May 25, 2011

The XXX Industry Targets the Hispanic Market… But Are We Ready to Help?

You don’t have to work in the Hispanic market to know the impact the 2010 U.S. Census figures have already had on the American landscape. But if you do work in the Hispanic market as I do, you know the buzz is all good! Many optimists believe the census will awake the sleeping beast that is corporate America and result in bigger investments in our industry. Well, from what I have recently witnessed, there is another beast that also seems to have awoke…the adult entertainment category.

In my almost 20-year, diverse career in PR, I can honestly say I have never been approached to do PR for any adult entertainment product. So to get two calls within two weeks got my wheels turning... Are there business categories out there that we have not even considered as viable options as clients? And is the adult entertainment industry even a viable option? Morally, the answer is probably no, but is that reason enough to make a decision about a new business opportunity? Over the years at RLPR, Roxana Lissa and I have established a set of criteria for determining if a new client is the right fit for the agency, and a company’s principles do come into the decision, but so do many other factors. So in fairness to the two companies I spoke with, I put their businesses to the same test we do all potential clients.

Our criteria is rather basic: First off, do they "get it" and are they passionate about the Hispanic market? Is it a brand or product that the team would want to work on? Is the company one which we would be proud to add to our roster? And of course, will the opportunity be a profitable one? Ideally the answers to all of these questions will be Yes! Truthfully the answer to all of these questions is often a combination of Yes and Maybe. If the answer to any questions is a resounding NO then we move on.

The two companies that approached us are a heavily-backed Hispanic-relevant, Spanish-language, adult entertainment production company (i.e. porn), and an established, extra marital affairs website launching a Spanish-language version and Hispanic marketing campaign. After speaking with them both, it was obvious that the answer to the first question - do they "get it"; are they passionate about the Hispanic market - was a resounding Yes. I was impressed by the level of awareness, strategic thinking, comprehensive marketing approach and in general good business sense of both companies. Having spoken over the years with dozens of marketing, PR and brand folk, some of whom don't get the Hispanic market and never will, it was surprising for me to be able to talk so strategically with these two companies. I suppose I, like many people, believed that if you were in a XX or XXX-rated business you were not business-minded. Big misconception.

To answer the second question - how would the team feel - I asked some of them and it was pretty much a NO WAY across the board. But that no came with some interesting commentary... The Hispanic media - at least the more traditional, Spanish-language outlets - are relatively conservative in their views. (It is a fact that one third of voting Hispanics are Republican and the culture has a stronger overall connection to religion and faith then other ethnic populations). The team did not feel comfortable working on these accounts from a moral perspective, but they also did not think their stories would resonate positively with Hispanic media.

The third question – would the company be one we would proud to add to our roster?… not exactly. In an industry where family brands such as Proctor & Gamble and Ford are the biggest investors, having one of these companies as clients would most likely be a no no. And finally, the question that unfortunately guides many companies’ ultimate decision… will we make money? The answer to that one was unfortunately yes: unfortunate because it would be money we were passing on.

One level of criteria that Roxana and I had not defined as part of our filter is would it be a challenge? Would it be exciting and different? If that were one of our questions, the answer would be Yes. Working with either of these companies would be embarking on the unknown, a new frontier. In marketing and PR, you don’t get that opportunity too often. And for this reason alone, I’m actually disappointed that we won’t be supporting these smart, strategic businesses in their efforts. I know there will be other challenges around the corner, but will any of them be pushing us to take risks, risqué or not? And more importantly, will any of them make better cocktail party conversation? I think not.

By Melissa Smith, Executive VP RLPR

February 16, 2011

Spanish and Hispanic in the U.S.

