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Posted At: February 16, 2009 1:34 PM
How to choose whether to use Spanish or English with Hispanic Americans

by Jarrett Cocharo

Public relations professionals trying to reach Hispanic Americans have quite a challenge catering to a market with 45 million people.  That is more than the population of Canada.  This number accounts for 15 percent of the U.S. population according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2007 estimates.  This broad demographic group can be members of European, African, Asian or Native American descent.  However, what unites Hispanic Americans is that their origins are linked to Spanish-speaking countries. And depending on how broad one defines Latino, this group can include those of Brazilian descent. In fact, in a report released by the Cervantes Institute, the U.S. has the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world.

Although the Spanish language is often a unifying factor among this demographic, many individuals are also fluent in English and some even prefer speaking English over Spanish, making it more difficult for public relations practitioners to choose how to reach this group. Consider that in 2006 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 8.5 million Hispanics only spoke English at home. In that same year, it found that of those Hispanics using Spanish at home, 3.6 million spoke no English at all. While another 26 million Hispanics speaking Spanish at home spoke English at varying degrees of fluency. Not to mention that finding out Hispanics’ numerous values and beliefs continually exhaust researchers as they work to fit them in acculturated, unacculturated and bicultural categories.

While finding the right language in which to communicate with this public can prove difficult, thorough research sets the groundwork for developing successful Hispanic-based communication plans. The Hispanic American market is too diverse to cover it in single stroke. Resting on the age-old practice of cutting “the market pie” by language is outdated and too broad.

“You need to narrow the focus when you are targeting the market,” said Elena del Valle, editor of Hispanic MPR, a Web site devoted to exploring the challenges and opportunities in reaching Hispanic audiences. “Reach out to a smaller group. Segment the group.”

The Hispanic market is too big to group into one target market, and any attempt to do so will fail.

Using Spanish to build relationships with the Hispanic market is not always necessary for an effective campaign, especially when reaching younger Latinos. In an interview by del Valle, Zune multicultural marketing manager Javier Farfan said Zune started its Hispanic marketing efforts with second generation, 16- to 24-year-olds, English-dominate Hispanic youth. By using Latin music artists to “contextualize the experience” and the brand, Farfan said it was putting the Zune music player into a Hispanic experience without using a completely Spanish-language approach.  According to Farfan, this particular group inside the Hispanic population is the technology gatekeeper for many households. So by engaging this group, Zune hopes to reach the rest of household.

More recently, Farfan said Zune is now opening its target audience to first generation Hispanics, because music sales indicate this group’s interest in digital music is growing. To reach these target audiences in the Hispanic population, Farfan said Zune is continuing its approach of using music artists to “contextualize the experience”, as well as localize its efforts to 10 to 15 cities across the United States. This accounts for one-fourth to one-third of the total U.S. Hispanic population.

But these efforts appear moot when a study by mun2, a sister station of Telemundo for young Latinos, and Look-Look, a market research firm, reported that 79 percent of Latino youth could not name a brand or company specifically targeting Latinos. For this reason, Farfan said Zune saw an opportunity here that other portable digital music player companies were missing. In other words according to Natalie Boden, president of BodenPR, other companies producing these players were missing out on $25 billion per year of Latino youth purchasing power.

Hispanic Americans are hungry for attention. Del Valle said the Latino market from the 2000s is very similar to the mainstream market of the 1950s. In the 1950s, Americans were very receptive to messages just like Latinos today. In an interviewby del Valle with Liria Barbosa, research director for C&R Research, the less-acculturated Hispanics are eager for messages geared toward them.

The key to targeting Hispanic audiences starts in the same place as any other campaign — research. Public relations practitioners have to know to whom they are talking and how they are going to reach them. For example, the most watched newscast in the greater Miami area is in Spanish, according to del Valle. So public relations efforts using broadcast television or radio would need to include Spanish language materials in a city more than 50 percent Hispanic and where even community leaders conduct business in Spanish according to an article on http://www.boston.com.

However, translating a public relations campaign into Spanish does not necessarily create fantastic results. For example, when Reace Alvarenga-Smith, public relations manager for Texas Health Resources, a hospital chain headquartered in Arlington, Texas, is organizing news releases and promotional materials about THR’s resources she considers what medical services interest Hispanics. According to Alvarenga-Smith, podiatry and psychiatry are not necessarily the top interests for Hispanics. Rather, heart health and women’s services issues tend to be of greater news value for Hispanics.

Finding what is newsworthy for Hispanic audiences is just as important as finding the right language. Alvarenga-Smith said Spanish-language media will translate news releases because newsworthy information is newsworthy regardless of language. So once THR implements new plans of interest to the Dallas-Fort Worth Hispanic population, it is a matter of making that information available to Hispanic audiences through the media they prefer.

Hispanic audiences are eager for public relations messages tailored to their needs, but generalizing this vast population will not yield positive relationships. Companies seeking to establish relationships with Hispanic Americans will need to research and find out their interests. Once that is done, giving them what they want in the way they want it is the next step. Hispanics are a growing audience whose purchasing power increases each year, and those companies that invest the time and effort into reaching Hispanics will reap the rewards.
Photo by Kayla Anthony

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