A workshop to help ethnic media secure more national advertising was titled "Pitching Advertisers: How to Get Through the Narrow Door."
As it turned out, many gathered here Thursday couldn't even get through the workshop door, spilling into the hallway and straining to catch a few tips.
The program's popularity underscored why more than 1,400 editors, marketers, sales representatives and others turned out for a national expo of ethnic media, which organizers hail as the first of its kind. Whether they work for organizations that have become staples in their communities or for struggling start-ups, officials from ethnic media outlets said that gaining advertising from major corporations often feels like an uphill, if not impossible, climb.
The landscape of ethnic media has grown more crowded in recent years, reinforced by the same immigration patterns that are driving the nation's population growth. It has been particularly dynamic in the Washington area, with small outlets -- a newspaper that covers the Ghanaian community, for example, and a polyglot mix of local cable shows -- and major operators. The Washington Post Co. now owns the Spanish-language daily El Tiempo Latino; local companies like Black Entertainment Television parent BET Holdings Inc. and Radio One Inc. have grown into major corporations.
The dozens of companies showcased here offered evidence of several trends. More outlets are targeting the children of immigrants, for example. Niche publications are further narrowing their target markets, with specialty magazines for Muslim women, Indians in Silicon Valley and Arab American business leaders.
Ethnic media's surge comes as mainstream newspapers struggle with declining readership and network news with fewer viewers. In that context, conference organizers celebrated a recent poll showing that ethnic media reaches 51 million adults in the United States. Conducted by New California Media, which represents ethnic media nationwide and helped sponsor yesterday's conference, the poll surveyed 1,895 people and concluded that consumption of media varies by ethnicity.
For example, while blacks prefer ethnic radio, the study found, South American immigrants prefer Spanish-language newspapers. About 80 percent of Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese respondents read an ethnic newspaper on a regular basis. Internet access for Arab Americans is higher than for other ethnic groups studied.
"These media are only going to get more important," said Sandy Close, executive director of New California Media. She said that while most media tend to view issues through two sides, black or white, Republican or Democrat, "these media have tremendous capacity to open things up."
"You're not just talking about red or blue. You're talking about a new sensibility in a globalized world. This is the new America."
She, like others at the conference, lamented an estimate that less than 4 percent of all advertising dollars are invested in ethnic media.
"It should be 24 percent since one out of every four adults are reached by ethnic media," Close said.
The dollars, though, can be hard to lure when Nielsen ratings don't broadly sample niche markets and census data count some communities as a mere fraction of the overall population.
At the workshop, ad agency representatives suggested newspapers audit circulation and networks conduct viewership surveys before making sales pitches -- moves that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
"It has not been easy," said Juan Guillen, publisher of DTM, a Latino lifestyle and trend magazine. "We don't have the money to get audited."
The publication started out as Dominican Times magazine, but Guillen changed the name to an acronym so young Puerto Ricans and Columbians might take a second look, too. Carrying a stack of magazines with this month's cover girl, Jennifer Lopez, Guillen said even Spanish-language agencies have been slow to embrace bilingual publications like his.
"We can market to other Latinos, but our core is the second generation, the English-speaking Latino," he said. His comments came as the U.S. Census Bureau announced that half of America's 41.3 million Hispanics are under age 27, and that the number of births outpaces immigration.
Rather than just citing population growth, multicultural strategist Saul Gitlin advised slicing demographic data so it is relevant to the company being wooed.
"Twenty percent of purchasers of Mercedes, BMWs and Acuras are Asian?" asked Gitlin, who works for Kang & Lee Advertising, which focuses on marketing to the Asian American community. "Now I have permission to speak."
During a break in the day, DTM's Guillen wandered over to India-West, a Bay Area-based newspaper, and flipped through its latest venture, a lifestyle publication that seemed the South Asian counterpart to his magazine.
In the course of conversation, it came up that India-West had broken the story about McDonald's french fries containing animal flavoring, which led some vegetarian Hindus to file a lawsuit.
"Wow," Guillen said. "Is McDonald's an advertiser?"
"They were after our story," editor Bina Murarka responded.