It is well known that Spain and Latin American countries are very different places, although they do share common cultural roots. I was born and raised in the first, so I always thought I knew what Hispanic culture was. I had also visited a few Latin American countries before moving to the U.S. so I had an initial idea about the Hispanic cultural similarities among those countries. Nevertheless, after spending some time living in the U.S., I can say that I have certainly “rediscovered” what Hispanic culture is.
 It may sound illogical to people from Spain or other Latin countries. You rediscovered Hispanic culture in the United States, really? Well, yes. Perhaps not the most genuine characteristics of each Hispanic identity per se, but the main values or common traits that reflect the essentials of the diverse Hispanic culture. Why exactly? Because working in PR for the Hispanic market made me realize that the U.S. has a strong Hispanic flavor. This is something which might be taken for granted by my fellow U.S. citizens, but the first time I noticed it I was quite amazed. Then I thought: wait a second, how is this remarkable Hispanic existence and heritage so present in America? Instantly, my research hunger led me to a quick search and then I discovered it all. Quoting Wikipedia:
There have been people of Hispanic or Latino heritage in the territory of the present-day United States continuously since the 1565 founding of St. Augustine, Florida by the Spanish, the longest among European American ethnic groups and second-longest of all U.S. ethnic groups, after Native Americans. Hispanics have also lived continuously in the Southwest since near the end of the 16th century, with settlements in New Mexico that began in 1598, and which were transferred to the area of El Paso, Texas in 1680. Spanish settlement of New Mexico resumed in 1692, and new ones were established in Arizona and California in the 18th century.
In addition, if we take into consideration Puerto Rico as part of the U.S. territory, the lineage begins even earlier.
I must say I knew the first settlements in the south of the U. S. were Spanish; basic Spanish history and common sense told me so (San Francisco, Las Vegas, Florida, Los Angeles and San Diego sound pretty Spanish to me!). However digging a little more I found some other information tremendously illuminating: people of Hispanic heritage in the United States have been not just living here since around the 16th century but actively contributing to the history of this country.  There were Hispanics that supported the U.S. revolution and independence (Jorge Farragut, Bernardo de Gálvez), others that commanded troops during the U.S. civil war (David Farragut) and some that were part of the U.S. army during WWI and WWII (Luis R. Esteves,  Pedro del Valle). There have been Hispanics elected as congressmen or other political positions since the 19th century (Juan Bandini, Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo ). And, of less historic value but perhaps more meaningful to the masses, there were actors and celebrities that gave (and give) a Latino touch to the Hollywood hall of fame since its beginning (Rita Hayworth, Anthony Quinn, José Ferrer and Martin Sheen, to name some of the pioneers).
Therefore, Hispanics were always a meaningful part of the U. S. society, not just a “trend” in recent years as some would lead you to believe. The emergence of the Hispanic marketplace or the new “Latino boom” is actually based on a community that is not new; Hispanics were always here.
In my personal experience, I felt it since the beginning of my U.S. adventure and it has helped me learn more about this diverse culture, its customs and similarities to Spain. Thanks to the Latinos in the U.S. I have also understood even better the essence of this country. In the U.S. to be of a different culture is to be part of the U.S. culture itself, because this country has been forged through the conjunction of people from everywhere.

August 30, 2010

Latinos Hit the Road by Plane, Train or Automobile

Roxana Lissa is CEO of RL Public Relations.  She offered her insights on Latinos and travel in this week’s PRWeek Insider Blog. The article is also featured in its entirety here.

Whether it's a trip to my homeland Buenos Aires for the holidays or a quick getaway to Catalina Island on a weekend, there's one thing that's certain: Latinos are not staying indoors.

They are adventurous and they love to travel and visit new places. It makes me wonder: Has the sluggish economy really had an impact on Latinos and travel?

During recent outings with family, I was one to scan my surroundings. The young couple holding hands in Aruba? Latinos. The family of four laughing up a storm while sharing a slice of pizza at Legoland in San Diego? Latinos.

According to the latest statistics by the US Travel Association, there are roughly 16 million Hispanic adult leisure travelers. They took a combined 50 million domestic and outbound trips, spending nearly $59 billion on travel. This number is expected to skyrocket as the Latino population continues to rise. Not only do we work hard, but we play harder.

The overwhelming numbers shouldn't come as a surprise. Hispanics value time spent with friends and relatives; it can be as simple as a carne asada on a Sunday afternoon at the park to more luxury vacation spots in Europe. After all, this is how we bond and create memories. Growing up, most of conversations with mama began with “Remember when …”

Through my travels with my family, I spread the joy of being a Latina. At the same time, I'm contributing to the economy's piggy bank by way of airlines, hotels, car rentals, theme parks, and much more.

Advertisers are taking notice. And because we're the fastest-growing minority market, there's future business ahead. As more Hispanics gain increasingly disposable wealth, they are more prone to leisure activity. The Hispanic buying power in California alone is about $228 billion. How many trips can that buy you?

