El Sitio heads north to tap U.S. markets

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El sitio international Corp., a Latin American network of Web sites and online communities, moved north this month to enter the U.S. Hispanic market in both Spanish and English.

CEO Roberto Cibrian-Campoy started the content-focused company as an Argentine Web site in 1996. El Sitio entered Brazil in July and Mexico in August, reaching the U.S. on Sept. 9. In Spanish, el sitio means "the place."

About 25% of El Sitio's daily traffic in Latin America was already coming from the U.S., he said.

In fact, the U.S. launch ads for the site (elsitio.com) are adapted from the campaign created for Brazil by Denison, Sao Paulo, and used regionally in Latin America last month. The theme of the Brazilian--and now the U.S.--campaign is that Web sites have to adapt to the user, rather than the other way around.


"El Sitio listens to you and is your friend," Mr. Cibrian said. "We want to rescue human values on the Internet. We stand for content, connectivity and services." Not only is the advertising and language different for each site, the content of the individual sites is tailored for that culture.

Initially, ads will run only in five U.S. cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami and San Antonio, said Paola Prado, VP-general manager of El Sitio USA. The company will use print, billboard, mass transit and online advertising. For the U.S. market, where Hispanic radio is popular, she is adding radio spots by Miami agency Del Rivero Messianu Advertising.

Ms. Prado is looking for a U.S. ad agency.

"I believe this market is very different," she said. "I haven't decided how to move forward beyond the launch with a campaign that really speaks to the user."

In the U.S., El Sitio is offering localized content specific to each of the biggest Hispanic cities in the U.S. as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico. Content channels include news, sports, technology, entertainment and music, chat rooms and free e-mail, as well as a personals section called Cupido.net.

"Our model is country-by-country, generating local content everywhere," Mr. Cibrian said. "Every country has total independence. They develop their own business and their own products."


El Sitio faces a handful of competitors in the emerging category, including StarMedia Network and Quepasa.com. Though the Hispanic community is the fastest-growing minority in the U.S., "it remains an extremely underserved market" on the Internet, said Lucas Graves, a Jupiter Communications analyst. "It's virtually non-existent."

In fact, neither Jupiter nor Media Metrix measure the size of the U.S. Hispanic online market. StarMedia is "the premier Latino portal," but there is room for other sites to make a play, said Mr. Graves.

Charter advertisers for El Sitio in the U.S. include Lucent Technologies, The Wall Street Journal and Dell Online, Ms. Prado said. In Latin America, El Sitio has added 20 new advertisers in the past month, such as Domino's Pizza and Peugeot cars in Mexico, Sun Microsystems in Argentina and IBM Corp. in Brazil.

Mr. Cibrian's expansion is backed by $44 million in private funding that also brought a major new investor, Ibero American Media Partners, which is 50% owned by Venezuela's media giant, the Cisneros Group. Separately, Cisneros is in a 50-50 partnership with America Online to start AOL Latin America. Ibero American now owns 35% of El Sitio.


Despite a wave of acquisitions in the Latin American Internet market, Mr. Cibrian said he intends to keep El Sitio independent.

"We're very confident of our strategy," he said. "We've had more than a few offers [to sell]."

And the new regional ad campaign is driving business. In Latin America, El Sitio jumped from 450,000 unique visitors in July to 1.5 million in August.

The next step: open El Sitio in Chile in November and in Colombia and Venezuela by December.

Copyright September 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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