Latina is living la vida dulce, or at least getting a strong taste of the sweet life.
By all measures, the 4-year-old bilingual monthly for Hispanic women is thriving. Ad pages were up 34.7% to 576.09 pages last year over 1998, and total paid circulation grew to 175,206, a 28.9% increase over the same period the previous year, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.
The national lifestyle magazine also landed an impressive roster of first-time advertisers, including Ann Taylor, Bisou Bisou, Bebe, Emporio Armani, Nike, Sephora and Sony Corp. Latina will run its first Polo Ralph Lauren ad in the April issue. Other new advertisers this year include Groupe Clarins USA, Fila, Liz Claiborne Cosmetics' fragrances and Chickclick.com, the magazine's first dot-com advertiser.
The March and April issues closed with 70 ad pages each, and May topped that with a record 86 pages for the title, says Christy Haubegger, founder, president and publisher of Latina. She projects this year will see a 30% increase in ad pages over 1999.
"We expected a 10% or 15% increase," Ms. Haubegger says. "What's amazing is that we'll grow twice that!"
The engine of growth has been the fashion and retail categories, and Ms. Haubegger says Latina will "keep paying a lot of attention" to those categories.
Latina had been steadily inching along since its June '96 debut as a quarterly, with 12.3 ad pages. Beauty, cosmetics and personal care advertisers such as Clinique USA and Avon Products were early supporters of the title, along with retailer J.C. Penney Co., American Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Sales USA.
"Hispanics are 40% of the largest auto market, which is Los Angeles, so [carmakers] had an imperative to be in there in the beginning," Ms. Haubegger says.
In the last year, however, the title has gained new momentum, as Hispanic music and culture has become popular across cultures.
"There's a burgeoning recognition of the market," aided by "a cavalcade of stars," says Ed Lewis, publisher-CEO of Essence Communications, a partner in the joint venture between Essence and Ms. Haubegger's Alegre Publishing.
"God bless [Hispanic singing phenomenon] Ricky Martin," says Ms. Haubegger, a 31-year-old law school graduate. "We had been plugging away for more than two years. A lot of seeds were planted out there. People are beginning to get the message."
And her message has been insistent, well-informed and ahead of the curve. The U.S. Hispanic population is estimated at 32.4 million with a mean per-household annual buying power of $33,800, according to Strategy Research Corp. Those statistics are best embodied in the magazine's marketing tagline, instituted in late 1999, which smartly positions Latina's readers as "the new mainstream."
"We're not a special niche," Ms. Haubegger says. "We are America."
Mr. Lewis credits Ms. Haubegger with skillfully and tirelessly selling the brand and educating marketers.
"Some advertisers may think they're reaching Hispanics in general market publications," says Wally Snyder, president-CEO of the American Advertising Federation. "It's difficult to break through that, but she's broken through."
Ms. Haubegger's 200-page business plan was not the outgrowth of a calculated marketing opportunity. It was a passionate personal mission to create an affirming magazine for herself and other second-generation Latinas where there was none.
MEMBERS, NOT SUBSCRIBERS
Ms. Haubegger says focus group participants often refer to themselves as members rather than subscribers.
To cultivate that sense of community, Latina's Web site (www.Latina.com) will relaunch in May with a host of new features, including regional events listings and chat rooms.
Retailer Macy's West, a charter advertiser and event marketing partner, benefits from the bond between publication and reader.
"Latina creates a strong connection with the audience. It taps into cultural identity, and resonates with readers, where other magazines don't," says Honore Comfort, print director for Macy's West.
The bilingual format also allows for a broader reach.
"Women of different levels of Spanish-language dependency can enjoy and identify with the magazine. Christy has done a good job of identifying a critical niche and coming up with a product that serves a complex audience," Ms. Comfort says.
The magazine also has stepped up its marketing plans. Much of its efforts are handled in-house. Latina works with Leo Burnett USA's Hispanic agency, Lapiz, Chicago, for radio and out-of-home advertising in selected markets.
The marketing push includes sponsorship of floats and booths for local cultural parades and festivals and alternative marketing efforts such as postcard distribution at these events and on college campuses.
"I believe it keeps the magazine top of mind. All of these sponsorships get people to know we support causes and we are there for them," says Charlotte Castillo, promotions manager for Latina.
Efforts like that have made a significant difference, says Monica Gadsby, senior VP-director of Hispanic media at Chicago-based Starcom USA, a division of Burnett.
"When they first launched, they were strong in the East. [Measures] to reach the South and West are at the heart of the increased readership" and contributed to advertiser awareness, Ms. Gadsby says.
"We needed to expand our presence on the West Coast and focused primarily on Southern California," as well as some parts of the South, says Associate Publisher Diana Velez.
Last fall, Latina produced the "Latina Live!" in-store event at Target Stores and Macy's West. The event offered makeovers, a fashion show and other activities.
"It was a huge success. There was an incredible turnout of about 1,200 women," Ms. Comfort says, adding that the gathering drove Macy's West sales noticeably the day of the event.
From Latina's perspective, it was partly an opportunity for myth-busting and validation.
"It's important to clients, if they have a misperception, to [see] photos and video of 1,200 Hispanic women who came to Macy's West because Latina invited them: A group of well-dressed women in their 20s and 30s, carrying credit cards and wearing make-up," Ms. Haubegger says.
The expansion to Western markets also spurred an expansion of the magazine's editorial content. Previously, the title had reflected the New York Hispanic demographic.
"One of the challenges is to be geographically representative," says Sylvia Martinez, acting editor in chief. Latina's content has been broadened to include features and profiles on celebrities and topics of interest to the various Hispanic cultures.
FIRST BRICK OF EMPIRE
In the short term, Ms. Haubegger projects 1,000 ad pages in the next few years. Ultimately, she sees Latina as the first brick in a media empire along the lines of Martha Stewart's empire.
"Latina can do the same thing," she says.
The product "looks good," Ms. Gadsby says. "Its high quality will stand up to any general-market publication. The largest growth in the population will come from immigration and births, and those born to immigrants typify the audience of Latina.
"The magazine will benefit from that."