Let's crunch more numbers. Recent stats suggest that US Hispanic spending growth dwarfs the general market. While the general public as a whole continues to tighten their belts, Hispanics continue to loosen their wallets including a 14% increase in entertainment spent on fees and admissions.

Do you know where will you be next weekend? There is a lot to do and see, and we, mi gente, are going by the masses … Somos latinos y nos gusta vivir nuevas experiencias!

August 9, 2010

Bloguera Power!

For thousands of female bloggers who descended upon the streets of New York City last week, BlogHer 2010 had the buzz and feel of the “big dance,” the Super Bowl.

That’s because BlogHer is the largest blogging conference for women who breathe all things social media through vehicles like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, among many, many others. This yearly extravaganza brings together an army of women with names like New York City Mama, SpanglishBaby and Bilingual in the Boonies – influential bloggers valued by PR firms for their ability to act as ambassadors to a brand.

Since first reaching out to the so-called mommy bloggers more than two years ago, I’ve witnessed firsthand the Latina social media explosion and ever growing presence of Blogueras on the blogosphere. I remember the surprise of one Latina mommy blogger when I invited her to a Licuado/Milkshake event after reading about her children who she endearingly called: Mexipinitos. Apparently, she had never been approached by a PR firm because she responded with a, “You’re inviting me, really?” Today, she’s seen as one of the founding Latina mommy bloggers.

These ladies, wielding their laptops, blackberries and iPhones to tell a story, have become a strong force to be reckoned with. Today, these Latinas are celebrating their success outside of the World Wide Web and attending conventions like BlogHer, being interviewed by major newspapers, and acting as guests on TV where they talk about the way they’ve shaped marketing to women.

On the first day of the three-day conference I spoke with Ana Flores, the woman behind She had just enjoyed a stint on the Today Show wearing a bright red shirt complemented by a toothpaste smile. She had come along way, but she’s not alone. Latinas are outpacing the general market in the growth and use of social media. Plus, they are now seeing much more interest and engagement from big-name brands and companies. Still, she tells me, I was “her first.”

Ana was one of seven prominent Latina bloggers who were fully sponsored to attend this year’s BlogHer conference in the Big Apple. This, she said, represents the most bloggers from any market ever sponsored by ONE single company. Blogging has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Nowadays, there is money to be made, fame to be earned and influence to be gained.

At BlogHer 2010, the Latina influence was palpable, very prevalent with more Latinas attending than ever before; In fact, BlogHer featured  its first-ever all Latina panel and it was no coincidence that it also included a big social fiesta hosted by Latinas in Social Media.

Why is all this happening now -- According to Sophia Mind, Hispanic women in the U.S. are one of the fastest-growing online demographics, and more than 85 percent of Latinas visit social networks on a regular basis. U.S. Hispanics are tech-savvy and love the Internet. The AOL Hispanic Cyberstudy reveals that online Hispanics tend to be young, affluent, with large households and are “more enthusiastic about the benefits of the Internet than [is] the general market.”

And if you’re still asking yourself, why PR practitioners including those at RLPR yearn to be featured in stories by Latina mommy bloggers, that’s because word of mouth is king among Latinas. More than 90 percent of all consumers report that the recommendation of a friend, family member or expert is the leading influence on their purchase behavior. And with 77 percent of Hispanics engaging in some kind of online socializing, social media is quickly becoming the battleground in which brand allegiances are won or lost.

So who are the Latina Bloggers that received the full “scholarship” to the big dance?

Ana Lilian FloresSpanglishBaby

Carol CainThe Adventures of a NYCity Mama

Carrie Ferguson WeirTiki Tiki Blog

Melanie and 40weeks Plus

Rory LassanskeMamá Contemporánea

Roxana A. SotoSpanglishBaby and MimosBlog

Silvia MartinezMamá Latina Tips

This blog is dedicated to you FABULOUS SEVEN. Thank you for continuing to help brands spread the word in English, Spanish and Spanglish con sabor.

April 21, 2010

A Mover Se Ha Dicho!

My passion for music was nurtured at a very young age. I can still recall marimba music blaring at family gatherings. The sounds and rhythm filled every room of our Visalia, CA home. The music created new memories and at the same time took us back to family memories of Guatemala. Today, the instant I hear marimba, I am transported back in time as my head fills with great memories of tias, tios, primas y primos. It is the rich culture of the music during my childhood that has made music such an important part of my everyday life.

