What strategic Hispanic marketing and PR insights can we glean from two female PR pioneers whose agencies recently merged? 

During Hispanic Heritage Month, I had the pleasure of hosting a webinar with Ruder Finn CEO Kathy Bloomgarden and Comunicad CEO and Founder Gloria Rodriguez. 

New York-based Ruder Finn, founded by Kathy’s late father, David Finn, in 1948, was one of the nation’s first PR firms. DC-based Comunicad, launched in 1985, was one of the first Hispanic PR firms.

While I was intrigued by the merger, my admiration for both women grew as I began to research their backgrounds in preparation for the webinar. Kathy speaks fluent Mandarin, having majored in Chinese languages. Roughly 20 years ago, she opened all of Ruder Finn’s Asian operations. Gloria, of Puerto Rican descent, began her career as a journalist for Fox Media and launched Comunicad at a time when the Hispanic market was in its infancy.

Here are the Top 12 Hispanic Marketing & PR Insights from this webinar, with quotes from Kathy and Gloria:

1. The Hispanic market is no longer a niche — it is the future. 

“We wanted to embrace this audience and a very important segment of the population. The Hispanic voice is very underappreciated. It deserves a far greater share of voice in our dialogue today. Some people estimate that almost 70 percent of economic growth can be linked to the Hispanic market. Just over half of new housing is purchased by Hispanics. New business starts, a similar statistic. Perhaps most interesting is that the average age in the Hispanic market is about 11 as compared to much older in the general population, which means that the Hispanic market is the future. I would argue that the market is going to become mainstream. It’s going to move with these kinds of statistics to be a very central plank of how the U.S is going to move forward.” – Kathy

2. Hispanic marketers have an urgent and historic opportunity to leverage the new corporate DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) focus. 

“We felt that joining Ruder Finn would amplify our mission because we could reach so many more. We will also have the ability to impact the whole DEI fundamentals, which is the whole trend of the future. If we don’t start pushing in on the whole DEI infrastructure of corporations, they’re going to lose the beat of the market as we grow. There are two Latino organizations that are dealing with this whole problem in terms of the representation of Latinos on corporate boards. This has become an urgent call for them. They are working with a lot of the executive search firms to try to start really putting a big remedy onto this.” — Gloria

3. General Market marketers continue to display an immense lack of knowledge of the Hispanic market. 

“The lack of knowledge of our Latino communities is incredible. For instance, people don’t understand that we come from 26 different countries. And even though we all speak Spanish, our Spanish in some of our countries is a little bit different. A word in Puerto Rico may not mean the same thing in Argentina. At Comunicad, we’ve always said we speak General Spanish precisely because we are servicing the entire Latino community. So we have to be very aware of all of that in order to be able to reach out to them. The lack of having Hispanics in positions of power in more and more corporations in the United States does not help the knowledge of Latinos and who Latinos are and how they impact the branding of the corporation. It does not help at all. So the more workers we are able to put in positions of power in the corporations, the more readily available – whether it be that mutual cooperation between communities and businesses of Corporate America. This is one of the things that I really admire about Ruder Finn — and Kathy in particular – the fact that Kathy is really, really dedicated to this at Ruder Finn. It has to come from the top, which is what certainly doesn’t happen in a lot of corporate America. It’s not coming from the top. You have a lot of Latinos employed in management jobs that then don’t have the power to be able to make the moves that they need to do inside the corporation. Comunicad has been doing that for many, many years because as I always would say we were the innocent ones. We came in as media and the first thing that I would always ask would be “Who handles your corporate contributions?” And the reason I always did that is that we felt that if we could get into that arena, we could then help provide the things that the Latino community needed to be able to progress even further. One of those things is education. We’ve dedicated a lot of the resources of the corporate clients that we’ve had to the whole education issue, to get our kids to graduate from high schools first and now colleges. We need to put Latinos in more positions of power, more decision-making positions in Corporate America to enable the change that is needed and for the market development that is coming.” – Gloria

