Working with Hispanic Media Ain’t Like It Used to Be

By Deborah Charnes

Not unlike so many other PRSA members, I too, got my start in media.  Several decades ago, I worked for a Spanish-language TV station. Although I met plenty of Latino superstars, it was not a glamour job. I worked back in the days when everything was strung together by hardworking well-meaning people with no financial or human resources to deliver the equivalent of a “60 Minutes,” “American Idol” or “Sábado Gigante.” Yet, we produced about ten hours of live programming a day from a weathered studio on the 32nd floor of the Board of Trade Building in Chicago that gave “Soul Train” its first stage and television audience.

I learned the ropes, and it was never dull. I wrote all Spanish-language public service scripts, created all public relations and marketing materials, occasionally helped with talent screen checks, recorded voice-overs if talent was on vacation or on strike, “bicycled” the 200 chapters of our novelas with other TV stations, and frequently called advertisers to be sure their checks were “in the mail.”  We all worked like a family to pitch in and get things done, even though most of the tasks were beyond our job description and leagues beyond our training. A few had prior radio or print background, but certainly there were no graduates of fine state of the arts multi-media communications programs like those that exist today.

Over the years, I’ve seen incredible advances in the level of professionalism and technology in the newsrooms, editing suites and boardrooms of Hispanic media that look nothing like the small family-owned television station where I gained my love for journalism and Hispanic media.  Those days are gone with the twix machine that sat next to my desk. While there were huge influxes of investments in many Hispanic media operations, dollars are shrinking and today’s budgets may be closer to what I experienced.

At the annual PRSA Travel & Tourism Conference, June 5-8 in San Antonio, attendees will have a chance to meet some of today’s Hispanic media professionals.  One of the luncheon addresses will focus on the Hispanic Market, which is now one of the world’s biggest economies.  Participants include veteran TV news director, Victor Landa, who now is a columnist for the San Antonio Express News and publisher of NewsTaco.com. Joining Victor to talk about start up bloggers and new media is Elizabeth Mateo, owner of CasaNaranja.com, a lifestyle site geared toward upscale Latinos, and the third panelist is Maria Cristina Marrero.  Marrero has worked for top quality Spanish-language magazines, and currently is editor of Meredith’s Siempre Mujer.

It’s probably not a coincidence that all three have online presence, given today’s changing media environment. Not unlike the general market media, Hispanics prefer to shop, learn, socialize and play online.  But the way they do it is different from non-Hispanic whites. Hence, online content is just one more part of the learning curve that PR professionals need to consider when working with Hispanic media.

Landa, Mateo and Marrero have a wealth of personal and professional experience to share with the PRSA Conference attendees that no one should miss.  In the meantime, following are a few pointers on working with Hispanic online media.

1)      It doesn’t just take a quick look in your d-base or Rolodex to identify the most valuable Hispanic bloggers or web sites. Most Hispanic bloggers write in English, so a Spanish-language search will not be fruitful.  Also, a blogger’s surname is never a sure fire way of knowing their ethnicity or that of their followers.

2)      The number of Hispanic bloggers has multiplied significantly in the last 12 months, and it can be hard to identify who are the most influential bloggers.

3)      The bloguera or bloguero often has a narrowly defined audience and focus.  Therefore, the best way for PR practitioners to work with bloggers in this new era of high tech and low touch, is to revert to old style PR techniques. Dare I say, it’s all about relationships when it often seems as if personal contacts and pitches have almost disappeared.

4)      Latino bloggers oftentimes don’t get a paycheck for writing.  They blog because they have a strong desire or passion to communicate something specific to like minded online communities. Not unlike the traditional Hispanic print weeklies, Hispanic bloggers may voice their need to monetize their space.

5)      Latino bloggers want to engage with PR professionals, but they consistently complain that PR folks tend to spam them with the same old stuff being sent to traditional media.

6)      All this takes much more time than issuing a blast-fax or e-alert, but in the end, the results will be worth it. It’s about quality, not quantity. Reaching a very narrow target audience will ensure that you hit the bulls eye and generate a boomerang effect.

Editor’s Note: Deborah Charnes has worked as a Hispanic communications specialist for 30 years, working for Univision, Golin-Harris and Ketchum before she joined San Antonio-based Bromley Communications as its director of public relations. She has represented the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau since the year 2000, is on the Advisory Council of the University of Florida’s School of Public Relations and has been a judge of the IPRA Golden World Awards for seven years.