From The Scenestar blog to FILTER magazine, I consume all things music. As PR practitioners, it is our responsibility to have our finger on the pulse of popular culture – and the music industry is a big part of that. Our clients rely on us to be experts. As such, it is part of our job to follow emerging trends and keep up with what’s current.

I am the epitome of today’s Latino and their taste of music; I express myself through different genres – far from being one-dimensional. Brands in the PR industry understand this. Such was the case with longtime RLPR client Heineken USA. One of the programs our office executed was bringing DJs together to blend songs and beats from Latin genres and mash them with today’s mainstream music including reggaeton, hip-hop, electronic and funk. The mashups were a way for Latinos to identify and to celebrate being multicultural.

I recall when I first moved from my small agricultural town to one of the cultural meccas in the world, Los Angeles to attend UCLA. My first concert in the City of Angels was the cumbia, funk, reggae-infused band Ozomatli at the Grand Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles. That concert was a light-bolt moment that led me to discover the power of music as a universal language that transcends boundaries and bonds people.

It’s been said that music has the power to break barriers and bring people together despite culture, gender or even age. I’m listing a few of my favorite sounds and hope that it will do just that. Enjoy!

1) Kinky – Soun Tha Mi Primer Amor (Mexico):

2) Ozomatli – Como Ves (US):

3) Buraka Som Sistema – Sound of Kuduro (Brazil):

4) Nortec Collective presents Bostich+Fussible - Tijuana Sound Machine (Mexico):

5) Marimba Ferrocarril de los Altos (Guatemala):

How does music play a role in your life?

March 4, 2010

Walking in My Shoes…

¡Chamaca Condenada! My mother would yell as she chased me out of her bedroom. Partly angry but fully amused. I’d gotten into her make up and high heels again. I was only 4 or 5, but I remember like it was yesterday. I would watch her get dressed and meticulously run a dark line from one side of her eye to the other. Beautiful and bold.


January 13, 2010

When did Diversity become the same as Multicultural?

When I began working in PR in 1993, the terms “multicultural” and “diversity” were rarely used. I was aware of their meanings of course, but the words themselves did not come up in conversation often - if ever. It wasn’t until I left the smaller PR firm scene and entered the big agency world in the late 90’s that I was exposed to these terms more frequently, specifically in the business realm.

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s, I clearly knew what multicultural meant, but it was my everyday life – something you lived without thinking … it wasn’t an “initiative” or a target market, or even a word in your vocabulary. In fact it was not until I went to college in the Midwest that I realized how culturally diverse my life was. I can still recall missing the energy, restlessness and variety that I took for granted in New York, after I landed in St. Louis (at Washington University) where all three of those characteristics were alarmingly absent.

Once I began working at GCI Group (now Cohn & Wolfe), I learned simultaneously about the practice of multicultural marketing, and the lack of diversity in the PR industry. Those two concepts were etched into my mind as distinct and not interchangeable: multicultural marketing was reaching out to different ethnic groups, and diversity was what was (or wasn’t) going on internally – in our industry and in our company. I believe it was back then – pre 9/11 – that HR departments began their official diversity initiatives, and big agencies began putting out their “diversity reports” – all aimed at raising awareness of the obvious lack of diversity in our industry in an effort to show that they were doing something about it.

Now that I specialize in multicultural public relations and proudly work at a company that many would call “diverse” given it is owned by an Argentine woman and staffed by brilliant folks from all over the world, these two terms live comfortably together. However, these terms still mean to me what they meant before. I am simply uniquely positioned to be living within both. I am one of the lucky ones.

The unlucky ones in my opinion are still working at companies that have to have diversity taskforces. These companies may offer multicultural marketing services, or they may still focus on the (shrinking) general market. But they will most likely all tell you that they have an interest in and commitment to representing and reflecting the changing make-up of our country. Just look at PR Week’s annual Diversity Study and see what our industry leaders are saying.

But what seems to be confusing me of late is that these two terms, used distinctly in our business, are becoming increasingly diluted - slowly melding into one. PR executives and company decision makers are patting themselves on the back for their increase in diverse hirings, which, they will also say in the same breath, allows them to tap more effectively into the multicultural communities. Does that mean they are becoming more conscientious in their hirings in order to excel in new business practices? Now that wouldn’t be very PC, would it?

