Multicultural keeps moving

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Eliot Kang took American Airlines' 8:15 a.m. flight from Newark airport to Los Angeles so often that he got alarmed phone calls from all over the world after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. In fact, that morning the president of Asian ad agency Kang & Lee was driving into Manhattan thinking about taking some visiting Japanese clients to lunch at his favorite restaurant, Windows on the World atop the World Trade Center, when he saw the disaster happen.

Within 10 days, Mr. Kang was flying again-as are many executives of multicultural agencies, which often handle regional accounts in ethnic pockets for clients scattered around the country.

Before Sept. 11, multicultural marketing, especially U.S. Hispanic, was seen as one of the few opportunities in a slowing economy.

That probably won't change, even though multicultural media and agencies have been impacted by the tragedy: Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo switched to all-news formats, foregoing days of ad revenue after the attacks, and Uniworld, the biggest New York-based African-American ad agency, closed for a week.

"TV networks are incurring higher costs for news operations and lost ad revenue," said Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. "Univision is certainly feeling the pain of the general market, but probably to a somewhat lesser degree given the strong growth of the Hispanic population."

Like the rest of the market, a return to business as usual may come slowly. Mazda North American Operations, for example, was set to announce last week its first agency of record for both U.S. Hispanic and African-American advertising, but postponed the decision until mid-October.

There is still a sense of momentum as new advertisers enter the U.S. Hispanic market and the Census 2000 figures pegging the Latin population at 35 million are constantly quoted. AOL Time Warner's CNN en Espanol, for example, just hit 1 million U.S. viewers this summer, said President Rolando Santos.

"That's critical mass for us," Mr. Santos said. "We haven't made a big push before because there wasn't enough awareness about the power of Hispanic consumers."

At last month's meeting of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies in New Orleans, group President Horacio Gomes announced an initiative to target corporate America with a campaign stressing the importance of the U.S. Hispanic market.

"It will be to corporate America, probably in publications they read, whether it's Fortune or The Wall Street Journal," said Mr. Gomes, who is also president-CEO of HeadQuarters Advertising, San Francisco. At the meeting, he named a 10-person committee he called "the G-10" to help lead the initiative. No agency has been selected for the effort yet.

"The tragic events obviously left us all speechless and the economic repercussions are deep," said Alex Lopez Negrete, president-CEO of Lopez Negrete Communications, Houston, and a committee member. "Corporate America is looking for how do we increase profitability, how to stop the slide and find new customers. Marketing to Hispanics is one of the areas that can get this done. And as Hispanic Americans, more than ever we want to feel included."

He said there is "no specific timeline" for the campaign.

Fewer campaigns seem to have been altered or canceled than in the general market.

The week after the attacks, AT&T Corp. began rolling out the multicultural version of a corporate campaign themed "Boundless" that started in the general market last fall. Print and TV ads by Uniworld for the African-American, Hispanic and Asian markets feature tiny AT&T globe logos morphing into a person, ranging from a small schoolgirl to a dancer in an African troupe.

"In the general market campaign, you see the logo but not people; it's more about products and services," said Herman Morales, senior VP-group account director at Uniworld, 49%-owned by WPP Group. "Ethnic people need to see themselves, it's more touchy-feely. In a sense, this whole campaign is about bringing a sense of humanity, and empowerment through technology that brings people together. It's almost right-on to where this country is leaning now."

Schedules continue to be hastily revised. The American Cancer Society's first Hispanic event in New York was to be a Sept. 19 dinner at Windows on the World to honor Hispanic leaders like Daisy Exposito-Ulla, president-chief creative officer of WPP Group-based Bravo Group. The event has been moved to October and a new venue.

Kang & Lee's Mr. Kang said, "I have some concerns about how a small number of individuals take on themselves judging who is American. There's a potential danger of judging `I'm American and you're not."'

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