Hispanic PR firms work harder to attract brand dollars in Trump era

Whether scared off by rising xenophobia or uncertain market conditions, brands are cutting back on pushes targeting the Hispanic audience in the U.S., according to several firms that specialize in reaching the market.

Above: TurboTax's recent campaign targeting Hispanic-Americans)
Above: TurboTax's recent campaign targeting Hispanic-Americans)

Rapid population growth. Significant buying power. Higher-than-average brand loyalty.

These are just some of the reasons brands have gone out of their way to attract the Hispanic-American market. However, not all marketers are feeling bullish about the potential of the Hispanic consumer, at least for the moment, according to Linda Lane Gonzalez, chairman of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.  

She told the Financial Times this week that five clients of her firm, Miami-based Viva Partnership, have delayed or shelved their plans for Hispanic-focused campaigns this year. The pushes were to include ad campaigns, bilingual signage, and cultural diversity training.

Lane Gonzalez contends the timing of those decisions and President Donald Trump’s election victory last November are no coincidence, saying those companies are scared of crossing some racist and xenophobic supporters of the president.

"Many of my colleagues have also experienced similar pushback," Lane Gonzalez tells PRWeek, via email. "Others have reported a continued commitment or even increased investment by their clients."

Executives at agencies that specialize in targeting Hispanic consumers say they haven’t seen a similar drastic retraction in PR campaigns. Andy Checo, senior director at Havas Formula and past-president of the Hispanic Public Relations Association, says brands haven’t retracted their PR activity, but some want less visibility in their messaging to the Hispanic community. As a result, Latino-focused advertising could be taking a hit, but not media relations, influencer programs, and other PR pushes, which are also less costly than paid media campaigns.

Other firms aren’t seeing a retraction in spending, but slowing momentum. Cross-cultural marketing agency Pinta has been working with companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and T-Mobile that are "heavily invested in the long-term potential of the Hispanic market despite the political environment," says Mike Valdes-Fauli, the firm’s president and CEO.

"We haven’t been seeing a huge volume of RFPs, and perhaps clients of ours who would have been doubling their spending aren’t," he says. "You don’t know what you don’t know, but it’s entirely possible we’re in a somewhat softer market for Hispanic comms."

Valdes-Fauli contends Trump has damaged the "Latino brand," but says advertisers showing hesitancy aren’t necessarily cowering to xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Instead, he cites the unpredictable nature of the Trump administration.

"Markets and businesses like predictability, and so I think that may be the issue," he says. "[Bands] just don’t know what Trump might do around the immigrant community."

Some firms are also worrying that client-side champions of Hispanic marketing are facing more internal resistance. "The general marketing guy wants to have as much budget as he can, and he doesn’t necessarily want to give some money to the multicultural team," says Pablo Miro, VP of multicultural marketing at Newlink. "Under the Obama administration, no one would have questioned the importance of this growing minority group…now people feel like they can disagree with that notion."

Hispanic-Americans number 54 million in the U.S., making them the country’s largest minority group with $1.3 trillion in buying power, according to Nielsen, prompting brands such as Chobani and Intuit’s TurboTax to join those like Coca-Cola and Walmart targeting the market.

In recent years, PR firms have created and grown practices specializing in Latino marketing in lock step and developed networking and thought leadership events for the market. Conferences such as the Hispanicize CMO Summit have also gained steam, attracting executives from PepsiCo and Wells Fargo.

Other brands see the Trump era as a reason to be more vocal in their support of the Latino consumer with political stances that reinforce support for both their customers and employees. For instance, technology giants have thrown their weight against Trump’s immigration policies, joining Hispanic leaders who have pledged to do the same.

Microsoft and Facebook have partnered on FWD.us, a push to pass comprehensive immigration reform cofounded by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Pinta has been working to promote the project.

"We believe that instead of just being good at selling products to Hispanics, brands should also get involved in supporting the immigrant community," says Valdes-Fauli, who says a moral imperative exists alongside a growth opportunity. "There is often opportunity in crisis, and right now, brands would garner a tremendous amount of brand loyalty by being more vocal on the issue and publicly supporting the immigrant community."

Other agency leaders, such as Isaac Mizrahi, co-president and COO of Hispanic agency Alma, contend that the sheer numbers of Latino-Americans will convince marketers to move forward with outreach to the demographic. By 2050, Hispanic-Americans are expected to account for a third of the people living in the U.S.

"The opportunity here is a business one, not a political or social movement," says Mizrahi, who notes that Alma’s Hispanic work in the first quarter of 2017 is up from the year prior. "The Hispanic market in the U.S. is now the size of another country. It is those kinds of numbers that ultimately will continue to fuel the growth of Hispanic communications."

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