“We can do DEI but our communities are not foolish. They will understand those corporations that have really taken this on and challenge themselves and are working and expanding within it, versus the ones that just give you lip service and say ‘Oh yes, we want you to buy our products but we don’t really feel that we need to look more like you.'” — Gloria Rodriguez, RF Comunicad

4. General marketers win when they service multicultural markets on that market’s own terms.

“I love what Gloria just said, which is, ‘on their own terms.’ A cultural intelligence platform – which Gloria just laid out – is really fundamentally the basis of going global because we Americans – I would say sometimes – some of us come in thinking we’re going to bring our own value system, and then we wonder “Why aren’t we successful?” The most important thing is to be sensitive and base everything you’re doing on cultural insights. If we look at Asia, the Chinese market is different from the Singaporean market, which is different from the Indian market. It’s not — like Gloria just said – one-size-fits-all. You have to be extremely sensitive and you have to be a good listener and you have to be really willing to take a whole new lens and really set aside some preconceived notions that you have based on the American cultural gestalt and move towards something which is really rooted in the local perspective, the local value system, which is so very distinct in the Hispanic community.” – Kathy

5. For DEI to be effective, it must include staffing changes at the C-Suite level, and not just additional budgets and campaigns.

“Corporate America needs to understand DEI from not a very singular perspective but to really widen their vision of what DEI means as it applies to many different cultural groups and not just to one cultural group. This needs to happen because in order for them to be able to service the consumers of the future, they’ve got to be able to then look and feel like those consumers as well. They have to be able to demonstrate that they’ve done something in their organizations. And by that something, I mean they’ve taken away biases towards these communities. What you have then on the other side is that the PR professionals need to be emphasizing that even more. They need to be asking – as we do the DEI campaigns – “what does your corporation look like?” Because those questions are going to be asked by the communities sooner or later. So we all have to be on the same page. Yes, we can do DEI but our communities are not foolish. They will understand those corporations that have really taken this on and challenge themselves and are working and expanding within it, versus the ones that just give you lip service and say “Oh yes, we want you to buy our products but we don’t really feel that we need to look more like you,” to be able to do that. So those are differences that are coming up and that’s where our PR professionals need to take heed and need to be talking to Corporate America a lot more about this and helping them in this endeavor to grow.” – Gloria

6. “Cultural intelligence” is all about understanding the nuances of a multicultural market, beyond language.

“From the very beginning of Comunicad, cultural intelligence was our guide. We knew that we could not service that community, that we could not provide to corporate America, to our clients, the ins into that community unless we used cultural intelligence as our beam and gave that to our clients. And cultural intelligence is basically understanding the community beyond just knowing the language. We come from 26 different countries, plus we’re all different. We’re not a monolithic community. We all have to understand that. We all have to approach the different communities within the Hispanic community in their own language, and that’s what made us stand out from the crowd.” – Gloria

7. One culturally insensitive word in a marketing campaign can cost a brand millions of dollars.

“There have been campaigns out there that instead of drawing in the public, they actually insult the public by using certain words or idioms of the language that are insulting versus helping get that community to follow your brand. One of our clients a few years ago refused to take out a word that we said should not be used. It was a $25 million dollar campaign which they lost, because, in the end, they had to remove it because the community riled up in such a way that the company had to pull itself back and they lost $25 million in the process.” – Gloria

8. Investing more in the Hispanic market is not just a nice-to-do, it’s an essential plank of a brand’s growth – especially in an uncertain economy. 

“There are additional reasons why this is a moment in time. Here we are in a very uncertain economy. No one knows where the world is going and where economic growth is going to end up. I would argue to companies we’re working with that they shouldn’t just think of reaching out to the Hispanic community as extra funds that they might park for a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiative if they happen to have any funds left over. What’s important is that this is really an engine for growth. This is a must-do. This is something that’s going to be vital for companies in many different sectors in order to be successful. It’s not a charity. You’re actually giving to a segment of the population. It’s actually really understanding the potential and the possibilities that really really do meet with the aspirations of the Hispanic community as it grows, becomes more prosperous, starts at some businesses, buys its own homes, etcetera, and as the young people move into a greater portion of the population. So I think it’s very important to fundamentally shift the kinds of attitude that the corporate sector has about the Hispanic community and really position it as a win-win. There’s nothing here that’s kind of nice to do. This is really an essential plank for every company considering its economic growth and its strategy for the future.” – Kathy

