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PR Firms Are Making a Pitch for Latino Market

June 10, 2002|ELENA GAONA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After years of ignoring the Latino market, the nation's top public relations agencies are creating focused practices and urging corporate clients to carve out bigger marketing budgets for the sector.

Burson-Marsteller is the latest giant to join top agencies such as Weber Shandwick, Fleishman-Hillard Inc., Hill & Knowlton Inc., Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, Ketchum and Golin/Harris International in creating Latino market practices to generate more money from the more than 35 million Latinos in the United States.

To a degree, they are horning in on a field occupied for years by smaller Latino public relations, marketing and advertising agencies.

"Certain big PR agencies are hiring one or two [employees with] Hispanic surnames, and then they say, 'We can do Hispanic PR,' " said Benito Martinez, president of Los Angeles-based Acento Advertising Inc., which specializes in Hispanic marketing and public relations. "Our approach is different. We reflect our culture and issues in a way the big firms would never understand."

But global public relations firms said they understand the culture and have the broader reach corporations are looking for.

Burson-Marsteller announced in April a national Latino effort that pulls some 20 employees and other resources from 10 U.S. offices.

In Los Angeles, the company's practice has secured accounts such as Miller Brewing Co., Gatorade and Lincoln Mercury. Some clients already were with the firm, and others joined just to reach the Latino market, said Elena Stern, director of public affairs for Burson-Marsteller's U.S. Latino practice.

Miller hired Burson-Marsteller three months ago to increase the visibility of its Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft products among Latinos.

"It's a growing market. Any company that is not paying attention to the Hispanic market is overlooking a huge opportunity," said Miller spokesman Ron Acosta. "With the surge in population and purchasing power, any company should be asking, 'Where do my products fit in?' "

Burson-Marsteller joins several other large public relations firms investing in the Latino market. Weber Shandwick Worldwide has had a public relations team focusing on the Latino market since late 1999, said Armando Azarloza, director of Weber Shandwick/Latin.

"We looked at the landscape, and most [Latino specialty] companies were very regional. They had local resources to serve their accounts, and we knew we could do it on a national level," Azarloza said.

Weber Shandwick's Latino practice has grown to 11 continuing clients, plus smaller project accounts, that combined will produce more than $1 million in revenue in 2002, Azarloza said. The Latino team coordinated a Spanish-language national media relations campaign to help introduce M&M's Dulce de Leche candies and put together an event for Jaguar's new X series with salsa music star Celia Cruz in Miami.

Still, Manuel Valencia, partner of the Latino-owned public relations firm Valencia, Perez & Echeveste Inc., said his firm is not worried about the competition.

"They're outstanding agencies, but in the Latino market, when we go up against the Hispanic division of a general market firm, our track record shows that 70% of the time, we win," said Valencia, whose Pasadena-based firm's clients include McDonald's Corp., AT&T Corp. and Disneyland.

The toughest competition for Latino agencies still comes from corporate resistance to fully acknowledging the power of the Latino market, Valencia said.

The Assn. of Hispanic Advertising Agencies released a report last month indicating that nearly two-thirds of top U.S. companies targeting Latino consumers have invested less than 3.2% of their overall advertising budgets in that market over the last three years. The percentage in the public relations field is at or below that figure, said Ingrid Otero-Smart, president of the advertising association.

But public relations specialists said that is changing.

At Fleishman-Hillard, corporate interest in Latino consumers has grown rapidly in the last two years, said Rissig Licha, executive vice president and managing director of Fleishman-Hillard in Miami, the branch that houses the firm's national Latino practice. The practice handles Procter & Gamble Co. products such as Tide, Pampers and Pledge.

In most cases, the large firms fold their Latino market operations into multicultural practices. Hill & Knowlton began its ethnic market operations in 1987, when Los Angeles clients asked for public relations services with local Spanish media outlets, said Raul Garza, the company's director of diversity communications.

"That grew into Hispanic marketing and Hispanic advertising," Garza said.

Latino-geared public relations agencies also are broadening their offerings to capture more marketing-budget dollars.

With public events, sponsorships, media relations and marketing communications, public relations no longer means just corporate spokespeople, said Esther Novak of Ketchum's multicultural practice, known as Ketchum Vanguard.

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