispanic, African-American, LGBT, Asian and, sometimes, even niche targets such as "boomers" or "gamers." It's unrealistic to think one practice group at one agency could expertly target 50-year-old black men and simultaneously be at the forefront of research and strategies with Hispanic tweens.

The best way to reach these consumers is to hire independent, specialized shops that target one of these demographics.

Latino firms live and breathe the Hispanic world. It's evident in upbringing, family life, and everyday experiences. They consume Spanish-language media, speak Spanish at home, and stay on top of the latest trends. Obviously, there are Latin staffers at multinational PR firms, but they are proportionately so insignificant that they can't be expected to have any major impact on the culture, expertise, or dynamic of their agency.

Another common argument is global agencies can provide necessary resources specialized firms can't. This presents a false choice. For example, my Latin agency is comprised of nearly 100 bilingual staffers in five offices, with dedicated practice areas of digital, events, creative, and media. Many independent rivals boast similar offerings.

At the public firms, multicultural communications becomes an afterthought, rather than the priority clients should expect. This isn't about choosing a Hispanic-owned company or being altruistic to small business. It's about specialist shops being better positioned to positively move the needle on a client's business.

Specialization is the way to go. Your market share will be in better shape for it.


Zandra Zuno

SVP, multicultural practice lead, GolinHarris

Senior consultant at Zimat Consultores, Mexico's top PR firm, before joining Golin

As the US becomes increasingly multicultural, what we once considered "general market" no longer applies. In turn, there is now a crop of general-market firms successfully reaching multicultural consumers.

It's an ever-evolving landscape where every firm should build and enhance its multicultural capabilities. Clients seeking multicultural expertise want an agency with a solid understanding of the brand, strategic thinking, great ideas, and a deep grasp of multicultural consumers. Limiting an agency search solely to boutique firms is shortsighted and not evolutionary.

Today's approach to multi-cultural marketing requires everything any general-market plan would - clear goals, re-search, segmentation, on-target messaging, relevant programming and media outlets, and measurement - along with an understanding of the cultural nuances. But the need for more expertise has evolved to include digital strategies, social media outreach, crisis and issues management, specialty practices, and more. Taken a step further, companies seek unique multicultural campaigns, as well as "total market" initiatives that reflect a more diverse consumer market reality.

Earlier in the year, there was much debate within the ad industry about the consolidation of accounts such as Home Depot, Publix Supermarkets, and Burger King under non-multicultural agencies. Many criticized them for choosing general-market firms that could only offer budgetary and operational efficiencies, with no real dedicated resources. I'd caution companies who make budget and operations the sole criteria.

In the agency search process, companies must evaluate both the "depth" in experience the team demonstrates in reaching multicultural audiences, as well as the "breadth" in resources across the firm. The general-market agencies that do it right are doing away with silos. They have the right multicultural experts across a number of teams and areas of expertise, working with "general market" staff. They are offering clients "total market" solutions with a 360-degree understanding of a dynamic consumer market.

Companies shouldn't rule out any agency before seeing what it brings to the table. Look at options from a variety of firms and make a decision based on which one presents the best ideas and demonstrates resources to back it up.

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