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The following article appears in the July issue of PR Tactics.

In 2007, researchers at the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia predicted that Hispanic buying power will reach $1.2 trillion by 2012 — nearly 10 percent of consumption in the United States.
Regardless, as David Henry, APR, notes, not enough companies include Hispanic outreach as a core part of their plans. Henry is founder and president of the New York-based TeleNoticias, an electronic publicity and broadcast PR company with a focus on the Hispanic market. Here, he talks to Tactics about the mistakes that marketers make in trying to reach Hispanic audiences, the need to build a Hispanic audience through mobile communications and the importance of targeting Spanish-language media outlets. — John Elsasser

Despite the surveys showing the size and buying power of the U.S. Hispanic population, do marketers continue to overlook this demographic?
Some marketers have strong outreach in the Hispanic market, but many still either overlook or underfund Hispanic marketing efforts. Yet money spent on the Hispanic market often generates better in-market results than comparative dollars in the mainstream market. The companies that give the market proper attention are seeing huge ROI, not only from public relations but in overall response from Hispanic consumers.

What are the common mistakes marketers make when trying to reach the Hispanic audience — particularly with video?
The first mistake that many make is thinking they reach the Hispanic market via traditional, mainstream outreach. This is a huge error.

While many Latinos speak English and consume mainstream media, they still want to be marketed to as Latinos. The Census Bureau reports that 78 percent of U.S. Hispanics, age five and older, speak Spanish in their homes. That is a significant number and it speaks to outreach and collateral materials in Spanish. If you think your mainstream outreach is reaching the Hispanic market, it’s not.

The second mistake is trying to repurpose mainstream materials for the Hispanic market. This doesn’t work on many levels. One needs to create a program that works for the Hispanic audience. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to create a completely different program (though it can mean that). But it does mean that you need to be culturally sensitive, see the differences in the market and create a program that resonates with Hispanics.

A third mistake is language: Many people try to directly translate their materials from English to Spanish. The problem is that some words, especially colloquial phrases, don’t translate well when done directly. It’s important that one translates and adapts the materials so that they truly communicate the same messages. You have to know the culture to find the equivalent terms, so that even if the words are completely different, they [still share] the same idea.

The problems with video are no different. Many marketers try to use footage shot for the mainstream market for Hispanic outreach. The footage is not in culture, doesn’t look familiar to Latinos and won’t connect. Again, it comes down to planning: You have to understand — from the beginning — the desired outreach to the Hispanic market, and how you are going to implement and integrate Hispanic outreach into your programs/campaigns.

What opportunities are there in mobile marketing — specifically with mobile video?
The opportunities available with mobile are endless. A March 2008 Pew Internet & American Life study showed that Hispanics lead all other demographic groups in most every category of mobile phone usage, from texting to e-mail to instant messages. Their mobile phones are one of their main communication tools.

From a PR perspective, mobile is a way to communicate directly with the consumer and the public without gatekeepers. Also, since those who participate have to opt in, these are people interested in being connected, whether to a company, a brand or an event.

We don’t use the term “mobile marketing” because it blurs the lines between marketing/promotions and communications/public relations. We prefer the term “mobile communications.” The difference is that we are using mobile as a communications platform that allows for ongoing communications, rather than a campaign of a fixed length of time. PR professionals need to start thinking of mobile as a PR tool, not a marketing tool.

Text (or SMS) messaging is growing in all age groups. It’s highest among teenagers and those in their 20s, but the numbers for those in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and older continue to grow rapidly.

It is important to note that 80 percent of the U.S. public is not walking around with a smartphone, like a BlackBerry or iPhone. For that 80 percent, text messaging and mobile Web is the way to communicate. Further, they can forward those messages to others.

When it comes to video, looking at mobile video alone is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. It’s important to first develop a mobile communications strategy, and then figure out the best way to execute that strategy. For most, that will involve a text/SMS platform, followed by mobile Web. With that in place, you can begin looking at mobile apps and video, but first you need to build your network of consumers.

Where mobile video is working now is with sites like YouTube. Most Web-enabled phones and all smartphones can go to the mobile version of YouTube to watch video. So a simple way of making video and mobile work is to use the SMS/texting platform to send a link to a YouTube video, or a similar video sharing site.

What are some initial steps that marketers can take in building a Hispanic audience through mobile communications?
Again, the initial step is to develop a mobile communications strategy and define your goals. Then you can think about tactics.

For most marketers, the first step will be to develop a texting/SMS platform that will allow them to build a list of consumers (or fans, VIP members, etc.) The next logical step, given how the Hispanic market uses mobile, would be to develop a mobile Web presence. Mobile Web is the easiest way to reach across all phones and platforms. The last phase would be to look at mobile apps; these can take many forms and provide a variety of functionality.

Most marketers will not see the results that they are looking for if they think of mobile as a stand-alone tactic. The overall PR program should integrate elements that will drive mobile participation and allow companies to build mobile audiences.

Discuss some trends in Hispanic media consumption. How will this impact the way marketers reach Hispanic audiences?
It’s important to first recognize that the U.S. Hispanic culture is inherently dynamic and hard to classify. There are constantly new waves of Hispanic immigrants, more than 20 different countries represented and huge differences between generations. Anyone who seeks to reach this audience needs to appreciate its complexity.

First, let’s discard stereotypes. Most Hispanics are not recent immigrants to this country. In fact, the majority of Hispanics in the United States — three out of five — are native-born citizens. There’s also a stark contrast in English ability between Hispanic immigrants and their native-born children. According to a Pew Hispanic Center study, only one in four Hispanic immigrants report being able to speak English well, but that number jumps to 88 percent for U.S.-born Hispanics 18 and over.

With that understanding, it’s logical that Hispanics consume media in both English and Spanish. The question comes down to what segment you’re trying to reach. It’s really no different than the mainstream market. One targets different media outlets for Gen Y than for Baby Boomers. You have to know what segment of the Hispanic market you’re targeting, and approach the appropriate outlets.

The mainstream media landscape continues to splinter and segment. As a result, the Spanish-language outlets — broadcast in particular — are gaining in power and rankings. I think we will see more of this.

It’s difficult to make predictions given the current economic and media environment. The economy has affected both English- and Spanish-language media. One thing is for sure: Companies need to be targeting Spanish-language outlets and need to adapt their materials for the Spanish-speaking audience. Once they get up to speed, the opportunities will unfold.

Copyright © 2009 PRSA. All rights reserved.

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