This all really came to head a couple weeks ago when PRSA decided to consolidate its Diversity Committee and Multicultural Section. It had been my understanding that the Diversity Committee focused on helping promote the hiring and growth of “multicultural” PR professionals, while the Multicultural Section was a community of people who specialized in that discipline. These two segments are not the same, and yet now it seems in the mind of PRSA, they are.

I find this unfortunate and frustrating, but I suppose I am not too surprised. For those of us who specialize in reaching different ethnic populations, it has always been difficult to explain the importance of having awareness, sensitivity and insight when working with niche audiences. PRSA’s decision may simply be showcasing that they still don’t get that. If our industry’s most prominent national organization can’t figure it out, is their hope that the hundreds of public relations agencies (and other marketing businesses for that matter) will? I’ll be an optimist for once and hope that the 2010 Census will be a wake-up call for the surprising many who are still sound asleep. Rise and shine folks and take a look around: things are changing.

Melissa Smith is Executive Vice President at RL Public Relations + Marketing. She can be reached at

November 10, 2009

Learning as We Go

My mom always says, tuvimos que aprender con vos. My parents moved to a small town in Virginia shortly after marrying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was born one year later as my father was working to open his first restaurant that would fulfill my parents’ dreams for our family.

I am first generation in this country and the first-born out of three in my family. I grew up in this small town, watching my parents trying to communicate with others, noticing that they were different, and I could see that it was difficult for others to understand them.

As a child, I was confused and frustrated that people didn't understand my parents. It was evident to me that they were different from everyone else, and I learned early on that I would be an important resource to them. My parents depended on me to learn the nuances and systems of this country and guide them in the process. The role I took on also gave me great insight to the experiences of immigrants and their first-generation children, and the important roles played by education and helping hands in general.

To this day, my mother and father only speak Spanish at home (¡no saben cómo se lo agradezco!). I didn’t speak English when I entered kindergarten, and I fondly remember the amazing teachers who gave their time after school to tutor me when ESL programs didn’t exist. They also became a great resource to my parents, providing them what they needed the most: guidance, encouragement and confidence. But while we were helped by many people along the way, I also learned the hard way that sometimes you have to go it alone.

In high school, my counselor placed me in classes meant for students not interested in going to college. I never understood why this decision was made for me. But that didn’t dissuade me from getting myself on the right path. My parents were amazingly supportive, and encouraged me to make the right choices since they were unfamiliar with the education system. In 2003, I was the first woman in my family to graduate from college.

As an adult I appreciate the courage it took for my parents to come to a new country where they didn't speak the language or understand the system or the culture, and where they weren’t surrounded by friends and family to help them along. I feel honored and proud to have helped my family the best I could. This has shaped me into the person I am today.

It has become a passion of mine to help, as others have helped my parents and me. In college I tutored ESL students preparing to take their SATs and counseled them through the college application process. And I worked part time as an interpreter at an immigration law office. It was my way of paying forward the positive experiences I had growing up.

In my two years at RLPR, I’ve executed exciting programs at nationwide and grassroots levels where I’ve applied my experiences and observations of the immigrant population. I’ve learned that communications can inspire change, and I’ve seen the great impact an educational initiative can have on a community. I’ve worked with national and local media to inform the Hispanic community about important health topics like diabetes and obesity; organized health fairs to give local communities in Chicago and New York access to doctors, nutritionists and physical fitness experts; and developed bilingual materials for schools and clinics. Identifying a need in the community and providing resources and opportunities for education continues to inspire and motivate me.

When we develop communication programs at RLPR we first talk about our audience – acculturated, unacculturated, new arrivals, moms, urban youth, country of origin, etc. Understanding the needs, values and preferences of each segment is vital to successfully reaching them in a way that is relevant and meaningful. It’s empowering to me that my experiences and observations as the child of immigrants is critical to this process.

To this day, my parents still rely on me for many things. They still call me up when they need to order something online or need to find flights to Argentina. They say I find the best deals! And while, secretly I know they really could do it themselves, I do it con amor.

Who or what has had the greatest impact in your life? What immigration story has most moved you?

October 9, 2009

Leaving a Bilingual Footprint

I teeter between two worlds.

