Balsera Communications has promoted Sonia Diaz to Director of Public Relations and Digital Strategies, effective immediately. In her expanded role, Sonia will support new business development while managing messaging, strategy, objectives and partnerships for Balsera’s U.S. Hispanic, public affairs and government affairs clients.
Diaz joined Balsera Communications in 2011 as a Senior Account Executive supporting the agency’s U.S. Hispanic practice. During this time, she has led the creation and implementation of U.S. Hispanic and public affairs campaigns that include grassroots, grasstops, and public policy engagement for consumer, trade and online audiences. In 2014, her leadership won Balsera Communications the awards for PRWeek Multicultural Campaign of the Year and the Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA) Best Media Event of the Year.
In this exclusive Hispanic PR PRofile, Sonia Diaz sheds some insight on her new role, the state of Hispanic marketing and PR, and what it’s really like to work in the public affairs sector.
HPR: First of all, congratulations on your promotion! What’s the biggest change you expect to unfold in your new role as Director of Public Relations and Digital Strategies?
I look forward to working more on some of our public information and infrastructure projects. There are so many exciting developments happening in Miami right now. Learning the inner workings of these types of outreach campaigns is going to be a great challenge and a professional growth opportunity that I am excited to take on.
HPR: How are public affairs clients embracing digital? Do you feel there’s more hesitation in this industry than in others?
I think most clients have a hard time embracing digital media because at its core, public relations is about driving the conversation, and things like social media can change that on a whim. But if we have learned anything over the last few years, it’s that if you don’t establish an online presence early on, it is almost impossible to walk back an online crisis. This is especially true when you are dealing with public affairs matters because the success of these campaigns often rely on voter buy-in and most voters go online to learn about the issues. Well-organized online opposition groups can make or break a public affairs campaign and most clients understand this.
HPR: With election year coming up, it must be exciting to be working in public affairs at this time. What are you most looking forward to?
For me, the most exciting part was feeling like I was a part of history. I was privileged enough to work alongside Obama campaign operatives in 2012, and playing a role in supporting such an experienced, game-changing team is something I see as one of the highlights of my career. Aside from backing a candidate that I really believed in, and still do, I also learned a whole lot in that short time and I got to work with some of the most intelligent and passionate people I have ever met. I encourage everyone, whatever their profession, to take time to be civically involved and to truly understand the process.
HPR: Tell us a bit about Balsera Communications. What makes this firm special and how has working with this team contributed in your professional development?
Balsera Communications has a very specific and unique expertise that really no one else in this market or nationwide can claim to have. We offer an in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of Miami public affairs as well as a proven track record with U.S. Hispanic audiences, at the grass tops, grass roots and public policy levels. Our team is more diverse than the typical multicultural practice of other firms and that shines through in our innovative approach to creating successful communications campaigns. Beyond that, and more importantly, we are a very close-knit team and we treat each other like family. That sort of dynamic makes our job fun and I honestly think we generate better results because of it.
HPR: Hispanicize works with your firm on various initiatives, in particular, the Positive Impact Awards presented by 3M. You have been very instrumental in executing that program. Can you tell us a little bit about the birth of this program, your role with PIA and key learnings?
I would say that the PIA is one of my favorite projects because my goal when I chose a career in PR was to work with clients who wanted to do things that have a positive impact on our communities. I honestly can’t think of a better way of doing that than honoring those who dedicate their lives to doing good for others on a daily basis. The program was born because Manny Ruiz understood early on that it was imperative that we start to change the conversation about Latinos in the U.S. and he knew that the best way to do that was to highlight the contributions that they are making for the betterment of our communities. The most important thing I have learned is that you cannot execute this sort of program without complete buy-in from all involved and both 3M and Hispanicize have been 1000 percent committed to this initiative from the start. The 3M team especially wants to see this program reach new heights every year, so we are constantly discussing ways to evolve it and keep it fresh and rich. We expect 2016 to be a banner year for the PIA.
HPR: In addition to your role at Balsera, you also serve on the National board for HPRA as the HPRA Miami Chapter President. Can you tell us your thoughts on the Hispanic Public Relations industry in the past three years. Have you seen a change?
In some ways, there have been changes, and in others not. For one, I find it astonishing that we are still having the same conversations that I was having as an intern when it comes to the influence of the U.S. Hispanic population. Where there used to be denial about our influence, there is now just resistance to change. Before the debate was whether or not it was actually worth doing outreach to Hispanics and now the argument is that the Hispanic demographic will eventually all be general market, so why even bother?
But if history has taught us anything, it’s that the U.S. Hispanic population and the characteristics that define it are constantly evolving. Two glaring examples of this are the up and coming “upscale Latino” and emerging markets such as Dominican Americans. If you would have told me eight years ago that there would be a Latino group destined to be more powerful than the Baby Boomer generation or that a bachata artist would be doing a mainstream song with an R&B artist, I probably would have told you that you were crazy. That’s how unpredictable this market is and the brands that have already invested in and embraced the Latino community will come out on top.
HPR: What are your thoughts on Social Media and it’s influence on traditional public relations practices?
Like any campaign, the use of social media is really dependent on the client’s goals and the timeline given to achieve them. In the Hispanic market, word-of-mouth and personal recommendations are typically more influential in the decision-making process and therefore, Latino online influencers can be key to penetrating your target audience, especially if you are skewing towards a younger demographic. But like with any other campaign, you have to go where your audience is and that may not be online. Even when you do have an online opportunity, you have to choose the right channels for your campaign. Clients often get caught up in trends and want us to implement something because it’s the latest thing, i.e. Vine, but it is our job to educate them on what works for their goals.
You are an Austin native who now lives in Miami. How would you compare the two?
This is a really funny question because as a person who is heavily influenced by my Dominican background, I felt that I would easily adapt to Miami, but what I quickly learned is that I have a very American mentality, so I experienced culture shock for the first three years or so. The good news is that this is exactly what it means to be bicultural and I am only better at my job because of it. It is impossible to compare Austin or Houston to Miami. All three are so different and I love them all for their own unique offerings. If anything, I would say that I am a true Texan with very prevalent Latino roots. That being said, I love Miami and I don’t see myself leaving here any time soon. The city is evolving in a very positive way and I’m enjoying being part of its growth.
We love hearing about successful women. Tell us three things you do everyday that help keep you motivated, focused and have contributed to your success:
I surround myself with people who are smarter or more knowledgeable than myself because you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I never back down from a challenge or opportunity. If I don’t know how to do something, I figure it out, but I never say no. I always include my team in important decisions and ask them to look things over, because having diverse points of view can only improve your chances of success. That’s four things.
What do you love to do in your spare time when you’re not killing it in the Balsera conference room?
The most important thing to me in my life is music. I love to sing. After that Im like anyone else – I love eating good food and drinking wine, spending time with my friends and family and going to the beach or being by the water. The ocean soothes my soul.
I have two:
“Some people say forgive and forget, I say forget about forgiving and just accept.”
“Your life unfolds in proportion to your courage.”