A Marketer’s Take on Immigration Reform.

By Mike Valdés-Fauli

If the Hispanic market were a brand, it would be undervalued.

With the hotly-debated immigration reform bill having made its way through the Senate with a decisive 68 – 32 vote, and on its way to a rocky future in the House, there are many issues surrounding the subject that are often overlooked. Not everyone is a proponent of immigration reform, but I certainly am. For this reason, and due to my career as a marketing executive, it’s difficult for me to sit on the sidelines and watch both political parties thoroughly botch the messaging required to get this bill passed.

The news media and TV pundits focus on things like border security, path to citizenship and, all too often, the calculus that determines the rise and fall of political reputations surrounding this contested issue. While all of that is important, we often forget how these issues can tangibly impact the lives of regular people already living in this country legally.

The Hispanic market is of critical importance to our country. By now, the sheer numbers (over 16% of the population, totaling 52 million people) have been widely-reported and are common knowledge. Between 2000 and 2011, Hispanics accounted for half of the total population increase in the U.S., and we are a younger group as well. Our median age is 28 as compared to 37 for the general market, ensuring the importance of Latinos in this country will only increase in years to come. Furthermore, the economic importance of this demographic is huge, particularly for us in the marketing field. Within the next five years, Latino buying power will increase by 40% to $1.5 trillion.

Often forgotten are the ancillary industries surrounding this important immigrant group, whose success is inextricably tied to the future of the Hispanic market. Media companies such as Univision, Telemundo and Fox Hispanic Media are thriving. There are hundreds of marketing agencies which focus on Latinos, including the one for which I work. Perhaps most importantly, large consumer brands that comprise the backbone of Corporate America have realized that their sales and customer base from the traditional “general market” are stagnant, and the truly explosive growth comes from the multicultural demographic.

The debate is therefore too often focused on lower-level job functions, with Senators tripping over each other to mention how they value and “respect” their gardeners, nannies and cooks. And they are right. Those jobs are important and the value brought by immigrants willing to do them immense. That said, those jobs only tell half the story.

Latinos create massive economic value in ways too often unmeasured. We create jobs for Ivy-league brand managers at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, for thriving Spanish-language radio stations in Charlotte and for Latino bloggers in New York City.

This is not being communicated adequately by anyone in power. The problem at hand is a classic marketing conundrum: the carrot (reward)…or the stick (fear). The chosen strategy up to this point seems to have been the latter…to discuss the perils of not passing immigration, coupled with earnest promises to increase border security to martial-law levels by instilling fear through misinformation. What we are lacking is a positive message that focuses more on the carrot…one in which relatively unknown Hispanic industries are highlighted as thriving job creators, testimonials are given by Anglos about the boon to their business from Latinos and a spotlight is shone on success stories that don’t even slightly resemble anyone’s gardener.

The most innovative technique making a case for immigration reform came from (not surprisingly), Silicon Valley. A consortium of the leading tech companies, including Google and Facebook, have lobbied on behalf of a comprehensive reform bill to help them retain the talented interns and college students that leave our country each year to innovative and wealth-create back home. The worst kept secret about these immigrant groups is that most are of East-Asian or Indian descent, and not Hispanic. This diversity is a good thing. I merely propose we engage in our own sophisticated campaign to promote the benefits of Latino immigrants in non-traditional ways.

There is an excellent quote from AMC’s Mad Men that states: “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.” It’s high time we get our act together, dispel staid myths and shift the direction to a more positive tone. Taking some of these simple steps could help speed immigration reform, and ultimately increase the value of our Hispanic brand.

Mike Valdés-Fauli is President of JeffreyGroup, a marketing firm focusing on Latin audiences with 105 bilingual employees. He’s been featured discussing Hispanic issues in the Wall Street Journal, CNN, AdWeek, PR Week, Miami Today and The Miami Herald, and was named one of PR Week magazine’s 40 Under 40. He lives in Miami with his wife and son.

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