By day, I’m your typical acculturated 30-something. A die-hard fan of “Sex and the City” who goes goo goo gaga for Tiffanys & Co., and savors a daily dose of vanilla latte. In many ways – pura gringa.

At night, I go to a multi generational home - one that hasn’t changed much since I was born. I was raised by my abuelo and abuela ever since my mom left the tiny country of El Salvador in search of the big American Dream. I watch “Jose Luis sin Censura,” eat platanos con crema y frijoles, and have heard “Tiempo de Vals” by Chayanne at more quinceañeras than I can count. (Don’t get me started on this one). I’m a fiery Latina – a member of a minority that will one day be the majority.

Today, I can honestly say that I’m a better person having embraced both cultures, and I wave both flags with pride. The marriage of the Salvadoran/American cultures makes me who I am today: Angelina (Angie) Valencia-Martinez, a professional. A happy wife and proud mamacita who values family and tradition more than anything in the world. A bilingual acculturated Latina who can switch from one world to the other – in both my personal and professional lives. This has had its advantages. Advantages I intend to pass along to my son – Frank.

Everyone talks about leaving a footprint, a mark in the world. Well, Frank Adam Martinez born on 2-7-07 is mine. He is a happy-go-lucky toddler who loves Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, soccer, and music. He lives in my two worlds too. And I’m raising him to be bilingual.

While I’m at work, Abuela Maria and Abuelo Chico talk to Frank in our native tongue: español. When they go out for walks, they point out the “avion,” plane, “ardillas,” squirrels, and “gato,” cat. Every day, I watch him have long conversations with abuelo and abuela, and I beam.
But when Frank talks to his daddy or me, he speaks English, usually in the form of “I want this!”

There are some clear benefits to Frank being bilingual: According to the Multilingual Children’s Association, multilingualism has been proven to help children develop superior reading and writing skills. Multilingual children also tend to have over-all better analytical, social, and academic skills than their monolingual peers. Good reasons to raise him bilingual. But then there’s the part about opportunity.

For me, being a bilingual journalist turned PR practitioner has opened twice as many doors as being a monolingual one would ever. I want the same opportunities for my son. President Frank Martinez? Why not?

When I graduated from California State University Northridge, I was employed by the Ventura County Star newspaper and also wrote for their Spanish publication, Mi Estrella. When I decided to cross over to public relations, I had the option of working at a firm in the general market sector or one that handled Hispanic PR. It’s nice to know there are options.

For more than a year, I’ve worked at RLPR developing programs in both English and Spanish. One minute I’m facilitating a TV segment with a Spanish speaker at Univision, the next at an ABC station. During my tenure here, I’ve met telenovela actor Juan Soler, boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao, and State Superintendent Jack O’Connell – a big deal to me since I’m a news junkie.

So today, as I sit comfortably in my desk I think back to the times when I used to help my mom clean other people’s houses for a living. She would always stress the importance of an education and how far it would one day take me. Still she urged me to never forget where I came from because that is who I am: una Latina con orgullo.

Gracias mamá por no dejarme que olvide de dónde vengo. That is a task I plan to carry on with my son.

How do you think raising your child to be bilingual makes a difference?

September 16, 2009

A Story in Every Dish

Most of my fondest memories in life revolve around food. Oddly, I grew up in a Hispanic household where the action in the kitchen was nonexistent. When I think Hispanic, I think of an abundance of food around the table at all times: tacos, tamales, pollo, arroz y frijoles. But with a single mom working two jobs, the closest thing we had to home cooked meals was picked up at the nearest drive-through.

As the oldest daughter, I often played the mom role. Whether or not my mom had time to cook for us, I was in charge of finding a way to feed my younger sister when she yelled “tengo hambreeeee.” I quickly discovered that you only need a few ingredients to make a successful meal and avoid starvation.

Every day after school, I always provided two options on the menu: quesadillas y salchichas con limón y chile or sopa de Maruchan. I still remember fondly the crunchy flour tortillas oozing with cheddar and jack cheese alongside two savory hot dog links cut into perfect rounds, swimming in a pool of spicy and sour drippings, sprinkled with salt. ¡Para chuparte los dedos! And on the days we felt lazy, dinner was the sopa de Maruchan.

