Hispanic PR professionals promote inclusion as good business sense

The Hispanic community, and PR around it, is poised for growth as the country waits on the results of the 2010 Census.

The Hispanic community, and PR around it, is poised for growth as the country waits on the results of the 2010 Census. Expected to be similar to the 2000 Census, when the Hispanic population exploded and corporations took notice, this year's Census will provide another increase to the Hispanic PR, social media, and communications industry.

Leaders from corporate America and the PR industry recently gathered for a roundtable sponsored by The Axis Agency, a Weber Shandwick company, to discuss these issues. As Mike Fernandez, VP of public affairs for insurance company State Farm, explains: “For decades, the general media market has been hailing each new decade as the Hispanic decade, and I think we may have finally arrived.”

The characteristics of the Hispanic community, he continues, vary based on country of origin, whether the consumer is first, second, or third generation, language preference, and more. Many Hispanic consumers go back and forth between speaking in Spanish and English, or even a mix.

“English [communications] need to be culturally relevant," explains Christina Gonzalez, associate director multicultural marketing for Verizon Wireless. Companies have to be able to reach “bicultural and bilingual audiences, perhaps in English or Spanglish, despite its negative connotations, but with a cultural understanding.”

The communicators on the panel work daily to promote the importance of multicultural outreach to corporate America, but Armando Azarloza, president of The Axis Agency, says communicators should demonstrate the business impact of such communications.

“We're not going to get the diversity question right until we can get corporate America to understand it as a business innovation,” Azarloza says. “There are lots of companies that have been very good at doing this and lots that have been very poor. If you just look at the bottom lines, you can tell which ones are which.”

Gonzalez says companies can no longer keep their different efforts - ranging from grassroots, foundation work, community gift-giving, and more - separate from their overall outreach, particularly for the Hispanic community. And Karina Diehl, manager of external communications for MillerCoors, agrees.

Diehl says one important way MillerCoors is involved in the Hispanic community is by sponsoring the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York, along with a connecting scholarship program.

“We are trying to find a way to combine our CSR outreach and community investment programs with some of our marketing efforts,” she adds.

From an agency perspective, Sonia Sroka, SVP and director of Hispanic marketing for Porter Novelli, spoke about how the multicultural elements must be a part of an integrated campaign from the beginning.

“We need to start at the inception of the thoughts,” she says. “We need to educate everyone, including our clients, on the importance of being able to target Hispanics. At the end of the day, it's the culture that brings everyone together.”

Michael Sorrell, president at Paul Quinn College, says his college in Dallas, which historically caters for black students, focuses on inclusion.

“Our message points are very cross-cultural,” he says. “We teach children how to lead, how to value service, and about the values of family and community. Those message points know no color.”

Jose Villa, founder and president of digital advertising agency Sensis, notes how much things have changed for immigrants in the US, highlighting his own story of receiving the Hispanic Scholarship Fund to attend college.

“Immigrant communities, whether Hispanic or from Europe or wherever, usually took one to two generations for people to establish themselves and integrate,” he says. "That has changed; society as a whole is a little more open.”

Diversity within the PR industry and overall in the country is another issue facing Americans and business, says Manny Ruiz, co-publisher of the Hispanic PR Blog and Papi Blogger (papiblogger.com), adding that the country is still learning that “diversity is a strength, not a weakness.”

“Corporate America,” he adds, “has the biggest opportunity to take the lead and combat institutional racism and do it through diversity.” He also laments the fact that the Hispanic community doesn't have one or two strong "movement leaders," like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for the black community.

Marisa Trevino, founder and editor of Latina Lista blog, explains that because the Hispanic community is so diverse itself, it is hard to rally around one leader.

“We don't support one person,” she says. “We hate having somebody speak for us. You don't know how many times I get comments from people saying, ‘Just because you're Latina, you don't speak for me.' We want to be our own spokesperson.”

“Fundamentally, companies are going to win or lose by whether or not they are able to create relationships with the Hispanic consumer,” Fernandez says. “The most important thing we do, as PR and marketing people, is to bring some understanding to the table.”

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