Some Shops Have Painted Themselves Into a Hispanic-Only Corner

You'll Need to Be a Hispanic Professional, not a Professional Hispanic, to Go After General Market

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Catarino Lopez Catarino 'Cat' Lopez
If you haven't tuned into "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien," you're missing out. Since taking over for Jay Leno and moving to L.A., Conan has acknowledged that the Spanish-speaking population in that part of the country cannot be ignored. He wanted to do something to reach out to Hispanic viewers and include them on the "new" "Tonight Show." So he created "Noches de Pasion", a telenovela skit starring himself. Check it out for yourself on Hulu. Pretty funny stuff.

As a regular joe, I can't stop laughing. Conan with a mustache, sporting a borrowed jacket from Los Bukis and speaking Spanish is funny stuff. He's a comedian, after all, and comedy deals in broad stereotypes -- and here, he's not making fun of Hispanics but rather the general market's attempts to reach out to the Hispanic market.

However, if I had seen the same formula applied to a brand or product, I don't think it would be nearly as funny.

General-market agencies are now seeking more and more Hispanic business in order to grow their shops. The question is: As that continues to happen, will general-market shops take the Conan approach and use stereotypes to address said Spanish speakers? I hope not.

I like the way Hispanics are portrayed on hit TV shows like "Lost." Take a look at the character of Hugo Reyes, for example. He doesn't speak with an accent or act overly Latino. He's just another survivor on the island who happens to be Latino. (I'll forgive the fact that he is a lottery winner on the show for the sake of my argument.) Or how about Richard, played by actor Nestor Carbonell? He's one of the "Others," and on the show there is no reference to his ethnicity. He never breaks out in a Spanish tirade when things go bad or wears a guayabera to beat the heat. Kudos to the creators of "Lost" for acknowledging the Spanish-speaking population without pandering to us and for being brave enough to cast for talent and not ethnicity.

I wonder, as the competition for new business gets more intense, and general-market agencies go after more and more Hispanic accounts, will Hispanic agencies eventually compete against general-market agencies for general-market business?

It's already happened. Hispanic agencies have often gotten national general-market "assignments." But in the end, they've always been relegated back to their area of expertise. Hispanic agencies have also been invited to "pitch" national general-market accounts, but few to none have actually walked away with the business. It's always easy to blame it on the politics, but if Hispanic agencies plan to go head-to-head with general-market agencies, they need to stop acting so much like Hispanic agencies, or at least like Hispanic-only agencies.

As my fellow blogger Alberto Ferrer said, there are Professional Hispanics and Hispanic Professionals. And in my opinion, that phrase can be applied not only to individuals but to agencies as well. (For a good primer on the difference between those two, check out Ferrer's post.

Too often Hispanic agencies hide behind their ethnicity, and use it to protect their own turf. That seemed to work fine in a growing economy, when there was plenty of business for everyone within the Hispanic arena. But things have changed. The economy has slumped. Clients are cutting back and often starting with Hispanic budgets. So the biggest opportunity in the future is to go for it all -- general market and Hispanic combined.

But how many agencies have done themselves the disservice of wearing the mustache and borrowed Los Bukis Jacket when it was convenient. You can't just take them off one day and ask to be judged on your talent alone the next. Because no matter what you do, it will be hard for clients to see you as anything but a Hispanic agency. So if you want to start gearing up for the future, stop being a Professional Hispanic and start acting like a Hispanic Professional.

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