That experience was my first introduction to the kitchen. Those moments with my sister also helped me realize how important the kitchen is, especially to Hispanic culture. When tias came to visit or when I went to a friend’s house, the kitchen was the main attraction. This is where we cooked, but more importantly, where we laughed, shared chismes, reminisced on childhood memories and connected as a family. This is where the stories were created and told.

As I grew up, I became envious of people who could just whip a couple of things together and create a mouth-watering dish. They made it seem so easy. And when I would ask questions, the responses always started the same way: “tantita agua, una pisca de sal, una mano de arroz y tantita cebolla.” Huh? How much is a splash, a handful and a pinch? And for some reason, measuring cups and spoons never existed.

So I turned to other resources: TV and books. I soon realized that if I could read and follow directions, one day I would really be able to cook. Fast-forward past a couple of bad dishes and the time I set my mom’s oven on fire on Mother’s day, and now I’ve become the acclaimed cook in my household.

I don’t think I would have believed anyone who told me when I was younger that Food PR was in my future. Now I have my own stories to share in the kitchen.

Have you ever noticed how people are quick to jump into conversation when the topic of food comes up? That’s because the topic of food helps people learn, bond and connect in a unique way.

Recently, we gathered mommy bloggers to cook their countries’ dishes in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. It took some effort to finish the recipes, especially when everyone had a different way of making them. “We add cheese to our tacos,” (Noooo, that’s a quesadilla!). “The Arroz con Pollo needs saffron,” (No, then it becomes Paella). “Arroz con Leche should be made with condensed milk, not regular milk,” (It really just depends on how sweet you want it). The friendly squabbling continued with each bite. Four hours - and possibly four pounds – later, we came to an agreement. GO BACK TO THE ORIGINAL RECIPE! We just added a splash and a pinch of a few ingredients and enjoyed the bonding in the kitchen.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many talented cooks during my time here. And what’s been most remarkable about the experience is the stories that are told through these delicious creations - whether or not a measuring cup was involved. The result, invariably, is connectedness.

Like my Grandma always says “Si te sientas a comer un plato, eres parte de la familia.”

What foods/recipes bring back your best childhood memories?

August 12, 2009

A Celebration of Latina Bloggers

On more than one occasion I’ve been told that I don’t appear to be a Latina. In some cases it’s because of the way I look; in others it’s the fact that I speak English with no Spanish accent. Sometimes it’s my name (Jennifer) or that I was born in Chicago to an American mother. Never mind that I was raised in Central America, my father and two younger siblings were born in El Salvador, and I speak Spanish fluently. Or that I make a mean Huevos Rancheros, would eat rice and beans daily if I could, and I love all kinds of musica latina (except maybe Rancheras). I guess you could say that I’m cursed by the stereotype of how a Latina is supposed to look and sound.

I realize that this is nothing new. But recently, I chatted on Twitter with some Latina bloggers about how the stereotype issue has extended to the blogoshphere; one of them blogged about it here We laughed heartily as we talked about our “gringa” names and whether or not we wear the stereotypical hoop earrings (we do – silver only). But the undertone of the conversation was that, while we can laugh about it, the issue of stereotypes is a serious one. One blogger says she’s had PR people ask her to “sound more Latina” in her blog posts. And at the recent BlogHer (, Latina bloggers were clearly under-represented. To be clear, I’m in no way implying that there’s any discrimination going on here. Rather I’m making the point that – to the surprise of many – a really broad community of talented Latina bloggers exists.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have met many of them over the last several months. They’re an impressive and diverse bunch of women who write about everything you’d expect ANY blogger to write about. They’re talented, funny, insightful, political, creative, and more. Yet they approach their craft with a Latina flair that makes their blogs extra special. They blog in English. Or in Spanglish. Or in Spanish. Some even keep bilingual blogs.

While these talented women are working feverishly to connect and network with each other, I can’t say they were easy to find. I found them the way you’d meet friends “IRL” (that’s online speak for “in real life”). I found one, who led me to another and so on through blog rolls, Twitter streams and old-fashioned “hey, check this out” referrals. And while I’ve only met a few of these fabulous women in person, I consider many of them my friends.

