The Importance of Leaning into Cultural Consultants Year-Round

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Stephen Chavez, president of ChavezPR and PRSA Los Angeles, recently took the helm of nonprofit advocacy organization Latino Equality Alliance (LEA).

PRNEWS spoke with him at the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month about coalition building, the Alliance's biggest communications priorities and advice for communicators looking to reach the Hispanic market.

The conversation was edited for length and clarity.

PRNEWS: Tell us about your background and how you became involved with LEA.

Stephen Chavez, president, PRSA Los Angeles

Stephen Chavez: I’m a former journalist…I am a generalist who specializes in the U.S. Hispanic marketplace and multicultural. On behalf of nonprofits and government agencies, like the California Department of Health Services, I’ve done multicultural outreach, hitting those hard-to-reach communities…

…I saw the importance of being visible during the…Prop 8 [initiative]...when California [originally] voted down gay marriage…a lot of that happened within the Latino community…My friends, my family, voted against [gay marriage].

…You have religion, cultural barriers. There were also language issues and barriers because the way the proposition was written [was confusing]…

I was volunteering with some of the people who founded LEA during that time. And then the next time [same-sex marriage] came on the ballot, we took a different approach; we needed to show our visibility…as we became more visible in our community…Latino Equality Alliance was birthed out of the need to continue to educate and fight for a safe place, and for an environment that's supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.

PRNEWS: From a communications perspective, what is your biggest priority with the Alliance?

Chavez: The biggest priority today is to communicate the mission and the values at a time when we're seeing so much negativity around the LGBTQ+ community, especially in the trans community. We need to continue to focus on delivering messages around the need for our youth to be protected in terms of creating safe environments …

PRNEWS: What are your biggest initiatives?

Chavez: Right now, some of the biggest initiatives are around coalition building…partnerships in the community. We need to bring more people into the fold; we just recruited more board members from diverse backgrounds, because we knew it was important that we add people to our board, from media representatives, corporations, nonprofits, health, and other areas around the community…

PRNEWS: We're currently celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. What advice do you have for communicators, both for this month as well as year-round?

Chavez: My recommendation is that we recognize the achievements of Latinos not only this month, but we continue to use the opportunity to extend and acknowledge all year round, through marketing and PR campaigns that target the Hispanic marketplace.

There are DEI initiatives that companies can embrace to promote and recruit Latinos…to make sure that in 2024, our leadership teams reflect the diversity of the community you're serving. Here in Los Angeles, and you're seeing this in other major markets…we are no longer the minority. We are the majority population, but if you look at many of the organizations and companies…leadership teams do not reflect that…

I'll hear things like, “we just don't know where we can find [Latino candidates].” Or “I don't know where to advertise about this event,” and my response to that has always been, "you're just not doing your homework; you're not asking the right people." If you ask me, I can definitely lead you to where you should be marketing this position, and actively recruiting people of color and/or from the LGBTQ community or disability community.

My main message is, take this time to recognize us. But don't just do it this month; it's very much like Pride Month when companies put rainbows on their logos, and then it dies after June.

The community sees through that...Use this month to announce a new initiative that's going to last throughout the year; initiatives that empower, educate and uplift are always going to be your best bet.

And stay away from stereotypes. There has been a misappropriation of our culture. I have an example. I was working at a large agency, and the team created something for Cinco de Mayo, which is a celebration of a battle in Mexico. Yet, they hired a national chef, who's on the Food Network, who's Colombian. And because she was Latina, they thought that was fine…

…Organizations and companies and agencies need to look at their content, bring on a cultural advisor, to make sure that it's not offensive, and to make sure that it's accurate. Take that extra time to get it right so you don't have to correct it later and have the community that you're trying to serve lose faith [in your organization].

PRNEWS: I would assume in an ideal world, these organizations are working with cultural consultants year-round. What do you say to someone who just wants the advice for one or two times a year?

Chavez: I've had that happen in the past. I will put together a response to their proposal that would include at least a minimum of a three-month engagement. It's insane to think that within one month, you're going to move the needle; even three months seems impossible…

… And, [I would ask] are they open to being guided for more? That's the real question for me; if I start talking with someone who's looking to dip their toes in, are they at least open to the possibility of hearing other ideas that can help drive business and lead them to someplace else? Then I’d consider working with them, because I see the opportunity.