Multicultural PR: Tapping the Power of a Growing Universe

We’ve all heard the numbers: The combined buying power of African-Americans and Hispanics is projected to be over $2.3 trillion by 2012, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth. Today one in seven Americans is Hispanic, and that figure will rise to one in four by 2050, cites the U.S. Census Bureau.

While this growth is a reality and it’s true that in the last 20 years, multicultural media outlets—from radio stations geared to blacks to Spanish-language TV channels Telemundo and Univision—have boomed, has PR made real inroads in reaching African-Americans, Hispanics and other groups? What have agencies and organizations done to reach and capture the awareness of these audiences? PR News spoke with executives at the forefront of multicultural communications to find out.

For Lisa Ross, EVP of specialized communications at Ogilvy PR, two thoughts come to mind when analyzing the state of multicultural PR. “With the election of Barack Obama, we were kind of led to believe that we’re past racial boundaries,” she says. “Before that the emphasis was on the Latino community, but with Obama, I said to my friends half-jokingly that ‘black was back in again.’”

Ross, an African-American, believes that her remark is somewhat true in communications as well. But she also notes the Ogilvy philosophy: Every audience is multicultural by nature. “We don’t have a separate department that focuses on multicultural groups,” she says. “Our perspective is all groups need to be segmented by ethnicity, sex, age, disabilities and other points.

Example: “Clients comes to us and say, ‘I want to reach Latinos.’ That means nothing to me,” says Ross. “We’re talking about people from some 30 different countries, and some are fully assimilated, some isolated and others in between.” (See the graphic below for new research on Hispanic audience subsets.)


The lesson learned, says Ross, is don’t make a blanket assumption about any ethnic or racial group. It’s a lesson that Helen Shelton, EVP of Ruder Finn’ s Multicultural & Image Marketing Group, firmly believes in.

One assumption, says Shelton, is that some groups have little access to the Internet. “That’s the biggest myth ever,” she says. “It’s just that people go to the Web for different reasons. Hispanic people tend to share photos of families, and African-Americans tend to go online to shop.”


It’s that drilling down, which is driven by research, that is most important at Western Union, which counts hundreds of thousands of people worldwide as its target audience. Gail Galuppo, Western Union’s EVP and chief marketing officer, says the research is out there, and it has to be utilized to gain proper insight. “We partner with Experian Simmons for studies, and another firm for live panels,” says Galuppo. The company also has one of the few migrant databases in the world, and uses census data to the fullest.


Of course not every organization has the resources, or objectives, for that kind of research. But it helps that Ross is able to tap Ogilvy’s research arm to find out who and where the influencers are for certain groups. Again, Ross stresses that it’s the same methodology you’d use for any target audience. “Know your influencers, and be clear on what you want your outcome to be, just as you would for any campaign,” she says.

Ross cites work for a recent new client, the USO, as an example of working toward an outcome based on audience research. The USO is looking to broaden its base by attracting new audiences. Lo and behold, its current base of support wasn’t reflective of a key target audience: the families of troops fighting overseas. “The majority of people who fight aren’t Gen Y or Gen X,” says Ross. “They are a mixture of Latinos, African-Americans, whites and other groups.”

Ross and her team are now working to change the USO’s image from that of Bob Hope’s days to a more contemporary vibe. “We’re looking for things that resonate from a multicultural standpoint,” she says. That includes recruiting sports stars as spokespersons, doing spots on black radio stations and having a diverse group of musicians (including country singers) visit the troops overseas.

It’s that understanding of specific groups, says Western Union’s Galuppo, that can make the difference in multicultural efforts. Her other recommendations for multicultural PR success include:

Really understand the market. Know what tools that market is using and how they are absorbing information.

Build separate programs for different groups. Over Mother’s Day WU put out several different message for groups all over the globe.

Look across awareness channels. Understand audience usage within each.

Build in measurement. Try to tie some sort of sales in with each of your multicultural events to prove ROI.

Shelton sums up her multicultural efforts in a medical way: “Just like people respond differently to treatment, multicultural audiences respond to what resonates with them, be it social media, musical events or radio programs,” she says. “The mark of a true PR professional is someone who really understands that.” PRN


Lisa Ross, [email protected]; Helen Shelton, [email protected]; Kristin Kelly, [email protected].