I wish more people knew about them and read their blogs. Because maybe then people would understand that being a Latina is not about your name or what you look like. It’s about a shared cultura that brings us all together. So it’s in that spirit that we’re kicking off our company’s blog roll with a list of some of the chicas fabulosas we’ve come to know and love. The list is by no means exhaustive. Rather, it’s intended to demonstrate the diversity of talent in the Latina blogging world. It’s meant to celebrate the collective force of their voices – of their words and their opinions. And we look forward to adding more.

Please support them. And I hope any of you Latina bloggers who are not on this list – or who we haven’t connected with yet – will reach out. We’d like to get to know you.

A sampling of some of the bloggers we know: (NY City based travel blogger and mami to 3 boys) (Single mami to 2 boys enjoying NY life to its fullest – frugally) (Two Latina mamis whose site is dedicated to the subject of raising bilingual kids) (L.A.-based Latina mami whose posts are written in both English and Spanish) (Una Cubanita living in Tennessee!) (Otra Cubanita who writes about balancing living as woman and Mami in New England) (Orlando-based Puerto Rican working mom who blogs about all things mom) (LA-based Latina whose site is a resource for women who have found themselves single as a result as a break-up, divorce or death) (SoCal based Cuban mami blogging about living life as a Cuban-American)

Jennifer Vides is Senior Vice President at RL Public Relations. She can be reached at

July 29, 2009

Waiting Eagerly for the World's Biggest Sporting Event

I vividly remember the World Cup 1994 finals at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena – Brazil versus Italy. Penalty kicks. 3-2. Brazil wins! A group of us rushes onto Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena to join several hundred soccer fanatics to celebrate Brazil’s fourth World Cup title. People cheering and dancing. Drums banging. We’re all Brazilians for the moment. What a feeling. All this comes back to me as we are now just one year from the start of World Cup 2010 in South Africa. I can’t wait.

I’m a fervent fan of the world’s game. But now I have a slightly different perspective than I had in 1994 – that of a sports PR guy. Clearly, my career choice was no mistake.

I’m always interested to see what brands do to capitalize on an event that captures an audience unsurpassed by anything else on this planet, and how they strategically use the World Cup to connect with Latino consumers. Sure, official FIFA partners will play their part with ads, promotions, etc. Coca-Cola is busy polishing the streets worldwide for the “FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola” (starts on September 24 in Cairo). But are other beverage brands standing on the sidewalks and letting this captive audience march by them?

I hope not. After all, this is an event that every four years brings countries to a stand-still and drives grown men to tears. In my view? Those brands that don’t have the millions of dollars needed to utilize that iconic logo still have a powerful opportunity to engage consumers (not just sports fans) in really authentic ways. In ways that truly connect with the fans and somehow enhance their experience.

One example I can offer up occurred in 2006. Our client, a mobile communications provider, partnered with the Univision Network to provide its subscribers with video highlights of World Cup matches minutes after the conclusion of the match. This was the first time this had been offered, and we seized the opportunity to tell the story to both sports and technology media. In addition to distributing the standard press materials needed, we provided phones to key Hispanic media across the country so that they too could experience this technology while keeping up-to-date on all of the video highlights. The media coverage that we secured was great, with many sportscasters showing the new phone and technology during their nightly sportscast.

Importantly, it was memorable to those who experienced it. It was the kind of thing that had media, rabid fans – and even casual fans – huddled around phones to re-watch clips – to re-live the experience because it was too sweet to let it pass quickly.

It’s really a no-brainer that Latinos love soccer, and the opportunities to reach them utilizing World Cup are endless, especially if a brand has the internal cheerleaders to kick this through the proper channels and seize this moment.

We have been fortunate enough to represent forward-thinking brands that appreciate the passion of the World Cup which is especially prevalent among U.S. Latinos. Yet not one of these clients has ever been an official partner or sponsor. Some have budgets for multi-layered campaigns, but most have modest budgets that require PR creativity (and a little bit of persuading to the legal department). What they’ve all had in common? They all understood that the passion for the game is what matters the most.

I’m not yet sure if I’ll be in the streets of South Africa in 2010 (though I will be if I have my way). But I know I’ll be watching it somewhere with friends. And as the final seconds of the clock run out in the final match in Johannesburg, for that moment we will all be Brazilians or Italians or Argentineans or Spaniards. All of us? We’ll be fans of fútbol.

What memorable moments have you had around fútbol or any other sport?

Mario Flores is partner and managing director of Sportivo. He can be reached at