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Experiencing a Conference as If for the First Time

A Chat With Students About Their View of the Industry

By Published on . 1

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
As Hispanic Heritage Month kicked into full gear a few weeks ago, I joined the Cable Advertising Bureau and Broadcasting & Cable as a panelist at their event titled Hispanic Cable 2010: Tomorrow Is Today. Keynote Speakers included Edward Gold, advertising director of State Farm, and Mark K. Stewart, VP-global media services of Kraft Food. Both speakers provided vivid evidence of how their brands are reaping the benefits of having truly committed to being part of Hispanic consumer's lives.

In State Farm's case, these commitments included everything from "tried and true" (and nostalgically old-school) sponsorships of "Sabado Gigante" to the creation of a reality show following the trials and tribulations of a musical group the State Farm brand helped to launch.

For Kraft, it was clearly stated that this house of brands was using its aggregated power to create those media vehicles that would best serve their business units and the Kraft name as a whole. The size and scope of its Comida y Familia magazine and ComidaKraft.com reveals a marketer that is not willing to be restricted by media availability, but is dedicated to communicating and connecting with relevance on their own terms.

Other speakers, including those representing Subway and Toyota, also confirmed that on the eve of 2010, U.S. Hispanic marketing is experiencing a period of great creativity, innovative use of media, and compelling metrics in an age when ROI is king.

The event concluded with a presentation by Jeff Passel, senior demographer of the Pew Hispanic Center that reinforced the continued importance of this young, vibrant consumer segment as it emphasized the recent shift from the dominance of the foreign-born to the emergence of the U.S-born as a growth driver.

I left New York and headed to Miami, where the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies' conference offered what would prove to be an inspiring agenda. What struck me about both the New York and the Miami events was the multidimensional layering that those presenting their work were able to embrace. Their work was the cumulative effect of speaking to different U.S. Hispanic segments in a variety of different ways -- online, off-line, in-store, at home, in English, in Spanish and in a combination of the two.

Not that this hasn't been the norm for some time now, but for some reason that I can only guess is confidence and maturity, those who are leading the evolution of U.S. Hispanic marketing as we flirt with 2010 are simply more comfortable and confident and feel little need to defend or over-explain why strategies and tactics for staying connected to this consumer are both simple and complex, both monolingual and bilingual, both old school and new school.

As I contemplated this shift in "conference" energy and attitude, I ran into a group of students from Florida State University's Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication. Founded by Felipe Korzenny, the center is the first of its kind in the U.S. These graduate students are primed to affect the future of our industry in a way that few before them ever were. I was moved to ask them if they would share their perceptions of the conference with me. After all, here I was, jaded to some degree and also so invested that perhaps I lacked objectivity. What did this room of industry leaders look like and sound like to the next generation? To those who had not yet fought the battles that are part and parcel of winning new business and getting budget's approved and doing breakthrough creative? To those who had never been to an industry conference of this nature before?

Overall, the students took a great deal from the entire experience. The stories shared by Dan Wieden, the conference keynote, were particularly powerful. As Antonieta Reyes, a Ph.D. student from the group, stated the Wieden speech "was like being at a rock star concert. I thoroughly enjoyed his stories and insight."

Natalie Kates, a self-defined "Jewban" who was raised bilingually in Miami, went on to praise Wieden's speech for his message about failure. "He emphasized to learn from when you fail and not consider it a failure, but rather a learning experience that will lead you in life to another direction." Natalie is a program assistant at FSU and an online mentor for the Hispanic marketing course, in addition to being Dr. Korzenny's assistant director.

Julian Seepersaud, who traces his heritage back to Guyana, "wishes Guyana was not the only English-speaking country in South America," but still feels that "it is because of my roots that I am in tune with Hispanic ideals of family centeredness and cultural history." Julian's favorite experience at the conference came "in between seminars and speakers. This was really the first time I was able to step out from underneath my academic umbrella, and really be exposed to real people doing real things, for real reasons."

Laselve Harrison was also impressed with the networking and with "the desires some companies expressed in locating young talent. I thought they would be looking for paper pushers or just interns to file papers and get coffee, but they genuinely wanted ideas from a younger brain trust."

Julio Valeriano, a teaching and program assistant at the FSU center, observed an interesting pattern when it came to the speakers and attendees at the conference. He commented that they "came from different educational and cultural backgrounds. More specifically, I identified two groups: professionals with education and experience in Latin America and those rooted in the United States. In my opinion, the differences are worth mentioning. While the former group tended to present more Argentinian-like advertising pieces that looked really 'creative' and sometimes were even hard to follow, the latter presented simple messages in a very plain and simple context." Mr. Valeriano is a native of Peru.

Michelle Orrick, the group's self-proclaimed "gringa" was "admittedly nervous about being surrounded by bilinguals for two whole days. ... But I felt totally at home. In a very strange, yet reassuring way the conference solidified in my mind that I am in the right industry."

In one way or the other, all of the students expressed optimism about the future of U.S. Hispanic marketing, albeit acknowledging that it would undergo continued change. As Julian Seepersaud summed it up, "I think that as young Latinos continue the process of 'biculturation,' the arena for US Hispanic advertising will get bigger. To what extent, I'm not sure, but I think that as things are right now, there is a huge potential for growth and industry change. ... Not only that, but I think the attention to the Hispanic market is causing an awareness of other cultural segments, as well. Segments such as the Gay/Lesbian Market and Asian/Indian markets have been vastly overlooked and untapped, simply because the numbers have previously indicated them as having a 'minority' status. As one of the speakers said, it is all about 'looking for the people that want to play and playing with them.'"

My thanks to the students of FSU for being willing to "play" and explore these themes with me. May you be a reminder to all conference organizers and industry veterans to reach out to those who see everything through fresh eyes and for whom everything still remains possible.

Let's invite more students into the conversation today as they will be leading the conversation tomorrow.

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