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The News and Observer
Selling In Spanish
June 18, 2002
In the past year, PBS, General Electric Mortgage Insurance, WakeMed and Duke University Medical Center have all come to Conexion Latina with a similar request: Help us reach Hispanic customers.
To Iris Ramirez Reese, who owns the six-employee Durham marketing company, it's a timely request.
With the economic downturn, it makes sense for companies to try to broaden their customer base; and few ethnic groups offer the same growth potential.
After all, according to the 2000 census, more than 35 million Hispanics live in the United States, a 58 percent increase from 1990. In North Carolina, the growth is even more striking: a 394 percent increase for a total of 379,000. The Triangle alone is home to 72,600 Hispanics.
Since the 2000 census figures came out, companies have been racing to reach this market -- one with a total spending power of nearly $630 billion dollars, according to a new study by the Santiago & Valdes Solutions, a San Francisco-based cultural marketing and consulting firm.
The winners so far have been smaller marketing and public-relations firms that have long focused on the Hispanic market.
Corporations "can have the best marketing and creative department, but if they are not intimately familiar with or have relationships with this group, they can't develop the right [marketing] strategy," said Diogenez Ruiz, owner of Ruiz Agency, an advertising and marketing agency in Morrisville. "And if you don't have the right strategy, you are just spinning your wheels."
Last year, Ruiz and his 11 employees developed a branding and marketing campaign to help launch Time Warner Cable's new package of Spanish-language channels.
He created a 30-second radio spot that is airing on Spanish-language radio stations, including WETC and WFTK.
As part of the campaign, Ruiz arranged for Time Warner to have booths at local Hispanic festivals.
Ruiz said he plans to work with BellSouth to help promote its new Spanish Yellow Pages in the Triangle, and his agency also is in talks with Pepsi.
One reason large companies hire smaller firms such as Conexion Latina and Ruiz's is because it's difficult to reach Hispanics through mainstream media such as network television or major radio stations, said Eva A. May, managing director of Espanol Marketing & Communications in Cary.
"This is still a very, very undeveloped market," said May, whose clients include Countrywide Home Loans and Corona Extra Beer. "For a full marketing effort you may only have one [Spanish-language] station to place ads with. Most of those markets are unsophisticated and can be difficult to work with."
May said companies need to immerse themselves in the Hispanic culture to reach their audience. She encourages her clients to sponsor or participate in church fairs, Mexican restaurants' soirees, soccer games or Hispanic festivals.
Larger public-relations and marketing firms also are realizing that just being able to speak the language is not enough.
Fluency in Spanish needs to be accompanied by a true understanding of the culture, said Richard French, president and chief executive of Richard French & Associates in Raleigh, the state's largest public-relations firm.
French & Associates has nine bilingual employees to help its clients, which include Wrangler, Slim Jim and Jack Daniel's, with their Hispanic marketing efforts. Most of those employees were hired in the past year, French said.
But not all local companies see a need to single out Hispanic consumers.
McKinney & Silver and Rockett Burkhead & Winslow, two Raleigh-based advertising agencies with a national clientele, both said that their clients prefer to market to Hispanics as part of the larger public.
And that is a missed opportunity, according to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.
The group released a report recently that showed that top U.S. companies are investing less than 3.2 percent of their overall advertising budget on the Hispanic market.
Ruiz said that companies that can target Hispanic consumers first and do it well will likely win a significant share of the market.
"Hispanics tend to have strong brand loyalty," he said. "Unlike Americans, they have not become desensitized to being marketed to. Actually, they love to be sold to because it makes them feel part of the [American] culture."
May said she has noticed that a number of large companies are already successfully branding themselves in the Hispanic community.
Among them is McDonald's, which has placed Spanish-language billboards in certain areas; J.C. Penney, which has begun including bilingual labels in many of its clothes; and some grocery stores that have shelf signs in both Spanish and English.
Reese, owner of Conexion Latina, has spent nearly three years developing marketing strategies for Food Lion. This has resulted in, among other things, a larger Hispanic food selection in its Triangle stores.
Other retailers are also jumping on the bandwagon. Mike M. Leary, publisher of La Conexion, a Raleigh-based Spanish-language newspaper, said ad sales have increased by 20 percent this year as companies such as Time Warner Cable, Nordstrom and Cingular have bought space.
"We get a lot of help-wanted ads and national advertising," said Leary. "We have stuff coming from California and Chicago. All of a sudden our market is lot more important."
Jose A. Isasi, president of Latino Communications of Winston-Salem, said he has seen a similar growth at both his bilingual newspaper, Que Pasa, and his Spanish radio station, WFTK.
Isasi said that when he launched the Triangle edition of Que Pasa in September he had 20 advertisers. Now he has about 75.
"I think the census numbers have brought a lot of awareness to the this community," Isasi said. "Hispanics need goods and services and business are trying to reach them."