“I would argue to companies we’re working with that they shouldn’t just think of reaching out to the Hispanic community as extra funds that they might park for a CSR initiative if they happen to have any funds left over. What’s important is that this is really an engine for growth. This is a must-do. This is something that’s going to be vital for companies in many different sectors in order to be successful. It’s not a charity.” — Kathy Bloomgarden, Ruder Finn

9. To target Hispanic GenZers and Millenials, two keys are to leverage smartphones and influencers. 

“Our Hispanic GenZers are almost 20 percent of the population. That is very important because [smartphones] are where we can communicate with them. It’s no longer sitting in front of a TV set and seeing an ad. It’s [smartphones] and its influencers. This is one way that Latinos relate. Our human connections, our families. We believe in and we are tied to that human connection. What this digital age provides for the GenZers, in particular, is that you’re communicating through influencers as well. That is the human connection that they have, which sometimes is much, much higher than a connection — beyond the family values part of it – that they have with the elder Hispanic community.” – Gloria

10. One faulty assumption that General Marketers still make when targeting Hispanics is to think that Latinos only speak Spanish. 

“One of the biggest problems that the C-Suites have is considering that the Latino Community is monolithic. It is not. Obviously, they want to go after the young audiences and our GenZers are English-dominant. So we have to speak in that language. As recently as five years ago this wasn’t being done. It wasn’t even really being thought of, that we speak in Spanish and English. Some companies have been coming out with new ads – which I really applaud — where they’re speaking Spanglish, or they’re speaking in Spanish and suddenly they go into English. You can have a TV ad or a digital ad that shows members of the older Hispanic community and the members of the young community and they’re switching back and forth. This is very natural for us. In our homes now we have a younger population and this is what happens. We’re speaking two languages. And sometimes we’re speaking, yes, in Spanglish, which is our mutual language. So my thoughts for the C-Suite is that they open up their minds a little bit more and also their knowledge and that they bring in people who are really knowledgeable about this and who don’t want to go in just to do a campaign to earn the money, that they really have the community as their purpose, because if you have PR agencies that really see the good that this community is bringing to our nation, they will do good for that community.” – Gloria

11. Local influencers can be as effective as Mega influencers. 

“The value-oriented approach to campaigns is very important. The population in general is moving toward selecting brands that they think are socially responsible or represent their own personal values. Gloria referred to the fact that personal and relevant is very important. The two things that I would stress are that those family values, the children, should be really very very visible in terms of campaigns that reach out to the Hispanic community. And secondly, Gloria alluded to local influencers, not just these sort of Mega influencers or stars that are ordinarily selected by marketing campaigns but rather more grassroots representatives that people can relate to in their own communities is really powerful and channels that are maybe not Facebook or Twitter but are more like TikTok where you can have that personal expression. So I think that the way you approach the Hispanic community is very much of our times. We feel like we’re all moving toward these more creative channels, more personal relevance, more value orientation, and more mobile. These are all things the Hispanic community has already adopted, so in some way, we can look to what the future is going to look like by understanding the Hispanic community.” – Kathy

12. Effective marketing requires building trust by working closely with community organizations and community leaders. 

“From the beginning, one of our big things has been that we work a lot with community organizations because we needed to build trust. I’m glad to say this is one of the things that I thank my staff for every day because we do it on a daily basis. We reach out to that community and we help them in need. Right now, Ruder Finn is helping with pro bono time for Puerto Rico after the hurricane. This is one of the things that we all really have to do more of and learn more of and reach out to our community leaders, and to our community organizations. It is through them that we will acquire the trust of the community. We can’t do it without them.” — Gloria

To view the full webinar, click here.

Bill Gato is the CEO of Noticias Newswire and the Co-Publisher of Hispanic PR Blog.