There is a demographic consumer group in the UK that, on paper, few manufacturers or service providers would want to ignore in their marketing strategy. It's a young, urban, well-educated and growing audience with an estimated £32bn of disposable income. And yet members of this group - or rather, groups - are not targeted through PR activity as often, or as well, as they might be.
The UK's ethnic minority population is growing by around 2.5 per cent a year, and around eight per cent of the UK population is of ethnic minority origin, rising to 31 per cent in London; a prime slice of British society for many organisations to reach. But firms need to ensure they are engaging their target audiences rather than making comms errors that could alienate them.
There are a number of potential pitfalls in targeting a PR campaign at a particular ethnic group. The most obvious is to avoid racial stereotyping or tokenism in trying to appeal to a niche audience. Another is to ensure a campaign does not target ethnic communities unnecessarily in the search for 'credibility' for a product or service. Campaigns also need to avoid causing offence, for instance by marketing an alcoholic drink in a strong Muslim area.
At money transfer company MoneyGram, UK and Ireland marketing manager Kate Weir says mistakes have been made in the past in being too emotive with messages: 'Don't attempt to stand in the shoes of your target audience and understand their motives - it's too personal. We've found that creating a generic message works.'
A crucial step is research, and understanding the audience. The most appropriate means of communication needs to be identified, whether it's via ethnic channels or mainstream media.
Word of mouth is the most basic form of cultural navigation in a new country, but other ethnic channels include community centres, cafes, bars, restaurants, hairdressers, places of worship, local or national religious festivals and cultural events, and leaflets in the language of the target group.
At MoneyGram, Weir says community task forces are a central part of the marketing strategy: 'Street teams are recruited as members of the community we are targeting, so there is no language barrier; they recognise religion and understand the culture. They can also help us identify events and sponsorship opportunities, give us feedback about people's needs and if there's any danger of causing offence.'
Ethnic communications channels work best for messages aimed at members of first-generation communities, especially when they cover issues such as health, education and benefits.
Community marketing agency Activate UK worked with MoneyGram on the Get Started campaign, targeting a disparate, multi-ethnic audience with the aim of helping new immigrants settle and better integrate through sport.
Creative director Tim Reading says: 'There was no sense of a blatant marketing premise. Credibility was crucial - first and foremost the campaign was about adding value to people's lives in a sustainable way, and building trust.'
As well as reaching the right community ambassadors, the ethnic media are a prime communication channel, as this is where people expect to find information that is relevant to them. Mainstream media channels are not expected to carry specific ethnic messages, and so they may be missed or ignored by the target audience.
However, Saffron Chase director Vikas Pota says he has seen a change in buying patterns and believes that mainstream media can be more effective in communicating with the UK's ethnic minority communities in today's fast-paced consumer-oriented age.
Ethnic PR specialist F-NIK PR partner Pedro Carvalho agrees, and says mainstream media can be used effectively if the right journalists are targeted: 'We have excellent relationships with ethnic media, but we are also building relationships with ethnic journalists in the mainstream media, as they are receptive to us and can be persuasive.'
F-NIK PR's clients include music artists, such as Craig David and Virgin's new signing Rishi Rich, as well as on the Kismet Road TV soap, created to communicate health messages to an Asian audience on the Community Channel.
Carvalho stresses that second and third-generation individuals want to be marketed to as part of a mainstream lifestyle society rather than because of their ethnicity: 'Targeting community centres just won't work for younger people. Any PR campaign targeting those groups needs to tap into the lifestyles they want to have in the mainstream world.'
Marketing agency Leigh Jones is working with L'Oreal on its SoftSheen Carson products for black hair. MD Bryon Jones says the campaign took the approach of focusing on reaching the target audience directly, rather than just using the media: 'We realised the market was saturated with billboards, and the ethnic magazines were overcrowded with ads. Our approach was to reintroduce the brand to the audience, taking the brand to the people.'
Leigh Jones created a mobile salon on a branded bus that targeted ethnic areas across England, including carnivals and specific streets. Incentives included a competition for a holiday to the US, product giveaways, free makeovers for hair and make-up. The tour enabled the team to build a large database, and the campaign was supported with press and broadcast PR.
Jones adds: 'Know your audience, know your publications, know what's happening, be creative, make your brand look expensive (even if it isn't), network, be professional, show results, approach your audience like a mainstream brand as you will get more respect, be determined and persistent, be early and upbeat with your approach and always use good, strong images.'
The Central Office of Information is in the process of creating a roster of marcoms agencies to target ethnic minority groups, but Reading says there is still a way to go before ethnic PR is, in its own way, mainstream.
The tactics that work with ethnic audiences extend well beyond media relations into broader marketing techniques, and reaching individuals on their own terms: activity targeting second and third-generation ethnic groups in particular has a huge affinity with youth PR strategies.
The trick, as Britain's ethnic population matures and has more disposable income, will be getting the balance between reaching those specific audiences directly, and a message that encourages integration rather than segregation.
VIEWPOINT: EASTERN EYE
Published by the Ethnic Media Group, Eastern Eye is one of the UK's most popular and best-known Asian newspapers, with a bright tabloid format aimed at the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.
The paper contains a mix of UK and foreign news, sport and a large section on music, Bollywood films and fashion.
Editor Amar Singh talks to PR practitioners every day, and says that like any niche publication, PR campaigns need to be carefully targeted.
'If people come to us with a story on a plate and have taken the time to consider the publication, it makes a big difference,' he says.
The team at the Eastern Eye, in common with most ethnic titles, is small, as are budgets, and so Singh is looking for stories that don't require a lot of resource to run: 'Everything we do needs pictures, and it's great if a story has good quotes, statistics and contact details, so all we need to do is put in a couple of calls to clarify things.'
As with mainstream tabloids, the paper is keen on good celebrity stories: 'If a prominent Asian celebrity is supporting an event, that will often get in the paper,' says Singh.
'The Bombay Dreams PR team is also good at getting Asian celebrities to see the show and sorting out photographs, and although we don't have a book review column, we'll run stories on Asian authors if we can get the story behind the book or the author.' PROs must avoid anything that's patronising to ethnic minorities, and stories that have no relevance to the readership: 'We do get the odd person contacting us with stories not targeted to our readership. It's far better to call me and have a chat about who you might have as a story than just send us stuff blindly. It's good basic PR, really.'