MULTICULTURAL: HISPANIC SHOPS RAISE THE VISIBILITY BAR: AHAA EFFORT TO SPOTLIGHT IMPORTANCE OF HISPANIC MARKET SEEKS CONTINUITY

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Hector orci is all too familiar with the reluctance some U.S. marketers express when asked why they don't target domestic Hispanic consumers.

If it's not outright denial that the market is worth the investment, then it's caution about moving into a marketing arena they don't understand, says Mr. Orci, principal of La Agencia de Orci, a Los Angeles-based Hispanic advertising agency.

Then when Mr. Orci or his account team sometimes convinces marketers to advertise to Hispanics, then the whole effort falls apart when that brand manager moves on to another assignment or another company. The result is slowed development and a lack of consistency and continuity in ethnic marketing programs -- if they exist at all.

CONSTANT BATTLE

"Every time a new brand manager came on, we had to convince him the Hispanic market was worth going after," Mr. Orci says of one former client. "One year, we would have a large advertising budget. The next year we would have zero advertising budget, even though there were measurements along the way that demonstrated that the ethnic program was working."

Believing it was time to change marketers' thinking about Hispanic advertising, the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies announced it is raising visibility via a campaign of its own.

The goal of the 32 member agencies is to talk not to mid-level brand managers, but to their bosses -- the senior-level decision influencers, CEOs and presidents who can make such decisions a permanent part of the company's marketing strategy, says Mr. Orci, who serves as co-chairman of AHAA.

BEGAN NEWORKING

He, and others in AHAA, believe a face-to-face networking effort, bolstered by a print ad campaign and PR networking effort scheduled to roll out early next year, will convince these senior executives about the importance of a Hispanic campaign.

"We're not talking about millions or thousands of people. We're talking about tens of people, and that's not that daunting a challenge," says Mr. Orci, whose agency created an initial ad that first appeared earlier this year. "In terms of levels (of spending) these people represent, it is a daunting challenge."

SPENDING MUST RISE

Many Hispanic agency executives believe ad spending against the Hispanic consumer needs to rise to be in line with the amount of money that consumer spends annually.

AHAA's planned push is poig-nant for another reason. Quite often, Spanish-language campaigns are translated or adapted from English by the general-market agency for use in the U.S. Hispanic market, says Horacio Gomes, president-CEO at HeadQuarters Advertising, a San Francisco shop billing $17 million that hosted AHAA's August meeting where the networking proposal was hatched.

Such campaigns often perform poorly, only further sullying non-Hispanic marketers' views toward the ethnic segment, he says.

INDUSTRY UNDER SIEGE

"If it fails, it simply proves the fears of people who say, 'Hispanics are really Anglos who are speaking Spanish now, and in a few years will be speaking English,' " says Aida Levitan, exec VP with Coral Gables, Fla.-based Sanchez & Levitan. She contends the Hispanic agency community is "an industry under siege.

"We need to help them understand that no matter how foreign or scary the market may seem because they don't understand the language, they must seek it out."

The formation of AHAA has brought activity in another circle -- the American Association of Advertising Agencies, which has formed a committee to serve its 26 Hispanic member agencies.

Some of those shops met last month for the first time and are currently drafting a mission statement to be presented later this year, says O. Burtch Drake, Four A's president-CEO.

FEAR BEING SWALLOWED

For many in AHAA, joining Four A's means being swallowed by a much larger industry group -- which ultimately will dilute the message. But by sticking with Four A's, the Hispanic association's agenda could be more strongly capitalized and better promoted, contends Victor Ornelas, chairman of Ornelas & Associates, Dallas, a member of both groups.

'Just standing alone we're going to be a splinter group," he says. "You can have your own agenda and keep speaking, but are you going to really impact the national agenda? The only true strategy for success is to penetrate the existing system to make sure your agenda's heard."

WANT THE SAME THING

But both seemingly want the same thing: increased spending in the Hispanic market, with ad billings going to bona fide Hispanic shops that focus solely on that segment, says Mr. Gomes. General market agencies can do a good job, he said, but Hispanics know the market better, he said.

"Hispanic marketing has to be mandated from the top down or else it becomes a choice of people in the trenches whether they do or not," Mr. Orci concludes,

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